Unseen Terror. DAVID VELEZ
Review by Chris Whitehead
We live our lives on the planet’s crust between the forces of meteorology and seismology. Global warming aside, we can do little to control the weather, nor do we have any power over the huge and devastating tectonic movements of the Earth’s surface. Recent quakes and tsunamis have destroyed lives, homes, property and crops. Thus far science has found no way of reliably predicting these catastrophes. We are at the mercy of events that are hugely destructive and completely disinterested in our survival as a race.
Deriva y catástrofe was the final thesis project of David Velez for his Masters in Fine Art. As Velez explains ‘the idea of the project was to explore how catastrophic events confront us with ourselves through the mixture of the pleasure we find in the formal display of the destructive forces and the compassion we feel towards the object of destruction and its resistance to its imminent disappearance’. Involving sculpture, architecture and sound the work led to a constant sense of crisis and a deep emotional catastrophe of sorts for Velez.
In his very frank and brave notes about the harrowing creative process, which can be found in full on the Echomusic website, he likens his commitment to that of Werner Herzog and Francis Ford Coppola as they totally confronted their internal selves to create the films Fitzcarraldo and Apocalypse Now respectively. Those films retain within them the stamp of complete emotional engagement in their cinematic DNA.
‘The film Francis is making is a metaphor for a journey into self. He has made that journey and is still making it. It’s scary to watch someone you love go into the center of himself and confront his fears, fear of failure, fear of death, fear of going insane. You have to fail a little, die a little, go insane a little, to come out the other side.’ These are the words of Eleanor Coppola, Francis’ wife. Maybe if all art was made this way the results would consistently be truly breathtaking and fundamentally moving, however the concentration and stamina required would leave some artists irretrievably drained and wounded. It is an intrepid person that ventures down into their deep consciousness with only the sketchiest map and no knowing what may be waiting for them along the way.
2. The Strike
Unseen Terror is a 42 minute composition which uses sounds captured during the research and production stages of Deriva y catástrofe. Formally the layers are meticulously laminated over each other in such a way that tension builds as the work progresses, the sort of tension that fills the air just before a thunderstorm, an increase in pressure and a kind of electrification of the atmosphere. Earthquake lights have been reported as shimmering auroras in the sky at areas of tectonic stress or seismic activity. Velez’s various recording devices seem able to pick up these fluctuations of magnetic fields and static disturbances. Whether it is actually there or planted in our minds by skillful manipulation, there appears to be a threat forever hanging in the background. A distant, almost infrasonic anguish.
It begins with the kind of electrical crackle that permeates the whole piece, but then after a few seconds a violent clattering erupts from all directions. Ominously drones interact, coming into existence and then fading back into the air. Insect wings buzz against window panes or canvas. There is a chorus of woodwind type emissions creating a tentative music of chance. Rainwater pours and drains away. An eerie banging plays against the rattle of geiger counters. This first section seems to be an exploration of a volatile atmosphere, unstable and likely at any time to evolve into something wholly unmanageable and cataclysmic.
Suddenly after fifteen minutes birds remind us of the real world. Cars pass and water runs from guttering and down drains. Furniture is being moved in a room and creates a free form sax like salvo of honks and squeals. Suddenly items are vibrating of their own accord. A reminder of the inherent instability of all our cherished systems and constructions. The air has become thick and pregnant with anticipation.
A percussive section follows and creates a music of incessant rhythm. Creaking and cars begin to overlay this almost tribal tattoo, behind it all a regular pulse like a heartbeat throbs at the epicentre. Unseen Terror’s perspective is maintained by the interplay of closely recorded, intimate sounds against the machinations of an unpredictable outside world. This illuminates the difference in scale between ourselves and the forces of nature.
For a long time now things return to a very quiet rustle and a vibration of insect like proportions, but the calmness holds within it a palpable threat. Water begins to trickle through and heralds in a very concrete and genuine destructive event, reflecting the image presented as the cover of Unseen Terror, domestic devastation. A smashed table and two chairs, one whose seat has been riven in two. A picture remains on the wall.
Subtly enigmatic and not as linear as might be expected from reading this review, for instance it isn’t just a build up of tension followed by a huge explosion of violence, Velez’s work is interested in the way we as humans apprehend these situations rather than merely illustrating the situations themselves. This was mirrored by his near descent into personal, intimate catastrophe during the making of Deriva y catástrofe from which Unseen Terror is born.
His purity of concentration and the investment of so much personal effort and thought into the process of creation is distilled in this recording. One can only imagine what the totality of Deriva y catástrofe encompassed, but as for Unseen Terror we can carry with us a part of the artist. Free to download from Yiorgis Sakellariou’s Echomusic label, a unique and beautiful construction.
[David Velez, photo by Lina Velandia]