Unit. MARC BEHRENS
Review by David Vélez
From the liner notes
‘A journey to the Chinese Qinghai province (Tibetan culture region of Amdo) was commissioned by the Goethe-Institut China. Its purpose was to experience the province and to produce art works to be presented at The Third Guangzhou Triennial, subtitled «Farewell to Post-Colonialism» in the same year… The installation was presented from September 6, 2008 to November 18, 2008.
Unit consists of five pairs of floor-mounted frame drums and hanging loud speakers. The frame drums resonate, depending on the sound pressure level from the speakers, which hover a few centimeters above them. There are four sound elements (stones, crickets, cymbals and drums used in the 5-channel audio composition for this set-up, which were auto-selected and projected onto the frame drums according to an aleatoric script on a multi-channel DVD.)’
In the beginning I felt that ‘Unit’ seemed more interesting as an installation than as an actual release but the CD publication offers a very powerful experience regardless of what the installation might have looked / sounded like; the physical sonorities and particularly the timeline structure of the installation translated into a very effective release.
There are two aspects of ‘Unit’ that I find particularly noteworthy:
1) The novel and interesting approach to percussion using speakers to activate the drums.
2) The efficient use of silence as element in the timeline composition.
These two components sum for a strong methodology and sense of composition that pays off with a very rewarding listen. Make sure you listen to it without distractions, it works better when your attention is fully focused allowing the tension to arise.
In regard of the commissioned purpose of the work, ‘Unit’ evoked to me the sounds of Tibetan culture, which adds a transporting emotional value to it full of visual and acoustic imagery. Although the liner notes are extensive it will be interesting to know more about the compositional use of the sound sources and its projection as drum activators and also about the drums and they way they were built.
Another fact that I think is pertinent to address is the richness of the acoustic forms presented in this work produced by using only the four components mentioned on the liner notes -stones, crickets, cymbals and drums-. These elements, combined with a very effective use of the composition notion of silence -as mentioned earlier-, construct a powerful emotional narrative where tension and surprise work as the emotional base; the constant expectation and rhythmic combinations keeps the listener aware, delighted and surprised throughout 42 minutes and 21 seconds.
‘Unit’ presents a great example of mediation between the sound installation and the sound release; between a tangible visible event and an acousmatic documentation / projection of it.