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Brandon LaBelle [see all titles]
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Ken Ehrlich (1) – On Live Bootleg (p. 18-22)

A heightened state of attention and a vague sense of distraction temporarily co-exist. Sounds multiply. The melodies of musical frag-ments mix with noises of the street and the subtle, residual echo of recording techniques. Sonic quotations inevitably trigger memories. Individual memories brush up against the motion of the city. Memories overlap memory. The movement of the city expands and contracts beyond it’s own borders. Location and perception collide with a moment in time. By drawing attention to the act of listening through an engagement with musical propositions in public spaces and reflecting on individual musical memories, an alteration occurs. This alteration relies on a kind of active receptivity that channels audio and video recordings back and forth between a highly intimate space and the often anonymous space of the city.

Brandon LaBelle’s movement towards a rigorous consideration of diverse notions of music suggests an ongoing engagement with what he calls the ‘social.’ For LaBelle, whose primary medium is sound, music is an unavoidable frame of reference, the ghost that haunts the experience of listening. Departing from the tradition of those who seek to destroy musical codes and conventions, LaBelle instead seeks to make use of musical debris to draw attention to the social dimensions of listening and manner in which sounds, in multiple variations, play upon public spaces. In doing so, he is able to draw connections across media and incorporate video, as well as architectural and sculptural vocabularies into an expanded field that embraces rhetorical and spatial challenges.

As a writer and curator, as well as an artist, LaBelle reflects fluently on his artistic practice, providing a rich compliment to the visceral experience of his installations. In his current work, two central preoccupations resurface: public performance and radiophonic space. Neither observing street musicians or listening to the radio are treated as closed affairs; for LaBelle, each is a thread in an unfolding network in which individual experience (subjectivity) is placed in the context of conflicted dialogues. The languages of these dialogues are multiple: visual and sonic languages bleed and overflow, mixing and contaminating one another, the space of the audience is understood as historically contingent, highlighting the shifting nature of perception, and the strict grammar of urban design bumps against the nostalgia and sentimentality of emotional landscapes.

In Street Music the artist has created an environment that takes the form of an imagined concert hall and stages video monitors with footage of street musicians in place of live musicians. The street musicians who are presented on 7 video monitors appear and disappear, thus mediating, through the digital manipulation of video editing, the viewer’s experience of the musician’s public performance. The shifting dynamics of the video installation draws our attention to the diversity of the music and the musicians themselves, but it also, and in fact more powerfully, encourages a considered reflection on the nature of public performance itself. And in this sense, the work is self-reflective, commenting on the fact that, though this piece is encountered in the space of the gallery, it is itself a kind of public performance.

Radio Memory seems more concerned with individual memories in the context of musical history. Whereas Street Music appears primarily engaged with diverse notions of public presentation — of music and of the individual both as performer and audience member — Radio Memory takes a sort of archival approach to very specific and intimate memories. Presenting a library of songs and memories that accompany the songs collected from individuals around the world, LaBelle fuses questions of memory with recontextualized musical sounds. If perception, or the senses, can trigger or cement a memory, LaBelle proposes that the language of memory is forced to engage joy, trauma, nostalgia, yearning, and fear as a set of socially constructed, historically contingent phenomena. Relating memory to the senses, in this case the sense of hearing, does not draw undue attention to the meaning of specific memories, but instead contextualizes these memories as dispersed and reactivated through listening. Radio Memory is able to amplify individual narratives and emotional states while generously offering to complicate the viewer’s relationship to those very things through the nature of a growing library.

In conjunction with these two works, a third encapsulates and disseminates the exhibition itself. Through the live projection of the sounds in the exhibition space outside the gallery via several carefully placed microphones, LaBelle wraps the two installations in a blanket of sound. The mediated fragments of audio emanating from the exhibition in Building Broadcast are pronounced aloud to the surroundings. As the viewer carries what is outside into the exhibition, the sounds of the exhibition are projected outward creating a kind of reciprocity grounded in audio.

Brandon LaBelle’s extended invitation to pay attention to the social dimensions of sound has many facets. It’s a call to consider perceptual phenomena as grounded in the context of social and historical relations. It’s an assertion of the link between memories and sounds and, perhaps most of all, it reflects a kind of receptivity that is not entirely passive but seeks to hear new things even in the most familiar places.


1. Ken Ehrlich is an artist and writer based in Los Angeles. He has exhibited internationally in a variety of media, including video, sculpture and photography. His recent project, the Elna Bakker Memorial Windmill, was installed in Elyria Canyon Park in Los Angeles. He is the co-editor of “Surface Tension: Problematics of Site” (2003). He currently teaches in the department of Art at U.C. Riverside and CalArts.
 
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