(Winds Measure 2012)

‘Heygate’ by Will Montgomery

Will Montgomery is a Senior Lecturer at Royal Holloway University in London: he has published his work in labels such as Entr’acte, NVO, Compost and Height and Touch via Touch Radio. His piece ‘Heygate’ is the A side of this vinyl published by Brooklyn based label Winds Measure

In regard of “Heygate’ I found an interesting text that Montgomery wrote on its regard; I selected a part that I think could be relevant for this article.

‘My aim in this work has been to offer, through the endless plasticity of sound, a sideways glimpse of the otherworldly potential encoded in such architecture. While current building design seems typically to be motivated by a mixture of pragmatism, nostalgia and security-awareness, the postwar years had, in some places and in some situations, different imperatives. So my project is a kind of acoustic archaeology, seeking to detect the transformative meanings buried deep in the compromised vocabulary of late 1960s social housing. If the affect-laden pop songs that float around the shopping centre can still occasionally take us by surprise, then so too can the messages communicated, albeit less directly, by the angular lines and abrasive textures of this fundamentally forward-looking mode of architecture.’

Will Montgomery seems to have a serious, pertinent and interesting discourse that revolves around his interest on London’s built environments and the questions and reflection he makes towards this subject. The rigor and focus that seem present in Montgomery’s research and creative process are indeed rewarded on the formal aspect of ‘Heygate’.

Anyway here I would like the question, not Montgomery, but sonic-based sound art in general in terms of whether these collective issues -like the one Montgomery deals with here- can be properly addressed through sound art. Like I said before ‘Heygate’ is a great piece but my concern here is about how much of the concept behind it is actually there -visible- in the piece.

This question leads me to another question and it is: does the subject of interest has to somehow, be ‘recognized’ by the listener / spectator on his experience with the final work through its formal aspect?

Where all the research and method behind Montgomery’s work in regard of London’s architecture and urban structure go, when the uninformed listener puts the needle on the record and listen?

Does his subject of collective nature reveals elements of collective or universal importance?

Moving away from a psychoanalytical approach where the artist should connect the listener with his experience via the art piece, I’d say that what Will Montgomery does is quite interesting and pertinent in terms of what art can do nowadays.

Will Montgomery goes to the material source of his subject of interest, looking for immanent and invisible aspects and ‘extracting’ -with a series of microphones and other devices- some sort of essence or aura subjacent there. He lets for the concrete walls and columns, for the human traffic and in general for the quotidian, utilitarian and physical aspects of his subject, to communicate some kind of incommunicable message.

‘Heygate’ is a very successful piece in terms of its formal value where the artist explores a problem while revealing a sort of invisible and intangible communication between build environments and the listener where the history immanent in the physical matter of the subject becomes some kind of container of profound and meaningful emotional content that Montgomery exposes through images that couldn’t be sensed through our every day experience.

[Will Montgomery photo courtesy of Royal Holloway, University of London]

‘Looking for Narratives on Small Islands’ by Robert Curgeven

As an opposite to Will Montgomery, Robert Curgeven doesn’t seem to be interested in collective issues such as as architecture and urbanism. His interests -based on the texts I could find about his work- seem to be more formal and phenomenological.

I feel that in order to fairly and properly review ‘Looking for Narratives on Small Islands’, I should get rid off theoretical discourses, letting the form do the talking, and write disregarding what the artist probably had in mind when envisioned this release, and disregarding his method and process.

When I listen to ‘Looking for Narratives on Small Islands’ I sense change and structure; I sense the lapse of time made evident by an emphasis on slight tonal changes and on appearing and disappearing phonographic sounds: the sinusoidal waves are constantly changing and mutating, and the field recordings appear and disappear: this formal approach reveals some kind of dream-like sense of time where the events seem to occur on a confusing and distant level and where a sense of ‘strangeness’ prevails.

In regard of this strangeness I’d like to say  that the temporal aspect of the dreams and the temporal aspects of the art work seem to have some similarities: on both a perceptual exercise is done while trying to ‘build’ time from its footprints. The useless and impossible effort to recreate and re-inhabit time is reflected on both our dreams and art pieces, and this limiting irony is what crafts this ‘strangeness’ that gives to ‘Looking for Narratives on Small Islands’ such a compelling aesthetic and formal value.

Personally I believe that timeline-based sound art is one of the most pertinent media that an artist can use to deal with the perceptual nature of time. Like Michael Chion said, the relation we can establish with our environment in a sonic aspect is that of a stream: sound connects us with everything that is going on around us allowing change and motion to manifest themselves in the sensible experience.

Robert Curgeven makes for the listener to inhabit time via narrative by connecting with tones a series of situations expressed as field recordings. By making a very minimal use of elements Curgenven exposes the phenomena of time; he exposes how we build time in our conscience…like bridges between between ‘islands’, where is in the bridge -in the connection, in the potential narrative- and not in the island where time really occurs.

[Robert Curgenven, photo taken from his website]

-John McEnroe

Will Montgomery website
Robert Curgenven website
Winds Measure website