Language: 中文, English
Written by Scott Writer
Tainan sound art studio Ting Shuo Hear Say has quickly established itself as amongst Taiwan’s most exciting space for all forms of extreme listening. On a recent September evening a large and enthusiastic audience came to hear another instance of the transnational mix of sound art that the venue showcases.
Arriving and taking a seat at the side of the room, I absentmindedly opened a book sitting on the shelf next to me. The first line read: “East of my home, the long ridge lies across the skyline like the low hull of a submarine”. With this, the opening sentence of J.A. Baker’s novel The Peregrine, the theme of the evening was set. Like the submarine-ridge of Baker’s novel, both performances would probe the relationship between art and landscapes real or imagined where the categories of the natural and the man-made constantly bleed into one another. (The Peregrine also possesses something of a totemic quality in the world of cutting-edge ambient electronics, since its recent re-incarnation as an album of the same title by Australian musician and sound artist Lawrence English. In this sense, too, the link was fitting.)
The first performer of the evening was Scottish sound artist and filmmaker Mark Lyken, in Taiwan as part of a residency at the Taipei Artist Village. For those of a certain vintage, the conjunction of ‘Scotland’, ‘nature documentary’ and ‘electronic music’ cannot but evoke the hazy, dread-laced sonic pastoralism of Boards of Canada. But if Lyken’s set occasionally utilised similar elements—synth tones, muffled voices, field recordings—he managed to steer well clear of BoC’s brand of Scottish melancholy. Instead, Lyken used these and other elements to present a steelier view of humans’ and non-humans’ places in the Anthropocene epoch.
Lyken’s performance combined a sonic palette of machinic hums, hisses, thrumming drones, static, and field recordings collected from wild and built environments. These were juxtaposed with a series of striking images drawn from Lyken’s series of film collaborations with Emma Dove. The images—a windswept moor, surging rapids, an empty town square, a comically desolate amusement parlour—revealed themselves slowly, reflecting their makers’ brand of ‘observational film making’ (and coincidentally recalling the poker-faced long cuts of Taiwanese new wave auteurs such as Tsai Ming-Liang). As each scene extended ever further without cut, we were not only immersed ever deeper in the landscapes pictured, but became ever more aware of how such techniques undermine our expectations. Watching ourselves watching, we could appreciate the way our attention, and our apprehension of the landscape, is structured by conventions of cinema and other artistic media.
During the performance, Lyken used a 16-side dice to determine the precise combination of sound and vision. What risked being a mere gimmick instead afforded a range of uncanny juxtapositions: man-made sounds laid over an ostensibly pristine natural landscape; the sounds of the wild set against the stark granite, brick and concrete of Scottish towns. Such chance combinations keenly evoked the contradictions of our times, where the distant actions of humans push even the wildest places into new forms of disequilibrium and animals and plants struggle to stake out some small place in the crevices and crannies of our built environment. This unflinching perspective on humanity’s intercourse with nature reflects, perhaps, Lyken’s experience working with natural scientists, a vocation typically unsuited to misty-eyed romantics.
The second performance of the night was by French artist Un Escargot Vide?, aka Sautel Cago, and Taiwan’s 劉也寧 yeningyening. The visual component was provided by Cago’s improvised digital drawings. The ever shifting, organically transforming imagined worlds depicted came as an interesting contrast to Lyken’s more austere imagery. Cago’s wandering line and affinity for vivid washes of colour at times recalled the fluorescent hues of distant nebula or Technicolor smear of the northern lights; his wandering line gesturing towards a figurative impulse that encompasses everything from the cave paintings of Lascaux, the gunpowder ‘paintings’ of Cai Guoqiang and the graffitied walls of contemporary cities (not by coincidence, Cago is a prolific graffiti artist).
The hybrid analogue-digital mix of the performance’s visuals was reflected in sound too. Here Cago’s pointillist synth oscillations and sine drones were interrupted by banks of static or interjections of boisterous children’s laughter. These components were grounded, in turn, by yeningyening’s real-time improvisations on treated ukulele and tuned percussion. If Lyken’s sound and vision had invited us to linger in the hybrid spaces of an increasingly man-made nature, Cago and yeningyening bid us trace a wandering path through no less evocative spaces of the imagination.
Scott Writer writes from Tainan.