Taking Measure (Proměření)
This composition dedicated to graphic artist Jan Měřička is a kind of aural imprint of Měřička’s remarkable graphic oeuvre. As with Měřička’s serigraph prints, the composition is built around capturing the motion of masses of people. However, in this audio work, the “mass” consists exclusively of Měřička’s voice – multiplied, overlapping, deformed, intertwined, or as rhythm. This aural representation of the artist’s graphic works is thus also his portrait.
Since around 2003, Měřička has worked with exploration and graphic portrayal of human throngs. In his large-scale etchings and later serigraph prints, he reduced human figures to mere lines, anonymous silhouettes. They are generally captured as seen from above, and often overlap within the mob to such an extent that they are transformed into a kind of smoky cloud or wisp. At other times the mob flows like a meandering river, or it moves along mechanically as if on a conveyor belt. Měřička arrived at this visual form in a highly original manner: through systematic observation, photography, and other ways of recording movement in places where people flow past: at the airport, a metro station, or at the land registry office. For a while, he was like a coolly detached bird of prey (Jaromír Typlt has called it the “gaze of the predator”), for he recorded people photographically like actual prey, and transferred his figural quarry onto paper in an almost statistical manner. Today, he keeps endless variations of human silhouettes imprinted in his head and his hands, and so he can compose them into his serigraphic screens from memory. In other words: he creates people as he likes, and their flow is controlled for the most part by him alone. The predator has slowly been transformed into a mad demiurge who – as Měřička says in the composition – reproduces people like a yeast culture.
As a radiophonic artist, I wanted to try to create a kind of acoustic imprint of Měřička’s fascinating graphic works. From the outset, however, it was clear that I could not take the same approach as he did – i.e., via a direct, acoustic recording of human thronging, by recording the sounds of the mass. This would probably have resulted in a merely two-dimensional illustration that would have had little in common with Měřička and would probably have also failed to capture his distinctive nature as a graphic artist. I thus decided to do to Měřička what he does to his figures: I worked exclusively with his voice, artificially weaving it into a Měřičkian mob. While working on the composition, I realized that this goal required more than mere digital sound processing; that it would be worthwhile to return to the ancient practice of working with a studio tape recorder and other analog equipment. Although the studio tape recorder cannot do as much as a computer, it encourages the user to take a specific, tangible and haptic, approach to working with the recording. It is an approach that would appear to be far more suitable to evoking a sense of organicity. Měřička slowly weaves the mob from out of himself, i.e., from people that he has created himself: he telephones with himself, thickens and sets himself, abstracts himself, transforms himself into a cloud or a blur of wild and organic smears, and finally and entropically fizzles away.
I am in no way denying that I have basically reinvented the wheel here. Sure, in a way Taking Measure follows up on the sound poetry of the 1960s and ‘70. I do so consciously, however, and it is not intended as fetishist retro (and hopefully will not be perceived as such); it is simply the most fitting way of measuring Měřička (whose name contains the root měřit, “to measure”), of transforming a visual sensation into an aural one – yes into that legendary “landscape of the word”. Nevertheless, the composition was understandably created using a combination of digital and analog techniques: the analog material is used as an interim stage for the intricate digital working of the end product, for discovering its final shape. And since, at the end of the composition, Jan Měřička declares that I have “squeezed [him] like a lemon”, I must add: the feeling is mutual!
This work is an audio version of the collection of poetry with the same name, soon to be released by Protimluv Publishers. The texts are based on a stream of human speech – collected words, stories, fragments of speech, or repetition. They reflect a fascination with the fact that each individual is enclosed in an endless circle of his own words: sooner or later, he begins where he began, and he has no chance of stepping out of himself.
“I began collecting people’s speeches many years ago, and continue to do so to this day. Collecting can be done by carefully listening, writing down, or recording what one hears; you can also collect yourself or even be collected. The recorded words can be processed as recordings or as texts, they can be used in their original form or can be changed, added to, reformulated, edited down to their prime factors, prepared, transformed into sayings or incantations, layered, turned inside-out, forgotten, erased and reconstructed, and on and on. The space between the original record and the final product is extremely wide.
I have recited many of the texts from Emergency Rules at my readings; they are directly intended for being read out loud. They were created on the basis of linguistic collection and observations, or even from random monologues. Their common denominator is a tendency towards linguistic repetition, rhythmic cycles, or chains of nonsense, hopelessly enclosed in a bubble of speech. Some of the texts resemble songs or bound poetry and are organized according to various rules. Others branch and spread out at will.
For this audio composition, I decided to combine two basic audio sources: a studio recording of selected texts from Emergency Rules and outdoor recordings of sounds. The studio material was edited, and I worked with the fragments within the composition so that the individual speeches emerge and disappear again. I have consciously tried not to clearly distinguish between the various voices (i.e., texts): I spoke them all myself, meaning that they are all one voice and speech, but each is at the same time all the others. I leave it up to the listener to identify them by motifs, refrains, sequences of words, or perhaps by related sounds. And if he feels like he is fumbling in the dark, that is absolutely alright.
The mixed outdoor sounds play the role of segues and rhythmic audio sequences. Sometimes they even form an acoustic foundation for the recorded text. While recording and processing the sounds, I tried to create a simple compositional register – a kind of parallel language in which (unlike in the earlier literary approach) there is no human voice. Put simply: I needed the busy environment of civilization, but it had to be a place in which nobody speaks, in which we do not hear even the voices of pedestrians, train station announcements, or street musicians. I recorded the kinds of places and situations where people silently create the sounds of civilization or are made silent by its sounds – examples include jackhammers or trains. Into this environment, I subsequently implanted my literary studio recording, my “multiperspective lyrical self”. In short: I arranged it all as I saw fit."
Tramvesty. A recording of a streetcar journey from Liberec to Jablonec
The narrow-gauge streetcar route between Liberec and Jablonec winds through the foothills, passing through villages, racing the train, occasionally hurtling through the woods. One city slowly dissipates, changes into ruins, dissolves, and then everything is put back together - Liberec transitions into Jablonec and vice versa. The radiophonic composition that captures the sounds of this remarkable streetcar route form one part of the work entitled “Tramvesty”.
Its primary artistic concept rests in the collection and editing of recordings of selected individuals describing this journey. As such, Tramvesty is an incomplete lifelong series of texts that we encounter, among other things, in the form of textual installations (graphic design by Jan Měřička) in the vehicles of the Liberec public transport company. The audio composition attempts to reconstruct a picture of the entire journey, primarily by editing sounds and oral descriptions. Although often edited into dialogues, none of the speakers’ descriptions are from the same time and often are separated by a span of several years. The resulting illusion of actually riding the streetcar is thus a concentrated expression of several timelines.
Appearing in the composition are:
Ivan Acher, Jan Měřička, Jana Vébrová, Jaromír Typlt, Helena Skalická, Slávek Lelek, Jan Merta, Roman Machek, Aneta Hausnerová, Katka Frouzová, Jakub Ouhrabka, Ema Ouhrabková, Pavel Novotný, Jana Venkrbcová, Sofie Novotná, Lenka Valevská, Michaela Červenková, Jakub Novák, Hynek Šála, Lenka Šálová, Béďa Klapal, neznámí cestující
pan Zajíc (driver)
The entire composition lasts for just slightly more than 26 minutes, which corresponds to the actual travel time from Liberec’s Fügnerova stop to the end of the line in Jablonec. I have also observed the time it takes to travel between stops, as well as the geography of the route: The various objects and their descriptions or the humans and animals are thus (roughly) edited to appear where they exist in real life (or existed, since they have run off, been demolished, or whatever). The memories and experiences associated with the journey are edited together in a similar manner.
The range of streetcar sounds (screeching, the sounds of the doors and of the various sections of the trip, etc.) corresponds to the aural transformations of the journey and were recorded over time by recording all parts of the vehicle in detail in the depot and during operation.
The voices that we hear appear in varying proportions: some of the participants speak for almost the entire duration of the trip, others appear only occasionally, others say perhaps only one sentence, and some people can be heard only in the background. The voices were selected and edited on the basis of the precision and poignancy with which the speaker describes the journey, the amount of information provided, and the extent to which they could be edited together into an imaginary dialogue or to create chronological, emotional, atmospheric or other contrasts. The individual recordings were made during daytime and nighttime and during various seasons of the year, meaning that the individuals did not actually encounter each other in real life, but each traveled in his own time. Exceptions are Ivan Acher and Jana Vébrová, who were recorded in parallel on two microphones, and myself when I encourage the interviewee to speak.
An entirely separate chapter in the composition is the driver, Mr. Zajíc, who just happens to be our neighbor. He is a very quiet person by nature, and I needed around 20 hours in order to record just a few sentences and words: I would get up for his morning shift at 3:30 in the morning and share a ride to work with him. I then placed the recording equipment in the driver’s cabin and picked it up around noon at the end of his shift. I repeated this process for his afternoon and evening shifts as well. As with the other speakers, I edited his words chronologically into the composition’s timeline; as a result, the driver starts his morning shift at the beginning of the composition at ends his night shift at its conclusion.
Many thanks to all participating speakers,
vesmir :: universe
Once, while hanging out with Novotňák, this great thing happened to us. There were these two authors visiting who were giving a reading in Liberec. One of them had his wife with him, and we were all sitting around after the reading and talking, and Novotňák was there with us. And suddenly this totally unbelievable debate got started, like when people, in their state of advanced inebriation, begin to heavily philosophize.
This composition started as no more than an experiment. I wanted to find out how different people describe the same object; I was interested in whether it would be possible to create a kind of portrait in this way. I wanted to know what happens when an object is described from all sides and all angles, from near and far, by sound, smell, touch, etc. I consider the object which I chose for this end to be exceptionally beautiful and harmonious, perfect in both form and function, and - if we allow it - an object with many different meanings.
I find it a shame that this object has almost no chance of escaping the routine which we have assigned it: In a nutshell, all its life is limited to shuttling back and forth between the sink, the kitchen drawer and our mouths. We normally see it as nothing more than an implement for stirring coffee or eating cake. And other items of daily use are no better off: a toothbrush is simply a toothbrush, a sock is a sock, a button is a button... this is how things has been predetermined for all eternity, how we have arranged things. It is all an intricate system of utensils, ladles, slicers, cutters and other tools which we have created to serve us - trapped in their functions.
This recording is thus about IT. I asked my friends and acquaintances to try to look at it as unbiased as possible, to respect its "gastronomic fate" while at the same time seeing it as a thing which exists in its own right. To this end, I chose a perfectly ordinary specimen without ornamentation or writing, i.e. as pure as possible. Many people couldn't come up with more than "I don't know; well, you eat with it, uhm, what do you want to hear, hmm"; others tossed out associations, others offered a technical description, etc. Words met, associations overlapped, and I took all this and edited it and mixed it with the sounds and rhythms of the kitchen and other implements.
While my acquaintances always took no more than a few minutes, my own journey took significantly longer. I struggled with it for around three months, did two months of off-and-on recording, and around one month of working with voices, sounds and noises, mixing and editing. Recording the voices was nothing difficult. Standard operating procedure: grab someone, drag them off somewhere quiet, record. The second phase was noticeably more insane: I had an absolutely absent and wild-eyed look while processing the recorded material, my ears became glued to the headphones, I spent one month talking about nothing but this thing while wildly flailing about with my arms. I was almost afraid to enter the kitchen, to open the drawers, afraid to see and hear it again and again. While stirring tea (yes, apparently as a regular user of this utensil), I recognized sounds from my recording; when draining the sink, it clanged around with the dishes, forks and knives; I saw it again and again, my head buzzing with the words I had recorded. Gradually - sound by sound, word by word - this object began to live its own life, or at least that is how it seemed to me. Who knows, maybe this impression made its way into the final twenty-minute composition.
Potato (Art´s Birthday 2009)