Wā jiè méng xūn. YANNICK DAUBY
(Ini Itu 2013)
Review by Caity Kerr
Yannick Dauby’s wā jiè méng xūn is a vinyl release on the very fine ini itu label. Two track of 18 minutes each make up the music and in addition to a solid lump of vinyl with a colour printed cover we get comprehensive sleeve notes and two colour photographs.
The music combines the sounds of frogs with the sounds of analogue synthesiser – biotica and abiotica, to borrow from the language of niche construction. My first thoughts when I heard about this album, knowing Dauby’s work as I do, was that he was stepping off the deep end. To generalise unreasonably with my own unreasonable opinions, the analogue synth has its limitations (which I won’t go into here), conventional instruments tend to be playing less instrument and more (but still not much) extended technique with a focus on gesture and concept and new notions of élite specialised musical communities. This leaves the exciting prospect of the infinite variety of ‘stuff’ and ‘things out there’ to make music with, or to forget about music as such and explore emergent properties and fresh paradigms. This was where Dauby seemed to be doing quite well over the last few years.
We are treated though to a surprisingly rich and fresh sound world – froggish glissandi (with insect- and birdy-sounding panoramic sweeps) play alongside arpeggiated synth sounds. It’s an engaging combination, which is what this album is all about, combination, complementarity and of course contrast. An organic/synthetic concept, random biotica and more periodic abiotica – which plays with the old game of source recognition and confusion – the guessing game of what’s what as the music unfolds.
In those passages where the poppy organ and percussive synth patches appear I could imagine a possible music for animation, good sound design, humorous and playful. Overall the sounds and combinations become predictable and recognisable in many ways, more so on one side of the album than another, so there’s no large scale exploration of the synth’s timbral possibilities, more a desire, at best, to create a complex shifting tapestry made from the primary sound sources.
Dauby’s leaning towards rich rather than sparse environments saves the music from descending into lots of gestures with a backdrop of jungly sounds. Overall the tapestry works better with these denser textures – there’s more to listen to and to hold the attention.
On the production side it sounds at times like he might have played his synth and jammed along with the (processed) natural sounds at times to realise a best version.
One side is sparser than the other to begin with, a dialogue which turns into a relaxed multi-way conversation. The music is also ‘pretty’ in places with its rising and falling tones, ambient but (fortunately) not quite new-age. I’m told from the sleeve notes that we’re listening to frogs but I can’t see how you’d know unless you were an expert. So, ignoring the facts and following my imagination, such recordings of bird-, frog- and insect-like sounds, even processed, can often afford a sense of place and indeed space. I had a reminder of this recently listening to some of Geoff Sample’s incredible wildlife recordings from Alemoor Loch in Southern Scotland. Take away the living creatures and you have no place, no space even, just a lot of gristly static sounds with traffic in the distance. Here the frog sounds are dislocated from place and space, used as raw material, but Dauby is musically clever enough to leave enough of a trace of the environment which adds a touch of magic to his work.
However there is so much more to all this business of working with environmental sound and David Dunn for example has made some interesting inroads, at least conceptually, into new ways of considering our interaction with sounds from natural environments. In an article entitled Nature, Sound Art and the Sacred, Dunn speaks of how he wishes to ‘deconstruct the materials and attributes of music as a means to explore and demonstrate the emergent intelligence of non-human living systems’.
He distances his own approach from the practice of John Cage ‘who wanted to decontextualize sounds so as to “allow them to be themselves,”
He continues: ‘I have focused upon the recontextualization of the sounds of nature as evidence of purposeful minded systems: the song of a bird is not just grist for compositional manipulation, it is a code of signification not only between members of that particular species but also for the extended fabric of mind that forms the biohabitat within which that species resides. While Cage wanted to abstract these sounds, I’m interested in regarding these as conscious living systems with which I’m interacting. These sounds are the evidence of sentient beings and complex-minded systems. Many of my compositions have consisted of establishing an interactive process through which a collaborative dialogue emerges that is inclusive of this larger pattern of mind.
The resulting projects are not only descriptive of their environmental context but generate a linguistic structure intrinsic to the observer/observed relationship. They are an expression of the composite mind immanent in a particular connective instance. I refer to much of my work as “environmental language” so as to distinguish it from the more general term “environmental music.” The issue is not, how can one bring out latent musical qualities in nature but rather, what is necessary to stipulate an intrinsic sonic structure emergent from a specific interaction with non-human systems?’
[Yannick Dauby courtesy of Sound of Europe]