Not Fit For Bars Or Voluble Patrons / Sublimation
Posted In: Not Fit For Bars Or Voluble Patrons / Sublimation, Oboro, Samuel Landry, Sublimation: An Exercise in the Immersive
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Saturday March 3rd witnessed the opening of Sublimation: An Exercise in the Immersive: a threefold event at Oboro, a gallery and center for explorative arts and new medias located in Montreal. Worthy of note is also the translation for the event’s theme, which in French was “une expérience de l’immersion”. For yours truly, it lead to an interesting reflection upon what constitutes immersion, is it more of a happenstance phenomenon to be experienced passively or then can it be exercised, practiced and promoted through an environment conducive to its success? No definitive conclusion has been reached yet on this front, but the growing hunch is that it’s neither, and both.
The sublime is evasive, undefinable and elusive by nature, any attempt to coin it may seem shallow and vain. Yet, one visits the exhibit curated by Yann Novak, Helen Frosi & France Jobin and cannot help but be reassured that no such pretension is at its premise. Quite to the contrary, the passersby are invited to make their own discovery, experience and draw their own conclusions. (If need be for such things…)
In their own words: “These works saturate the sonic and visual landscape, drenching and enveloping the audience and must be experienced to be truly understood.” An interesting parallel could be made here, or at the very least suggested, with the Japanese concept of Satori. All indications as to how the sublime is to be reached come before the fact, and then descriptions of its achievement are but ulterior considerations, all pale in comparison to its actual intimate experience. In this respect, the exhibit is nothing short of, er, sublime…
Selecting works of exquisite sensibility and simplicity and then showcasing them without any superfluous fluff is all instrumental in bringing the visitor to a state of mental quiescence and emotive receptivity, allowing the rich intricacies of both the sonic and visual aspects to shine through.
Opening day was divided in three separate events: the audio-visual exhibit, an audio screening room and later on a live event. Perhaps here is the place to mention a minor criticism: that constitutes a lot of material to assimilate in a short time span, especially for those already inclined towards a minimalist approach. However, I do believe this stems more from logistical concerns (having many international artists on a short visit, engineers and material available for a time frame, etc.) than the desire to overflow visitors with stimuli. Considering the quality and diversity of the material, the fact that you can (and should) appreciate these works at your own pace, this isn’t a grave concern by any means. The playlists for both the audio-visual exhibit (ongoing until April 7th) and audio screening room will be provided at the end of this article for completists.
Before delving into impressions of the live event, it seems appropriate to describe the setting and environment a bit. First off, at Oboro, before entering the studio where gigs happen is a two doors sas like passage. Tangibly, it acts as a sound barrier, but it also brings a sense of transition from the chit-chattery outside world into a more dedicated and purposeful space. You get a subtle hint within the very design of the place that what is about to happen isn’t fit for bars, voluble patrons or basically any activity outside devoted and focused attention. Even the layout of the seatings can challenge your regular expectations regarding a performance. For this specific event, four quadrants of twelve seats each are facing in different directions, some towards walls or curtains and the room is close to pitch black throughout the show. The artists and engineer are seated at a table barely a few feet away, at the same level as everyone, no ‘stage’ to speak of. All distractions that could hinder your attention are minimised so that the work can stand on its own and be experienced, understood and appreciated in its most bare form. For anyone even remotely into sound art, it is a welcome change of pace compared to other venues.
To quote James Douglas Morrison: “Is everybody in? The ceremony is about to begin.” Under the hospices of Stéphane Claude, sound engineer, all were about to make way for music. Already aware that the next hour would be filled with three twenty minutes music pieces from artists representing each country the curators hail from. That is to say: David Kristian (CAN), Robert Crouch (USA) and Mimosa | Moize (UK).
David Kristian offered us a piece titled Noyade (Drowning) ?Premised as follows: The last moments of a drowning man; panic. Then acceptation of what’s inevitable; then the descent, calm but without hope, to the bottom of an indifferent ocean.
“Nothing of him that doth fade?But doth suffer a sea-change?Into something rich and strange.” – William Shakespeare (The Tempest)
This number started with slowly rushing intermittent waves coupled with pads and strings reminiscent of a Mellotron, however a tad cleaner and brighter. Not quite melodious in the strictest sense, not atonal either. Harmonious in parts, with the occurrence of the occasional dissonance bringing a sense of unease. The latter part of the piece was a recurring and looping analog arpeggio with the strings still sometimes in play but also implemented regularly with new intricacies and looping patterns. The forward motion in this portion was absolutely fierce and gained serious emotional strength over time. Had the piece been called “a tribute to Klaus Schulze” I would have readily believed it, and that isn’t to say it didn’t sound fresh and modern, which it very much did. An undeniably intense piece that received a warm welcome and a rush of sincere applause from ravished listeners.
We then moved on to Robert Crouch presenting us an untitled piece from 03.03.12…
With this one we were moving along a wider path, passing through many different scapes over the course of the piece, without ever feeling rushed from one to the next. I must admit immersion was very much achieved as I lost track of time for a while and simply gave in. What I am left with is the feeling that I was tricked, but that I liked every single second of it. The way one scape evolved into the next was always clever and subtle and rhythmics came and went from a very subdued yet unmistakable angle. Intelligent music that may require many passes before being fully grasped.
The closing slot was ‘awarded’ to Mimosa | Moize, mesmerizing an already conquered audience with In/Con – Vertere, a piece introduced thus:
Here we were served with a richness in subtleties that in any other setting could be gravely overlooked. The couple works with narrow frequency spectrums, creating a sonic environment that evolves slowly where every minute transformation becomes instantly recognisable. The ease with which this material draws in undivided focus is an authentic realisation of the potential minimalist expression can offer. The emerging and receding elements layering the sound field were a testament to how restraint can be tremendously effective.
From the more lush and evocative all the way to the subtle and introspective, the pacing of the pieces was spot on to bring listeners into a state of mental quietness and unguarded receptivity.
Soon thereafter, the lights slowly dimmed back on. Yet no one rushed to the bathroom or went out for a cigarette just quite yet. The audience still sat and assimilated what had just transpired, not quite able to formulate thoughts into words about it in that moment. Looking at the peaceful grins and observing an obviously generalised sense of utter awe, I think it’s fair to say the sublime had been reached…
- Samuel Landry for Fluid Radio
Special thanks to the curators, live artists and staff at Oboro for their generosity, it never goes unnoticed. Oh, also, the tiny avocado-basil-sundried tomatoes burgers were to die for, whoever made them, I love you.
Playlist for the permanent audio-visual exhibit:
(Opened until April 7th Tuesday to Saturday, noon to five. 2$ entry, free on Saturday after 3PM)
• Mark + Laura Cetilia | Visiting Hours, 2009 [09:51]
• Ryan Connor (aka sublamp) | Letterlens to Kid Eyes, 2010 [11:48]
• Robert Crouch |Dusk, 2010 [06:48]
• Gary James Joynes/Clinker | Provody, 2007 [09:07]
• Mimosa|Moize |Morning, 2010 [03:10]
• Tu M’ | Monochrome # 09+V06, 2009 [10:40]
*Please note that the links provided are either excerpts or also different versions from the ones displayed at the exhibit, intended as supplements for educative purposes. If it is in your capacity, it is strongly suggested to visit the exhibit for the ‘full effect’.
Playlist for the audio screening room
• Celer | Regrets classiques [7:17]
• Katherine Bennett | Vide [6 :58]
• Heribert Friedl | Phase 3 [14:00]
• Stéphane Claude | Induction Pièce I [6 :30]
• Robin Parmar | 2003 UB313 [1:40]
• Scant Intone | [4:46]
• Tomas Phillips & Craig Hilton | Sans movement III [15:11]
• Tom White | False Ponds (1st part) [10:00]