Various Artists | Invisible Cities | Painting with Sound
Audio Installation/MP3 | F.0037.0001
In 1997, ECM Records released the soundtrack to Jean-Luc Godard's seminal film 'Nouvelle Vague'. Unlike the typical Hollywood blockbuster movie soundtrack (often nothing more than thinly veiled excuses to commercially re-release music for profit) this was the complete soundtrack to the film - music, dialogue, sounds. Everything.
Listening to it is striking, not one element of sound from the original film is removed. Every word of dialogue, every passing car, every dog barking - everything is presented just as it was at the cinema, with one crucial difference: minus the images.
The sleeve notes for the release include a short essay 'Interior View' by Claire Bartoli. A personal reflection on the film or, more specifically, its soundtrack, the essay is amplified by one crucial fact: Claire Bartoli is blind.
It's a simple concept, but one so elegant. Bartoli's worldview of Godard's 'Nouvelle Vague' is everything that exists on this two CD set. When she listens to the film everything she experiences about the film is painted with sound:
"Despite my blindness I go often to the cinema. The films populate the space within, producing bubbles of visual perception or coloured emotions. Listening to a film is a pleasure, but it also means an effort, concentration… Evoking precise memories to render the interior world as rich as possible, imagining and inventing to bridge the silent gaps.
There are some sequences I am convinced I have seen 'with my own eyes', so powerful and clear is the impression left on me by their scenes and colours."
When we first conceived of 'Invisible Cities' the concept of 'painting with sound' lay at the heart of our idea. Our intention was to try and portray the world in a different way to the one we experience everyday with our eyes open. We wanted to explore what could be painted when our eyes were closed and our ears were opened instead.
The result is everything we expected and more. With twenty different artists involved we were sure that the range of approaches would be as diverse as if we'd asked twenty different painters of photographers. The resulting audio portraits capture the essence of twenty cities that span the globe - from Berlin to Beijing, from Moscow to Montreal - each city illustrated in a different style with a five minute composition.
The sounds here are the aural equivalents of a canvas. At times photo-realist representations sparkling with carefully captured detail, as in Chris Watson's 'Spring Festival of Timket', recorded in Lalibela, Ethiopia - alive with the sounds of celebration. At times abstract expressionist swathes of noise, as in Massimo's 'In Remembrance of Via Pistone', recorded in Catania, Sicily - a cascade of pummeling sounds, gritty and aggressive, but laced with a sense of humour (the piece is a fond memory of Catania's red light district).
The variety of sonic styles and their distinctiveness demonstrate that the medium of sound is alive with creative possibilities. Loud or quiet (or even seemingly silent), abstract or detailed, the approaches vary with the personalities of the artists involved resulting in a rich audio mix, each piece alive with its own connotations.
Taylor Deupree's recording of New York is the opposite of what one might have imagined New York to sound like only a year or two ago. No yellow cabs blaring, no shouting, no chaos of a bustling city. Instead a quiet reflection on the events of September 11, 2001. Recorded exactly one year on, his portrait of New York is an intensely personal piece which is filled with emotion and captures the feeling of living in a city where priorities have changed in the wake of a day etched in everyone’s memory.
Jonathan Segel's Lima recording captures the warmth of a Christmas Eve evening. Fireworks crackle as a band's distant melody drifts on the currents of atmosphere. Close your eyes and you could almost be there.
Meanwhile, on the other side of the world, Logrono based duo Alejandra and Aeron eschew field recordings in favour of five minutes of rich dialogue. A short, personal reflection on life in the capital of Spain’s wine-growing region La Rioja their piece is an honest account of the pleasures in life that we often fail to notice.
To describe every piece would be impossible, to do them justice even more difficult. Each artist has created a short portrait of life in a small corner of the world - sometimes realistic, sometimes imaginary, sometimes conceptual - each is filled with rich details and possibilities.
Close your eyes, listen and in the words of Claire Bartoli, "populate the space within… and render the interior world as richly as possible".
Christopher Murphy, Curator, Fällt October 2002