Thursday, May 08, 2008
Noise and Causes
Some thoughts occasioned by the last NMAM gig (Minus Ten Decibels--- happened at the screening room on the 2nd floor of Mogwai at Cubao X last April 30. NMAM = New Media Arts Manila). Successful and not. Successful because most of the stuff was half decent to experience, and not successful because we couldn't play as softly as I'd hoped. Minus Ten Decibels was supposed to be an evening of quiet noise. Blums and I had actually hoped people would have to lean forward, searching for the sounds, but that was not to be. Aside from most of the performers apparently having difficulty wrapping their heads around that idea, the hubbub from the bar below was just too loud. Minimum volume was determined as the minimum volume level required to drown out the bar. Ah well. Maybe next time it can be held in a library or something.
Me, Autoceremony (Jing Garcia), Caliph8, Malek Lopez, Nun Radar (Pow Martinez) and Tengal performed sound, Jason Tan and Blums Borres performed video, which included insectoid footage created by the Lord of Mogwai, hizzoner Lyle Sacris.
Noise for a Cause?
A member of the audience, Atty Adrian Sison, asked if NMAM had ever thought of linking the shows to some kind of social theme, which made me bark a bit. I should have gone up and apologized, but I have to give it to him. He knew it was a legitimate question and he didn't back down. I eventually calmed down and gave him my 2 cents on the idea, which might be worth posting here.
I am against associating sound art with social/environmental/topical causes. And two reasons are that:
1) Doing so destroys the ambiguity of the work. The easiest way to "tame" new or unfamiliar forms is to link them to themes like poverty or hunger or imperialism. Then anything discordant in the work becomes the emblem of social iniquity, injustice, rage, or whatever. The work becomes a vessel for a set of prefabricated meanings. I prefer that the sounds and images in these works stay as sounds and images, or at least, that they remain available as signs/emblems for other meanings. Who knows. Keep social justice out of the picture long enough and maybe some of Lirio's robot cat solos might start to sound like love songs, heh heh.
2) The easiest way to convince people that you or the work are "serious," is to link the work to things which people agree are serious: things like poverty, rice shortages, tsunamis, etc. I don't like it when artists do this because it's an easy thing to do. Also, it's an easy way to pass off bad art, because the seriousness of the theme camouflages the formal flaws, making the flaws harder to see.
I used to love the strip because Pol Medina used to be funny, creative, clever. His characters used to go into the future, parody batman, make surreal puns, etc. Lately he's run out of ideas or passion but he's been masking it with political commentary. Polgas and Mang Dagul drinking beer and talking about corruption in the Philippines. Topical, maybe slightly satirical, but most of the time, not really funny or even clever. Most of the time, it's kind of boring. I'd have to call this turn of events as artistic failure. Good causes are easy masks for bad art to wear.
Fine, what about good art? Say you put together a bunch of noises that actually have a beginning, middle and end, that have interesting dynamics, etc etc. Is there anything to be lost by associating it with, say, the Jonas Burgos kidnapping? Mingus did that a couple of times I think. He titled one composition I really liked as "Free Cellblock F, 'Tis Nazi USA" or something. Just tacked an incendiary title on the thing. He said he did it to make people think. Well, I dunno. When I listen to that piece, I just basically forget about the title and soak in the jazz. And another way of expressing that fact would be to say that I need to forget about the Nazi USA shit to be able to hear the damn horns, which would be another way of saying that linking sounds to sociopolitical themes make the sounds harder to hear.
Enough said. I want to thank everybody who came and soaked it in, and also our sponsors Intel, Globe and Sony Ericsson for feeding the performers and making the gig happen. Several people came up to me later and said they really liked the Q & A, so let that be a hint to anybody who reads this and shows up at the next gig: Speak up. People like it. ;-)