The Symphonic Juncture

A [Symphonist]: "The one who is not afraid to raise the primal force."

- Boris Asafiev (1917)

Lessons from junk and motors; Petr Valek and his noise.

What can a junk-bricolage, found-art installation + ‘neo-Aleatoric’ performance piece [undetermined results based on action taken by a non-human agent], supplied with nothing more than a title for symbological clarity, tell a viewer about the way political instability is hermeneutically expressed through the creator’s perspective? Does the politically conscious artist, channeler of an unrestrained commitment to lay prostrate at the feet of life and divulge themselves with feelings unencumbered, use symbology to make their message purposefully obscure, difficult to ascertain quickly, or even practically inaccessible without dedicated, cognitive exertion on the part of the observer? There can be no definite answer, but I am prone to believe that an artist cryptically encodes within his choice medium his elan Vitale, his instinctive impulse to externally manifest, precisely because to the conduit [artist], the world in which he inhabits is far removed from the stationary, monolinear reality to which the ‘mundane race’ inhabits. In order to ‘decode’ the inferred significance of an abstruse or vague work with little by way of attached description, the observer must strive to look past the edifice of superficiality which seeks to distract the intelligence with petty pleasure and instead position themselves as contextual investigators. Meaning, becoming an observer who is dedicated to actively participating in the process of artistic manifestation just as much as the Composer or the performer had/is, completing a pre-ontological chain of events where one action ruptures the ossified fabric of materiality, thus paving the way for its next iteration. This comprehensive, symbiotic disposition of Composer as Performer as Listener [as Composer, etc.] is plainly articulated by Soviet Musicologist Boris Asafiev regarding the musical process, “Three aspects of musical creation are incarnation, reproduction, and observation” (Viljanen, 2016).

So, when I initially watched the installation video, because of the title’s deliberately sardonic quality, I was able to disrupt and negate my initial assumptions of the rather crude and makeshift display and engage in what Husserl calls ‘image consciousness’ or ‘seeing-in,’ a process by which the viewer bypasses the literal and participates in the internalized metaphysical, a “suppressed perception of the image’s material support and an explicit perceptual presentation of the image object itself” (Brough, 2005). However, riding on the sagacious convictions of the unremittant questioner of life’s incongruities Lev Tolstoy sourced from ‘What is Art,’ his seminal treatise on art’s constitution, “good art is intelligible and comprehensible. Bad art is unintelligible and incomprehensible” (Scott, 2002), this provocative statement only partly agreed with by myself but none of the less worth briefly expanding as it points to a necessary polemic to understand before migrating into the crux of this post. What Tolstoy is positing is that ‘good art,’ perhaps better understood as ‘impactful expressions of creativity as ‘art’ here is being used to describe all creative art forms [music, literature, dance, etc.], holds the capability of psychosomatically ‘speaking’ to all classes and creeds regardless of the crowd’s intellectual aptitude prior to experiential assemblage through a creator’s concerted effort to embody ‘sincerity.’ I completely reject this viewpoint as not everyone is actually capable of wading through the banal immediate for the Promethean latent nor even committing themselves to mustering up the energy to attemptively try. In fact, notable Scholars and Composers like Hanslick(1854), Schoen-Nazzaro/Plato(1978), Asafiev(1918 forward), and even Copeland(1988) all point to this truth. That ‘hearing’ [or intuitively seeing] requires a concentrated effort that must extend beyond simple first and second-stage, empirical conditioning [1) literal seeing, 2) consequent feeling] to which most of us have come to rely on to answer the question of ‘what does this mean?’ Frankly put, the fact that you experienced X means nothing, as it is about the intellectual cogency applied to the X in deciphering its variegated, semiological layers that actually matters.

The wildly creative revolutionary, described as a ‘bizarre noise musician and crazy inventor’ Petr Válek in 2020 showcased the exhibitionist piece, ostensibly formed without a name, only donning its title through external influence, ‘The Work of Our Government,’ in a Russian translation ‘Работа нашего правительства.’ Since the version I bore witness to featured the title, albeit in a shared interpretation, this cacophonic mixture of man-made objects in various stages of dilapidation, in my opinion, showcases the absolute incompetence and futile pandemonium engaged in and caused by the reigning Russian government as led by ‘The Father of Russia Vladimir Putin. Originally featured on the Czech artist’s Instagram page in March of last year, the largest of the three automated noise-machines being featured alone noisomely gyrating its broken-in appendages as if beseeching the viewer to end its mechanical suffering, it was at some point ostensibly shared to the musician’s Facebook and subsequently uploaded onto Twitter for the first time somewhere from March to December, an original upload by a user called @[check tweet for name] being upload on December 27th of 2020 [tweet here] accompanied with the title to which I utilized in making my interpretative analysis. It is this upload in particular which I find supports the argumentation that in order to capitalize on an artistic experience, one must fully present and ‘be’ within each and every self-reflexive, ontological moment that comprises curated, hermeneutically-saturated yet interpretationally-lacking events such as these. As a classically-trained musician and patron of the more ‘tonal’ departments of the musical landscape, this by no means implying I am tonal-centric in my repertorial attitudes, to have watched AND listened simultaneously to such a strident soundscape, the technically ‘pitched’ anarchic tones[?] reminiscent of its avant-garde, Fluxus/Futurist progenitors like Terry Riley [In C, 1964], John Cage [Water Walk, 1960], Luigi Russolo [Risveglio di una Città, 1914] and Mikhail Matyushin [Victory over The Sun, 1913] to name a few, visually paired with crudely inebriated ‘actors’ gawkishly rotating their various multi-material trappings with such rotational imbecility, it causes one to cognitively step back and forcibly slow down the critical psyche in the wake of the stimulatory onslaught.

Additionally, because the raucous and unprocessed sound, while technically ‘pitched’ by natural default, lacks any easily deciphered, orchestrated sentiments traditionally used in the ‘listening’ process to gauge a work’s temperament for sympathetic confluence and establish emotional valency in the listener, what happens is that the listener is given much more self-agency to determine and answer ‘what does this mean?’ This is a beneficial but yet perilous freedom to hold as an audience member, this paradoxically dangerous liberation from exegetic codification expressed by Silverman(2011), “On one hand, a complete neglect of what ‘should be’ in art takes us to an extreme – a loss of morality. On the other hand, artistic creation thrives on individual freedom of expression within bounds (from rigid to generous).” Within this 59-second clip, in order to glean any sense of lucidity from the whole ordeal, one has to fall back upon their own intellectual faculties and pull from previous and current life-experiences to intimate what exactly the purpose was and is behind the jerry-rigged mechanisms and their irritatingly trying rattling and clattering which seems to ‘do’ with no real objective. But that’s the point. The reason there was no title to be had, no laconic ‘what’ statement to the metallically-tinged episode, no follow-up ‘translation’ offered to rationalize the seemingly irrational antics of make-shift instrumentalized trash?

A preliminary scroll-through of the Twitter user’s feed and it will show that they are incredibly active and heavily invested in their country’s political life, retweeting various videos, tweets, and updates on heated protests, riots, and contentious civilian debacles with police in multiple stages of hostility, not to mention governmental addresses regarding particular, highly unfavoured global leaders. Thus, what it means is that the way he was going to view this blank-slate of a performance piece was naturally predisposed towards the political, regardless of if the work was gestated into materiality with the purpose of serving a political statement or not. As soon as the piece reached its final construction and it was released for public consumption, it was because it lacked detail on its meaning that meaning was able to be detailed. That sounds oxymoronic, but the case stands that when nothing is directly stated geared towards answering the ‘what’, the human tendency is to fill that elucidative chasm with our own rationalization, whether or not it is actually bereft of factuality. As the Writer, Annie M. Hall states ‘The human brain is a pattern-recognition machine. It evolved to identify related events or artifacts and connect them into a meaningful whole,’ so when one has so wholly invested their conscious self to X, in this case referring to the political actions of their respective home country and events therein, it’s only logical to assume that when prompted with an artistic creation devoid of stipulated ontology, that person will inevitably map onto the barren landscape a self-deduced commentary infused with a personalized historiographical context only understood by the host and those who share in aspects of that curated ‘what.’ So returning to my original inquiry, can this work, an a-political, ‘meaningless’ happening be considered political despite the bestowed title being of secondary adoption? “I am concerned with doing my art politically – I am not and was never concerned with making political art” (Hirschorn, 2008).

Do ‘everything’ politically, play by your own rules [with prudence of course].

[ PC: All owned by Petr Valek]

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