TROY— How do we hear? What is the subjective nature of sound? How do deaf people connect to sound?
These are some of the questions Lebanese electronic performer and composer Tarek Atoui has been researching for several years.
On Thursday evening in Studio 1 at the Experimental Media and Performance Arts Center at RPI, about 100 people heard some of his latest ideas from his use of a laptop, woofers, infrared sensors and various electronic equipment as well as the very interesting discussion, brief video presentation, and question and answer session that followed.
Atoui stood in bare feet to better “hear” the vibrations before a table loaded with his equipment and turned knobs, pushed switches, or fluttered his hands like wings over the sensors to create electronic sounds that squawked, peeped, squealed, piped, throbbed or rang from soft to loud levels.
Often, he’d bob and weave with the pulse of the sounds. Everyone was given ear plugs because some of the sounds, such as the bass, were not only loud but vibrated up from the floor through the chairs. Although his computer crashed twice, his soundscapes, which Atoui said were structured improvisations in which he always knows where he’s going, ranged from otherworldly or eerie to playful, contemplative or driven.
He said he wanted to present three sources in his various sound samplings: oscillating for digital mass; drones, which were pre-recorded from string instruments; and tribal inferences, especially those from Africa or the United Arab Emirates where Atoui has spent much time. For this performance, which was part of Atoui’s residency, he wanted to create timbres and mass rather than focus on harmonic values and to show off a wide variety of vibrations. This included specific rhythms, which often repeated for long stretches of time.
Atoui also explores aural space between playing outdoors or in a hall in relationship to an audience, and the use of gesture as it connects to sign language. But his focus is a sound’s vibrations, particularly in relationship to deafness. His first project on this subject was “Within” at the 2011 Sharjah Biennial in the Emirates. Thursday’s project, “Within 2,” continues on this and related issues and is in collaboration with the Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive in Berkeley.
Other Atoui sonic projects have been presented in Germany, South Korea, England, Sweden, and New York City.