Yann Leguay · Quasi Static Crack Propagation
Brussels-based sound artist Yann Leguay is a true media saboteur. He appropriates industrial machinery for the playback of musical media (using an angle grinder to perform the live destruction of a microphone or to playback a CD at dizzying speed) with flagrant disregard for the accepted norms of audio behaviour. His back catalogue is equally deviant, releasing a 7” single without a central hole and a record composed from recordings of vinyl being scratched by scalpel. His Phonotopy label proposes a conceptual approach to recording media and he curates the DRIFT series on the Artkillart label which overlays several grooves onto a single record, causing randomised playback.
His Consumer Waste CD presents a catalogue of audio media. Amplifying and recording CD players, tape recorders and DAT machines with a wide range of pickups, Leguay finds uncompromising electro-mechanical music in the playback functions of these devices. This stark machine-vision magnifies the vibrations of spinning discs and electromagnetic activity, the incidental music produced within the machines that usually reproduce it. The CD is accompanied by a 16-page booklet presenting a visual dissection of the same machines that were used in the recording of the album.
Consumer Waste has released a whole bunch of CDRs with covers printed by Knust/Extrapool, but here move away from format (CD) and new format for the cover (7”, recycled, letter pressed card stock). The first CD is by Yann Leguay, from Brussels, of whom I never heard but who apparently uses all sorts of media to create music: an angle grinder to destroy a microphone (hello Dick Raaijmakers, are you listening up there?), or to playback a CD at dizzying speed, releasing a 7” with no centre hole, and a record composed from recordings of vinyl being scratched by scalpel. On this CD he is ‘amplifying and recording CD players, tape recorders and DAT machines with a wide range of pickups’, and it’s all about the internal machinery sounds and electro-magnetic activity. You could try and find out which machines are what here, by looking up ‘D-NE1’, ‘CD-601’ and such like, but it’s more fun listening to these. As you perhaps could have guessed, this is all rather noise like material, but also quite interesting. It reminds me of the noise that is produced by the likes of Joe Colley or Jason Zeh: loud at times, soft at other times and in an intelligent mix set together, bouncing and rubbing against each other. One could perhaps also think that this is all a bit static, but it’s not. The changes are in the small details and here it’s where it’s all happening in the music. Leguay places subtle variations in the way he handles the material – and this I mean quite literally. In the thirteen minute piece called ‘Static’ we get the idea of how all of this sounds live and is indeed a bit more static than the six studio compositions, but nevertheless also with interesting change overs. Now there’s something I wouldn’t mind seeing. This is indeed a most interesting discovery.
One of the things I like about British label Consumer Waste is that the various unorthodox approaches and instrumentations it presents are never simply gimmicks, but are always integrated into forms that remain recognisable as music, different though they may be each time. The new CD by Brussels based sound artist Yann Leguay is a clear example of this. Quasi Static Crack Propagation is an album made by amplifying CD players, tape recorders and DAT machines with a wide range of pickups, but to my ears Leguay seems interested in more than simply making things hum, bringing his growling, burbling and hissing machines under the rubric of thoughtfully-composed rhythmic, timbral and harmonic structures.
I’m not sure what modifications Leguay makes to the electronic objects he uses, but he is capable of pulling some incredible sounds out of them, my favourite being the thick, full-bodied bass thud from the Sony D-NE1 CD Walkman (yes, the track titles give the model number of the device used, and yes, that bass thud is from the CD player, not being played by it). But aside from figuring out how to get various exposed circuits to make sounds, there is the inventiveness required to control them and to work within their limitations to produce something that is actually interesting to listen to. Leguay proves to be more than capable in this regard: the opening track, for example, builds stop-start melodic patterns using mostly just two tones, yet despite its limited means manages to be more engaging (for eight and a half minutes) than most pieces of music granted a full tonal range to play with.
Clearly, it’s a question of not only what you’ve got, but what you do with it, and throughout the album Leguay never finds himself short of interesting things to do with his re-purposed music-making machines. By hacking them and putting them to new uses, he subverts the designs and intentions of a global administered economy, with its categories of products for different target markets and use cases. This is not merely subversion for subversion’s sake, however, but a way of realising concrete cultural forms and practices that are more imaginative and less centrally controlled. Whether it’s building dense harmonic drone clusters, or stabbing a bass tone with shards of high-pitched fuzz, or simply letting things quietly rattle and whirr, Leguay seems to be constantly working out ways not only to make sounds, but to make new, surprising, and fun things with them — a creative rigour that makes Quasi Static Crack Propagation all the more enjoyable to listen to.
OK, pretty excellent title...lovely cover and interior illustrations as well. My first exposure, I think, to Leguay who, per the label press release, seems to operate on the conceptual edge of noise, perpetrating art along the lines of destroying a microphone, etc. Here, the sound sources are electronic playback machines of various kinds (the track titles equalling their model numbers), specifically the interior noises they produce while in operation, a not-unknown tack investigated (among others) by Keith Rowe when he finally added a mac to his table but, instead of using programs, close mic'd the machine's body finding the sounds produced within more interesting than those produced by software.
And…it's pretty damn good! A Sony Walkman (D-NE1) provides the material for three pieces, much less harsh than I might have expected, a resonant hum of two deep pitches interfered with by short static bursts which occasionally cascade into a bit of a flurry. It's blunt, very matter of fact, but handled by Leguay in a manner that straddles that awkward.graceful line, something I quite enjoy. It's second appearance, far more brief, finds a different range of sound, lighter and wispy alongside several strands of rumbling static and some loopiness. More active, lending a cartoon-like quality to the affair, doubtless unintentional. Its last entry is more varied and expansive, with flutter that softly undergirds rising and falling gentle whines and the requisite squelches and knocks; quite attractive! The Tascam CD-601 is plundered once, yielding a steady percolation of metallic and plastic clicks over a faint but fascinating background hum while the same company's DAP1 DAT recorder offers a grainier substrate, more dangerous sounding, the voltage seeming all but uncontrollable; both are very fine. Back to Sony for exploitation of its TCM-5000EV tape recorder, wherein we hear the most repetitive sounds, a layering of them, somehow subtly gaining momentum, some stationary, dropping out, reappearing in altered guise. Of the product-named tracks, all of them good, this is my favorite, a fantastic, alien mini-landscape.
The disc closes with a 14-minute live work, again an excellent chunk of music, ranging from initial quasi-syncopation (just the slightest hint of funkiness), ultimately finding drone territory, but a singularly rich one, with a low, scaly throb slowly cycling beneath a pebbly, iterating coating. He then just turns of the off switch and matters quickly and rudely dwindle to nil.
Fine stuff, another wonderful release from Consumer Waste. Hear it.
It was the March Hare who attempted to mend the Hatter’s watch by inserting a knife covered in butter, all the while insisting, “It was the BEST butter, you know.” Something similar is going on here, as we listen to Brussels based Yann Leguay apparently sticking a knife into the inner workings of a CD player or tape recorder to produce a rich range of whirrs, flickers and heavy hums. Most consumer electronic items are notoriously resistant to user intervention or repair, so Leguay’s work is a kind of protest, a riposte to all those sealed black boxes. And of course digital playback gear strives to be inaudible in itself – Leguay stands that on its head. Machine vibrations and electromagnetic activity are magnified. Across these six tracks, plus a 14 minute live set, he mixes mechanical and electronic noise, so the soundscape is more open and less airless than you might expect.
From the liner notes
‘Yann Leguay is a true media saboteur. He appropriates industrial machinery for the playback of musical media (using an angle grinder to perform the live destruction of a microphone or to playback a CD at dizzying speed) with flagrant disregard for the accepted norms of audio behavior. His back catalogue is equally deviant, releasing a 7” single without a central hole and a record composed from recordings of vinyl being scratched by scalpel.’
Destroying the media seems to be a relevant and fun premise today in sound art and composition and Yann Leguay is doing it just right.
‘Quasi static crack propagation’ is one of the refreshing and fun to hear releases of 2013: it is eventful, dynamic and intricate; it presents to the detailed hearing a multitude of levels of texture and depth layered in a very fortunate way.
Six of the seven pieces that compose ’Quasi static crack propagation’ are no longer than 7 minutes -the final piece ‘Static’ is 13:54- and, although the release works as a full 46-minute narrative structure, the six shorter pieces become a universe of their own with very particular and specific sonic events which for me as a listener translates into a changing and frantic experience. In the other hand the final piece ‘Static (live at Eastern Bloc)’ appears like a sort of bonus track, like some appendix from the set of other pieces; it is almost twice as longer as any of the other pieces and presents a different narrative sense: this one seems more carefully built and it even tells an emotional story instead of crafting a series of gestures and actions as it occur on the other six pieces.
The creative process seems to be a very important aspect for Yann Leguay; his subversive and insurgent practices produce cyclic-mechanic sounds, which probably relates to his interest in vandalizing CD players and turntables.
The emotional structure in ‘QSCP’ is dynamic and eventful, its diverse and rich in sonorities; in addition the odd and fractured rhythmic and harmonic patterns develops a crackled tension throughout the 46 minutes building some sort of weird ‘timing’ that modulates the speed at what things occur.
This is a fun and entertaining release that I advice to listen in order to immerse in a frenzied and collapsing approach to beauty; on ‘QSCP’ the exploration of sounds is taken to a very interesting acute and disruptive level that rewards the listener with a striking acoustic experience.
As usual with Consumer Waste, the austere packaging has been compellingly designed, printed and put together.