How does body movements create sound, how does dancing in a performance relate to the sound direction? In what way the space can become an instrument in itself?
Our presence into the space we live, the many interconnections we have with one another and the places we share, our body awareness and then the sounds of our body and many other aspects illustrate Maurice Merleau-Ponty’s phenomenology ideas in a genuine project that will be happening this October at Aures London.
“Human Presence” is the new project of Christian Duka and joins an osteopath, a choreographer, amazing dancers and another sound designer, creating live moments that explore the many facets of sound living and interacting with performers and space. Christian Duka’s sound blends generative music with high frequencies and noise in a balanced but visceral way. His last projects: “Nexus”, “The Office” and “Noise Culture” explore elements of body, mind, sensations, experience design, time and information and other factors of human presence that are being altered in the 21st century hyperconnected world.
The sound sculptures that Christian Duka creates have a cinematic aspect, at the same time are meant to trigger full experiences of their presence in the moment of the performance.
In “Nexus” the focus is on the body being the junction between the senses, the perceived world and the brain, a project created for MONOM 4D sound in Berlin. “Noise Culture”s concept is inspired by the exposure to hyper information, a project in which he interplays with the video artist Marco Maldarella, who joins him in “Human Presence” as well.
In “Human Presence” Christian Duka is working with the fantastic dancers in “Pell Ensemble” and choreograph Rebecca Evans who explores “digital dance” and connectivity of the audience with the dancing artists.
IM: You’re a sound designer doing an impressive paper with SAE in London in 2016 related to mind, health, dreams, sound, the way sound acts as a cathartic element into the healthiness of a brain and the stability of emotions.
Could you elaborate on this a bit? You continued the collaboration with SAE but it also made a big impact on your profile and the way you work as a person, curator and then as a sound designer. It would be really interesting because is somehow related to your ethos and leads to this installation which is about “Human Presence” as well as your other projects; it’s a very specific visceral kind of thing you have.
CD: I think it’s perfect to start from there because that’s really where everything began. That was the first moment I’ve realized where I stand in terms of sound and music, and that research project really came out of my own reflection, of my own experience.
I remember I was quite troubled and I chose a track to listen back in the days. And then I listened to it and I just felt immediately better, which is quite a normal thing – it’s a quite basic activity that people do it however I don’t think many are aware of the dynamics behind of it.
So then I thought: throughout my life, and throughout many peoples lives I believe, nowadays everyday music plays a therapeutic role. Then I just struggled to understand why: Is there some sort of scientifical ground behind it? And how can that be augmented? How can music serve the role more and more? I did this research and the reason that I tied it to dreams, which might not be quite a direct correlation it was trying to understand the function of dreams.
I already had an intuition that dreams play a therapeutic role in our day to day lives, and did some research on some amazing studies, one in particular by Rosalind Cartwright, who she realized that dreams can actually help you to process emotions. They have an incredibly good impact on people that go through depression. She realized that those who go through depression, they have specific dreams that are different from those who do not process their emotions in them.
And that element, the element of what makes a dream therapeutic and effective on your own mental health is the presence of emotions in there, it's your subjective experience of emotions right there in the dream. When dreams are being described as very powerful emotionally, you're describing them in first person, you're like "ooh, I really felt that, that happened and it made me feel that, and i was so angry, or whatever”, that's when the dream is playing a really good role, is really helping you in terms of mental health and there's some down regulating emotions, right?
I thought, "Well, we have an element there - is there an emotional expression and emotional impact that the content of the experience has on you?". Then: "How am I tying it to music? What's the relationship and why do I draw the comparison?".
Is still a bit of a grey area, but the main thing is that music is capable of activating those unconscious contents that are activated in dreams. And that's mainly because music is quite immaterial, I think it's one of the most immaterial art forms, in the sense that it's most of the time not representative and it lets you wonder, it lets you connect with the unconscious contents.
I'm not a psychologist for sure but this is something I have realized on my own and intuition says that's part of the deal. So then I thought if music is to play a role that is similar to dreams, then that music needs to be highly emotional to begin with and because of that, because of the emotional activation you are able to process everything that you have unprocessed in terms of the unconscious content for you to get to a better mental state, right?
That influenced everything that I did later on, it's influencing what I do now and it will influence everything I will do up until the day I will die. And that is creating emotional experiences with music. But now, how emotional?
IM: Exactly. That's one of the questions because another topic is how does music necessarily need to be related to emotions?
CD: The reason that it has to be in terms of the kind of comparison that I am doing is quite simply the fact that if dreams are not emotional, they don’t play a role in mental health, right?
So music needs to do that if we can draw this comparison. When you are having an emotional experience, you are necessarily connecting to your inner world, meaning you unconscious content, your memory, and you are undergoing this process that is necessary for the maintenance of mental health according to studies on dreams, according to psychology as well, and the psychiatric process people undergo when they are doing therapy.
I need to say here is that I'm not considering everyone being crazy and that he is necessary to be cured; the point here is to maintain mental health, meaning to be able to assert an emotional maturity and being aware, observing of your own emotions on a day to day basis that will keep the mental health at an optimum state, right?
Going back to my work, how am I making these musical pieces? How am I creating the emotional content? How can I be sure that someone will be going to have an emotional experience?
For that, I studied a bit what is creating emotions in music. And that has to do with expectations and qualities of the musical content, but as much as you can be scientific about it, there isn't a golden rule that this will be emotional for someone. The way I work is to create a journey that is quite dynamic in terms of the qualities of the emotional content. It goes into very different emotional realms, but the way it's accomplished is always quite abstract, it's not representative. It doesn't aim to give you a concept, it doesn't aim to describe a particular structure that you need to get. It's not one of those experiences that you need to read about it, otherwise you would not get it.
It's something that is so open to your own interpretation; it's very possible that you will make your own journey about it, in a way that is similar to letting the mind free and the unconscious free to interpret it the way it wants, and that has to do with music being able to communicate to parts of your own mind that you are not aware of and that do not speak words, but they speak the language of symbols.
IM: This is interesting from the perspective of you being the wizard and guiding the listener within your sounds. You are very passionate of drones, distortion and saturation, and you use these elements quite frequently so it really is a part of your approach to sound design. Having said that, how do you feel this correlates with creating emotions: why are drones so specific and so important? To what distortion, the sound being clipped or modified by the inability to flow through the media, or to the processor or similar, really correlates with?
CD: This is a very interesting topic, and I think you can not speak about drones without speaking about distortion in terms of my work, because I really love to combine these. I mean, if you take a drone, the way in which it sounds, the way in which it goes is pretty much the opposite of distortion. They are in two completely different dynamic ranges.
Distortion is extreme, distortion is overwhelming the senses. Drones can go in such a way that will allow this kind of peaceful state of mind, that kind of smooth experience. So they play a role in that creating super dynamic experiences that change incredible variation when one goes into the other.
I really like to make drones that have a harmonic content, a musical content that is very complex. Because of that, they activate something that I'm not really aware of, but being so in a haze that lots of different harmonies that intertwine with each other and they in a very complex way; it's to me it represents the complexity of emotions on a day to day basis.
It's not one chord, it's not a minor chord or a major chord, we are never just happy or just sad. It's just a complex turmoil of emotions of that we go in on a day to day basis. Drones, the way I create them, to me they just represent that. They sound the way that the emotions feel [for a normal person] I would take this out, it’s redundant here on planet Earth in 2018. That's one reason. Because of the way they work, drones will allow you space for thoughts. They are a background to something that you are undergoing in your mind's eye.
A lot of people say that the music I make seems to be a kind of soundtrack for a film, and they are right: the film is not on the screen, the film is in their minds. And that's there to give you a space to imagine and to see whatever you want to see. And you are able to do so because the music is not so overpowering. It's setting the tone, it's setting the mood and you match that mood with the content of your imagination.
In terms of distortion, I absolutely love noise, and the reason that I do that is pretty much the opposite function of drones. Drones are there to give you space to think and noise is there to make you stop thinking and just be aware of the way that the noise makes you feel, meaning you go back to that very physical experience and noise activates a reaction in you that is very primal.
It has to do with a feeling of fear in the face of a danger of such a loud content, but because we are so advanced we are able to appreciate that and that fear becomes the sublime, right? When you have an experience of noise, very harsh, loud noise, you can not help but just be aware of how that is affecting your body. That's overpowering your senses. You're not really having space to think at first.
Only after you are able to appreciate that and to be in the present moment realizing how much that is having an impact on you, then one might argue that it's actually possible to have this kind of imaginative experience in your own mind as something that I do as well when listening to noise. But, let's say that on a basic level that's there to complement the function of drones.
It's a concept that is fascinating to me. It's an element of the threshold between one element and all of the elements at the same time.
IM: In your next performance which is going to happen on the October 21st you're inspired by Sundip Aujla's work who’s an osteopath. How will muscles and the body correlated with music in this project in “Human presence” in which you are working with some other really talented people?
CD: This project came as an inspiration from what I did in Berlin. I did an experience there which was called “Nexus” with Joseph Bann that was about the body and trying to understand how the body works, and trying to bring awareness over our embodied experience.
When I came back to London I realized there was another venue that had the previous sound system and then needed to have someone that could help me to really understand at an anatomical level, at a scientific level what's happening in our body when we are experiencing the world everyday. But especially, what happens in our body when we are able to be aware of how our body is feeling, of how our body is.
I approached Sundip, which is a great friend of mine as well and helped an he gave me a whole framework, and a whole description of everything that happens in our body when we are simply processing information from the outside and when we are processing information from inside.
He opened me the doors to a sense that is a lesser known sense and it's called interoception. And, interoception give us the ability to sense our internal world and that's what affects our emotions as well. It's the closest we can get without having to go to philosophical conversations about understanding the science of emotions. So, he gave me a whole framework in which he gave me information about what happens when you receive a stimulus and how that stimulus is being processed and what role does the nervous system play and the brain plays, and how the three systems correlate: the senses, our five senses, the nervous system, the brain - what's the path the information goes to and in which direction? Where do all of these elements stand?
As well as these three he made me realize the role that interoceptors play and they are there to get all the information from inside and together with the processing that the brain is going through getting the information from the outside, all of this interplay between these elements: so interoceptors, exteroceptors, nervous system and brain, their well functioning in them makes us able to relate to the world in logical and emotional ways but also to also have this process of homeostasis in which we can reach about us and be able to cooperate with the world. And this is really what everything is based on. The whole place is a metaphor for all of these functionings.
The venue in reality is just a body. The people that are there to experience it, they are playing a role, they are a specific element of the body, I don't want to disclose too much, because if people read this before the performance, they will have too many expectations.
Every single element, the dancers, the performance artists, the sound, the audience - they are players inside of a body, they are directly correlated to elements that we know scientifically how they work inside of a body. And that's exactly the role that Sundip has. Was that of guiding me, advising me on understanding the anatomy of the body and the structure of it, how everything works, in which order, for me to create from an artistic director perspective, from a curatorial perspective, but also from a choreographic perspective if we think about the dance group, to really create a metaphor for it - an artistic representation of something that is so physical and so understood.
IM: This is actually a complex curation. You're inspired by Maurice Merleau-Ponty and phenomenology, so presence, especially in music: “Our own body is in the world as the heart is in the organism”.
This is really interesting in terms of approaching live presence. There is this other thing which actually I've found at Unsound, a festival which we both love, there was this philosopher whose name is Armen Avanessian who had a conference about temporal components and accelerationism. This is interesting because the phenomenology doesn't quite stand against an era where time is dilated or where time comes upon us accelerated with all sorts of correlations and AI and elements from the future; bespoke components related to our web behavior. Is this possible to be a future project.. or how do you think this relates to the topic?
CD: This is incredible because I already did a work based on Armen's philosophy in Berlin and I am going to propose it after that. I really did a work on accelerationism, but it was a little experiment that I did with Joseph Bann and another collaborator from Milan, her name is Sabina Cuccibar, and this performance is called “The Office”. This performance is exactly about accelerationism.
DVKA: “The dancers are there expressing themselves and moving in relation to the concept that influences Elissavet, who takes that interpreted the way that she wants it related to the concept which then gives us content as sound designers, which we ourselves interpret and relate it to the concept so that every element is at the service of the concept but they are independent in their own expression at the same time.”
“The Office” is an experiment that we did and we really wanted to talk about accelarationism and how that relates to presence. So the performance goes that you are sitting on a chair and in front of you there is a table, and on this table there are two people working, they are in an office, right ? And they are typing on their keyboard and what you are wearing is a pair of headphones with microphones outside of it.
Because of that you are able to hear pre-recorded material but also events happening in the moment. And what you hear at first, and you realize it only a bit after, is everything that is going to happen but only in sound, in advance.
You are reading the future by sound, meaning that when the performance starts you are seeing them writing down on a piece of paper, but what you are hearing is the typing of a keyboard. After a while, they start typing on a keyboard and you start hearing someone saying "oh, you re going to be late to the meeting". After a while, in the real world that person will be saying to the other "oh, you re going to be late to the meeting". And as the time goes by, your prediction of the future and what you predict, the distance between the two happening, so the prediction and the realization becomes closer and closer.
The interval of time between you predicting that and that happening becomes shorter and shorter, and I've used that idea of accelerationism, your prediction of what's going to happen acccelerates and as the performance goes by everything starts to get closer to you. So the person that was late for the meeting is going to go to the meeting, but the meeting takes place with a person that you might have not been very much aware of which was sitting right next to you. That's the boss of this office, right? So she goes to the boss and they start to have their meeting.
What you'll hear, obviously this is all augmented by sounds that really communicate this element of acceleration of time and increasing of tension, and really, higher intensities to augment your presence inside of it.
Your prediction and the real world materialisation of that prediction, they are so close to each other that you re hearing just phasing and you re getting two sounds that are delayed by a very small amount of time. And when they become one, when you reach singularity of prediction and real world resolution of that prediction, when you’re not predicting the world anymore, meaning that you re hearing it as it happens, the two turn to you and you realize that you are part of the meeting, meaning that you are part of the performance as an actor when you are not predicting time anymore.
IM: That sounds really amazing. I mean, I would really like to see it or participate in it.
CD: We did some test there with people in Berlin and the effects were amazing. We are going to take it further after the “Human Presence” but the incredible thing is that she is in contact with Armen Avanessian and he was really impressed by the work. And he was also impressed with the fact that his thoughts could travel so much to become a sound driven experience.
What I was really fascinated was about in relation to this project is that it brings it back to our own relationship with time, ourselves being predictive about the future and how we're being maybe melancholic about the past, and how exist in the present. There is the element of how when you are predicting it you are detached, when you are living it you are there.
The element of accelerationism for how it can be relevant today, it also tells someone about our relationship with time and perhaps the threats connected to being so predictive about the future. however there is an element of balance, a need to be between our being present and our being in such an accelerated society.
IM: Within “Human Presence” you are working with Jose Macabra, who's got a really creative history with noise and sound improvisation. Could you share some of the details of the sound design process with him? Another designer you mentioned in your collaboration but an experience designer is which is Joseph Bahn. Is really interesting in terms of design flow, how do you guys work from the concept to the actual performance ?
CD: Yes, Joseph Bahn was my collaborator in “Nexus”. The way the collaboration between me and Joseph Bann worked was that he really took care about the concept well: the user experience, the user perspective and that what I did in sound matched the user experience, that the person who will go through the experience will really get what we wanted him to get which was that element of embodied sensation of sound. So he questioned how this would look like putting himself in the shoes of the experiencer as he walks into the venue.
And we really split roles. I would create sounds and I would create their own sonic journey and he would try to look at the concept and make effective ways for that to really impact the user as he gets it. And that worked really well with that kind of split roles and we would encompass the translation of the concept into sound and the translation of the experience into the user experience.
With Jose Macabra it's different, because he is a sound designer as well as I am. The way in which we are working is that right now we are in the process of accumulating a lot of different sounds that we record of internal organs or of bodies, that are then processed and abstracted, as well as sounds that we related to different sections of the structures.
You would have all the noisy heritage of Jose Macabra, all the intensity of that harshness but also elements that would be completely the opposite, something that is more tonal, these two relate to different parts inside of the structure. They way in which we are working is that we are accumulating and collecting folders with lots of different sounds that we then place inside the space in a 3D environment and we are using them to engage in improvisation with the moving bodies.
The reason why we pre-create all of that is to then be able to process them live and to mix them live and to move them around the space live in such a way that we can be present inside this experience ourselves having all the content that we want. That would match with whatever the moving bodies are doing in relationship to the concept in “Human Presence”.
IM: How does 3D sound really work? These many facets of the sound were studied since Stockhausen in the 60s within Spiral and other things that he did. And there's also the history of quadrophony which is being revived by amazing artists such as Suzanne Ciani. There is this aspect related to the many directions of sound, or many channels of the sounds, take for example Dolby Atmos system which has tens of channels, sound and performance aspect which is still not explored enough. How 3D correlate with sound design and the movement?
CD: When you're using 3D sound you're having lots of different speakers placed inside of a room and they are covering the 3 axis. So they are in different places around your left and right, back and front, top and bottom. In our situation you have two parallel stacks of speakers, they are going through two walls of 16 meters each, so they are a total of 50 speakers and they are covering the whole length. So on the left and right you have two walls and on each wall from the top to the end of the space you have ranges of speakers. So the sound can be placed inside of that: it can be placed on one corner or it can be placed midway and all of the spaces in between just like front and back of you, left and right. But you also have speakers that are somewhere on the top and somewhere on the bottom so that gives you the height.
The sound can be really coming from everywhere inside of the space. What I really love about this and the way in which this works is: you have a controller, you have a way to place the sound inside of the space, you can do it manually, you can move it around, you can create motions or gestures that can be moving, modulated inside of the space, they can be moving circularly or maybe in an upwards spiral, or random movements.
The space becomes an instrument, becomes a sound design tool, let’s say you have a sine tone, or a drone, when that’s moving the way in which this sounds changes so the space is creating modulations inside of the sound. The sound changes because is moving: the space is a sound design tool. That’s really what it is: is using a space as an instrument.
“There will always be this combination of science and art but also different artforms that are intersecting and also elements of improvisation.
Just like the “Human Presence” project improvisation is playing a big role meaning that you cannot predict what’s going to happen, if you do that you’re not improvising anymore, and to be able to improvise you need to be in the present moment yourself.
That’s something that is a constant in all of my work, in my audio visual collaborations that I have done in the past.”
IM: Within “Human Presence” you’re working with amazing Elissavet Syfri having very visceral approaches to movement as well an experience of correlating movement with sound. Really nice curation. Could you describe her involvement in the “Human Presence” project.
CD: She plays a role inside of the concept which is related to a certain part of the body, aspect that I won’t be disclosing it to you. The role șhe plays is that of connecting movements into sound: she’s the only agent that can move and she can create sound at the same time. There will be moments in which she will be speaking and her expression relates to her own heritage, to her own work, the very visceral attitude that she has.
In all the collaborations and future curations I always want to give artists the freedom to them to be expressing whatever way they want to express, although I am telling them that they are in the service of the concept, that they have their own freedom in expressing that in whichever way they want. She will be there present with her own heritage and her own personality and she will be connected to whatever is going on and she’s the bridge between movement and sound, that’s the role that she plays.
She will be interplaying with the dancers, but whatever she produces in terms of sound, some will be pre-recorded some will be created in the moment that’s then processed by us and interpreted by us. The dancers are there expressing themselves and moving in relation to the concept that influences Elissavet, who takes that interpreted the way that she wants it related to the concept which then gives us content as sound designers which we ourselves interpret and relate it to the concept, so that every element is at the service of the concept but they are independent in their own expression at the same time. If we were related to phenomenology, to Maurice Merleau-Ponty, he says that:
“Humanity is not an aggregate of individuals, a community of thinkers ( each of whom is guaranteed from the outset to be able to reach agreement with the others because all participate in the same thinking essence. )”
They are in a way independent and alone and yet they cannot do anything without the other so they contribute to the whole with their own personality, the whole is given by the sum of this, but the result of the sum is much bigger than the sum of the parts because of being at the service to the concept.
IM: Pell Ensemble, is really nice to have movement at the core of your project. How did you come to work with them and could you explain your relation with the Pell Ensemble?
CD: They got in contact with me thanks to Osteopath Sundip Aujla which he knew Rebecca Evans who is the choreographer and they were instructing Pilates together but he was also aware of her main work which is of the choreography of the Pell Ensemble, she does incredible things with them, she did a work called Upload/Unplug which provides interactivity between the audience and the dancers, you can influence what they are going to do, or direct what they are going to - so we got in contact.
We needed to create movement because I wanted to create something akin to a “gesamtkunstwerk” which is the intersection of different artforms to create one big total work of art. I thought that the dancers, having moving bodies inside the experience will really relate to the concept and I wanted to create this transition between moving bodies and sound to really represent this embody-sonic experience.
I got in contact with Rebecca which as any other party involved in the project is influencing the whole work and the role she had as well was really that of poking me in very weak points of what I wanted to represent, really asking me: “how is the body relating to all of this in terms of the movements?”. She made incredible good questions that propelled me to really finish the whole conceptual framework and to finish the improvisations on floor. The dancers themselves they are playing a role related to this metaphor, they are the moving bodies and they are only moving and they are in very close proximity to the people. They are related to the concept in collaboration with sounds and Elissavet.
IM: About the things to come. What are the new projects that you are working or will be working at?
CD: One will be “The Office” which I am really keen of and the other is to be able materialize the dreaming content in experiences and the future aim is to be able to collaborate with other performance artists and dancers again.
I want to be able to represent experiences that are really dream-like so they can become something that the audience can be experiencing it as if their own dream and will provide that kind of oniric experience, but in real life, and that will contain 3D sound content inside of it as well. This time I want to partner with someone who is an expert in the science of dreams and neurology that will basically play the same role that Sundip plays here but related to future projects.
There will always be this combination of science and art but also different artforms that are intersecting and also elements of improvisation. Just like the “Human Presence” project improvisation is playing a big role meaning that you cannot predict what’s going to happen, if you do that you’re not improvising anymore, and to be able to improvise you need to be in the present moment yourself. That’s something that is a constant in all of my work and collaborations that I have done in the past.
To close it, improvisation to me is bringing forth the unpredictable, to make the experience as unpredictable as everyday life is. The real aim of all of my work is creating something that feels real. Is really feeling like a real experience, you’re almost questioning: is this something that someone created before or is it happening now? Is something that you have the feeling that hasn’t been really prepared and is just happening there in the moment but it’s a work of art and to me is the beautiful celebration of life in general.
To me living life is living art and I really want to bring awareness to the art of everyday living as it unfolds; to really bring real like experiences, real life motions, real life unpredictability into the curatorial space, into an art piece.