Artist Samson Young on transcribing sonic compositions into graphic notations to discuss global concerns.
Walking up the steps of Experimenter gallery in Kolkata, the quietude is broken with the voice of jazz vocalist Michael Schiefel sharing the thoughts of American composer Earle Brown in a re-enactment of his lecture ‘Notational Tendencies and Performance Processes’, delivered at Germany’s Darmstadt International Summer Course for New Music in 1964.
Emphasising on the need for ‘cultural responsibility’ of notational practices, the video installation titled on the lecture seems the most befitting starting point for artist Samson Young’s solo “Available Forms” at the gallery. “His (Brown’s) very specific approach to graphic connotation is not something people talk about a lot,” says the Hong Kong-born artist.
Known to incorporate elements of music into his art practice, giving image to sounds, the trained composer with a Ph.D in Music Composition from Princeton University often comments on global issues and conflicts, through his work. If in December 2018, he invited audiences to debate the notion of utopia on a touring broadcast van for a live radio show, he has also recorded and archived the sounds of protests on the streets of Hong Kong.
His first American solo museum exhibition at Smart Museum in Chicago, titled ‘Silver Moon or Golden Star, Which Will You Buy of Me?’, analysed the present in context of the optimism expressed at the 1933 Chicago World’s Fair. “It came from the feeling of being conflicted about the idea of utopia and then using moments connected to either imagination or invention of utopia as a way to process what it has meant at different times,” says Young, 40.
If in the 2012-14 work Liquid Borders, he presented sound compositions and graphic notations of the sounds he recorded in the area separating China and Hong Kong, in the exhibition ‘Pastoral History’ in 2015, he attempted to reproduce sounds of war, among others. The 2017 Venice Biennale saw him explore charity singles in the exhibition titled ‘Songs for Disaster Relief’.
“I am fascinated with the way he brings in fundamental aspects of cultural understanding of what things are meant to be… Different ways of looking at things through mediums that we haven’t explored enough; how sound, music and spoken voice have been presented as tools of instruction but also control,” says gallerist Prateek Raja.
At a time when anti-government protests have rocked Hong Kong, Young might not be directly addressing the situation in his ongoing solo in Kolkata, but the multi-layered approach offers perspectives. So step into a room and the poster on the wall calls out to ‘Choose Your Revolt and its Shadow’. Printed below is a song Row row row your boat, “composed in the form of an infinite canon”.
If 3-D printed sculptures, Support Structures, are made from “modified surpluses from the processes of 3-D printing models of iconic works of classical sculpture, such as The Thinker by Auguste Rodin and The Discobolus by Myron”, the series of drawings titled ‘Chopin’ is based on abstract cluster of scribbles “with a pen plotter markings of Polish composer Frederic Chopin’s original manuscripts, where he crossed out mistakes made in the composition”.
Those in Kolkata during the opening week of the exhibition also saw a performance by Kolkata-based American musician Vachagan Tadevosyan, based on musical interpretation of “notational objects” jointly conceived by Young and Tadevosyan. “I imagined that these objects can be played as notation, and Vachagan too shared his interpretation, which we then put down in a manual,” says Young.
Meanwhile, in his Hong Kong studio are recordings of bells from 14 countries, not just the sound but also their context and stories. “It’s such a complicated object, associated with religion, peace but also other things; for instance, historically, during wars, bells were melted for making weapons. It’s such a tranquil object, but in villages when there were wars over religion, it caused people to be armed. So there are these inherent contradictions,” says Young, who is still adding to the body of work.
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