Years ago my mother went to a performance by 20th century composer John Cage. Hundreds of people flocked to the event, too few seats for too many admirers — audience members’ bodies flooded the aisles and people sat, knees to their chests, in the hallways outside. It was sardine-like, she said.
The performance itself was this: someone was going to play a musical composition on a radio in a building several blocks away from the auditorium. With the aural activity hanging in the air, people were to sit and listen to the sounds. My mother had said that some people, after sitting in the silence of so many bodies within this tightly-packed place, left the performance not able to hear anything. Others, however, left in a transcendent state, able to hear the music of the spheres.
The works in Issue 8 similarly have this commonality of snatching sounds from the air, performing the aural alchemy of turning the incomprehensible into the comprehensible and back again: noise into words; puckered-lip raspberries into beat-boxing rhythms; mechanical sentiments into emotional ones; silence into sound.
There is a sort of transmutable quality to these pieces as they slip from one form to another, re-defining themselves throughout their several-minute-plus courses, seeking to create a well of uncertainty in the listener’s mind. Questions of form are brought up, burned and then revived again — is Audrey Chen’s “Glacial” a practice in dissonant 20th-century cello music or is it examining the instrumental wails of the voice, as haunting and chocolate-rich as a bow pulled over strings?
Is Richard Kostelanetz and Joel Chadabe’s piece “Microfictions” a renouncing of ambiguous buzz-words like “freedom” and “dieting” and how their meanings have faded into incomprehensible pools of sound from over-use? Or is it instead a discussion of what it means to turn a human voice into something mechanized, a voice loop on repeat broken down into oddly growling, guttural sounds?
These pieces play with the liminal space between ideas and definitions of sound, definitions constantly sliding from one form into another, presenting many aural identities that exist together, overlapping one another, making space for one another, in one singular audio clip. Listening to these pieces is like sitting in that auditorium, catching and chasing sounds out of the air, making meaning out of them, contradictory or not, and then leaving them for interpretation.
So. In the end, you decide what this all means, really. What does it mean again?
-Whit Pow, Guest Editor