Henri Chopin Soundtracks My Nightmares

Monday, March 3rd, 2014 by asobol

This semester I’ve been working on trying to remix the poem, to take the audio of a poem and manipulate it somehow, either by cutting it up or by mashing it up with other pieces of audio. I want to sample and create, to retool a phrase. So finding Henri Chopin’s work has become a revelation. One, because he seems to employ similar methods that I’ve been trying in audio manipulation. Admittedly, I’ve never heard of Chopin before this, but that we’ve come to the same conclusions gives me hope. I may be on the right track. Then again, is this a kind of artistic variantology I’ve stumbled into?

Listening to Chopin’s pieces, I can get a sense of this question of “Message or noise?” that Ernst likes to return to. And I’m co-opting it a little here, I think, in how I’m using it (but he took it from Foucault, so there’s precedent). These pieces begin with language that echoes and replicates itself until it collapses into walls of sound and bleeps and atmospheric static. We’re supposed to become aware of the sound of the words, not necessarily the meaning of language, with this work. It’s why I believe the language falls away in the audiopoems. Language is a tool to get us to dig deeper. The word is the surface layer and we have to go below to get the sound underneath and while that becomes incomprehensible in any kind of symbolic or linguistic way, it does offer an emotional resonance. It helps that these audiopoems are in French and I can only pick out a few words, but the results are the same. I’m aware of how the sound is affecting me, not the language.

These pieces are terrifying. They sound like how my nightmares should. Don’t lock me in a dark room with them playing, please. But they also point to a distinction that I’d posted on in my first blog on noise. If we can’t clearly decipher something or analyze it, does it become noise? Can noise have a message? Yes, and especially yes when that noise is the result of manipulation. It’s been crafted.

The ability to manipulate our media complicates some of Ernst’s thinking. The machine that records sound may be somewhat impartial, as Ernst suggests. It picks up every stray bit of audio, not simply what’s intended, but this seems like an idealistic view. Depending on the microphone, you’re only picking up certain frequencies, so things do get lost. Depending on the room, some sounds can be stifled or muted before they even make it to the recording device. The material can degrade over time. It can be cut, edited, changed. As logical as our machines may be, ultimately, I don’t think they can be genuinely impartial, especially once we begin considering the social conditions under which they were created.

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