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"Live" Field Recordings - The Gesture Issue


Those are some thoughts about gesture, field recordings and live performance. This is going to be a part of a extensive series of posts around various concepts and ideas around live performance with field recordings, improvisation, etc... Hopefully, in the next months some of it will pop up in this blog.

Keep on mind this is not an academic paper, just notes on ideas. So please, refrain from commenting how wrongly quoted is the text or how citations are clumsy and there is no scientific accuracy; and please: focus on the content, which is the only thing that matters to me.


The Gesture Issue

On a recent interview with Sebastiane Hegarty held by Jay Dea Lopez on The Field Reporter, Lopez asks Hegarty about how to confront the a "live" concert performance with previously recorded material. Hegarty wisely talks about memory, confrontation of a recorded sound phrase and the acousmatic consequences of releasing it on a given architectural space. Reading the answer I couldn't avoid to think that this, might be a common answer for all field recordists playing "live". But, what about gesture, as a way to literally perform a live concert with pre-recorded materials such as soundscapes? Gesture in the field recordings is such an interesting issue to find out. This can be approached from many perspectives. 

The found gesture.

Gesture can come across while recording and suddenly grasp a certain combination of sounds that together form an almost musical gesture, chord or even musical phrase. This combination of sounds has more to do with the idea of sound object* by Schaeffer than with the notion of soundscape by the canadian with similar name. Even that by itself, this phrase can have a semantic meaning, and this also can be linked to our reality, heritage or culture - linking it with certain purposes of soundscapism or sound ethnography - the sound object itself can be "perverted" and become a gesture. The gesture itself and the way we place it on a "live" event have the power to despoil the semantics of the recording and become a musical voice in various situations. 

The wilful gesture.

This certain gesture has more to do with the way we confront the location issue while recording. Lets say that we choose an outdoor spot in which no environmental sounds can be heard, a silent location. Even so, this silent location has lots of objects, materials and surfaces that can resonate inviting us to extract the sounds from it. Suddenly we can found ourselves building a sound library, an inventory of all the materials found on location, piling up a bast amount of sound gestures or sound objects that cut, edited and relocated can be used on a live event, and again, be triggered as a musical phrase, gesture, accent. By doing so we are dismantling the relationship between that sound and its location, so we again are stepping away from the soundscapist path and moving towards musique concrete. Still, if we don't want to take that "French" path (or not so much) we still can take a look and read at what Dallas Simpson calls Environmental Performance or Live Location Performance. 

Simpson is all about, body, movement and subjectivity. Wait a minute, if we read again: Yes, body, movement and subjectivity. So, here is not all about preserving the forgotten sounds of nature, here is about the body and how we confront with it in a given location. The use of binaural microphones also is saying that the body is an axis that drives the whole sequence, the result of this choreography within a given soundscape become a subjective and the most personal way to re-live how the author perceived his immediate environment and how he behave while experiencing it. According to this, Simpson's recordings are no more than retailed pieces of his living experience, as listeners we are not being transported to a place or location, we are being transported to the experience lived by Dallas Simpson, which, by the way: its a gesture or a combination of various. 

So the "Wilful Gesture" in the case of Dallas Simpson becomes the whole practice, the process, the recording and the resulting action of this process: to allow a later listening experience by third parties. Depending on how we use the Wilful Gesture this have the power to become something rather bold in our creative work as field recordists: this can become our identity as instrumentalists, musicians or sound performers.

The "on-stage" gesture.

Once back in the concert event, there is a third gesture we can provide as performers, this is the gesture given by the physical interface we use to trigger sounds. This is probably one of the most important things to take care of and if we think it through, if we want to become live performers we have to take this extremely seriously.

Once we have our set of sound recordings, samplers and sound objects we might want to engage in the way we are going to trigger them. But, first of all, we have to decide which path to take: the "Francisco Lopez's Dark Side"**, or the wide open lights school in which everybody sees what you are doing. Jokes apart, I'm going to explain myself. If we join the Dark Side, no problem, forget about performativity, forget about gesture because no one cares if you are dancing or moving while triggering your sounds. In that stage, gesture only matters as a narrative, compositional element but not as a body communication language with an audience. If we choose to "show" what we are doing, then the musical gesture becomes something else. 

The day we decide that our live performances are going to be with "open lights" we have to start taking in consideration the way we behave as live performers. If we asume that we are going to play up on a scenario (and the audience will be sitting in front of us for a given time) we have the obligation of performing to provide meaning to the fact that we are sitting (or standing) in front of an audience. Scenario I believe that comes from "scene" so this asks from us to "make a scene", to play a role and to engage our audience through sound and the way we deliver it, technologically and physically.

Once we understand the role of a scenario and the fact we have to confront an audience with our sounds and our body, we can start to think as musicians, performers or actors. Then, having passed this, we can start thinking which technology are we going to use to help us creating our very own gestures as musicians, ergo: we have to find our instrument; but, maybe that's another chapter.

* Sound object understood as "every sound phenomenon and event perceived as a whole, as a coherent entity and heard by means of reduced listening which targets it for itself, independently of its origin or its meaning."

** I'm totally ok with the idea of a completely dark concert, its a matter of aesthetics which I'm not going to argue because here the issue is another, as you can read further down the text.