Meridian: Recurrent but not repetitive
Text: Anita Pan
Lunar Dial and Meridian
Sound project “Meridian” derives from Gao Yuan’s animated short film Lunar Dial. It is to explore the inner logic between different sounds as well as the inner logic between sounds, the environment and human beings, starting with the sounds that are used in the soundtrack of Lunar Dial. The forthcoming performance at Capsule Shanghai is a vital part of this project. It centres on two bicycles which will be played as instruments for sound sampling and improvising, in order to create an atmosphere of a human wandering in the city, and to spark the audience’s imagination.
In the winter of 2015, I began working on Lunar Dial’s soundtrack. This was the first time that I did sound design and music for a video artwork and it took me over a year to get to the final version. All of the sounds were recorded from everyday life; some were from recordings I had made over the years out of my own interest, which I was pleasantly surprised by, but the majority were recorded specifically for the film. As for the music, I created it through improvisation while watching the rough cut of Lunar Dial, then recorded it anew with more suitable means. Electronic musician and music producer, thruoutin, mastered the soundtrack of Lunar Dial. “Meridian” will be performed by myself in collaboration with thruoutin.
The soundtrack of Lunar Dial was kept minimal, and only emerges when necessary. Gao Yuan and I hoped from the beginning that the soundtrack would not sound too industrial or smooth, so in order to make it more consistent with the character of Lunar Dial. We were inspired by the sound design of films such as Stalker, The Red Desert and Weekend: sounds from site-specific spaces, dramatic sounds, sounds that are surreal… And finally, the soundtrack of Lunar Dial turned out to be not only the link between surreal and real, but also an eraser of the boundary between the two. Sounds and images that are synchronous may at times appear divergent in terms of realism, and yet have a better chance to approach inner realism, which is unmeasurable.
Like a sun dial, a lunar dial is a tool to display time, except it uses the moonlight to do so. It records the shadow that time sheds upon a plane. It is designed to compensate for the inaccuracy of the moonlight and the blurriness of its shadow. It is visible and real. It demonstrates time, visually. A meridian is a hypothetical circle running through the equator that connects the north and south poles. It is an imagined auxiliary tool for humans to measure time and to mark time differences between specific places. It is invisible and does not actually exist. It speaks about time, verbally. In terms of “reality/imagination”, “time/space”, “accuracy/blurriness”, “vision/language”, a lunar dial and a meridian correspond to each other, but also stretch in independent directions.
Sounds as Speaking Images
When introducing the concept of “ekphrasis” in his Picture Theory, W. J. T. Mitchell mentioned a radio program that was once popular in the 20th century United States: “Bob and Ray”. The two presenters, Bob and Ray, often shared in their program something that is rarely seen in an audio experience: photographs. The shared photographs were invisible to the audiences, and yet the presenters seemed to intentionally ignore the presence (or absence) of the audiences. One of them would display the photos, the other would make some comments. Sometimes they would abruptly jump out and say to the audience, “I sure wish you folks out there in radioland could see these pictures” or “I’m sure glad you folks could look at these pictures with us today”. The absence of the biological eye causes an anxiety of not seeing, whereas the mind’s eye offers the hope of seeing. But more possibly, it is the fear of “actually seeing” that the mind’s eye eases, and to meet the desire for “keeping the images unseen” is the reason that the biological eye is absent. What is not seen can be envisioned. While seeing is a traceable experience, envisioning is able to enlarge and reinforce the experience of seeing. Because we already have the experience of vision, when sound is dancing solo, the tension of our unfolding imagination can be both audio and visual.
Project “Meridian” separates the sounds from the moving images on the screen, which they originally correspond with, and experiments with montages on these sounds alone. Before we are able to see and after we stop seeing, what could we envision by listening? This is the core issue that project “Meridian” intends to explore.
Wheeling, Breathing, Wandering
In Lunar Dial, there are two important threads that connect all of the recurrent elements: emotion and motion. I like to divide the word “emotion” into “e-motion”. After all, emotion is a kind of motion too, with its ups and downs.
The state of recurrence is manifest in many movements: the turning of wheels, the swaying of limbs, breaths, pulses, the waves, seesaws, repetitive work… Correspondingly, there is a typical image in the modern city: the wanderer in the street. Recurrent movements maintain a stability that keeps things in control, whereas wandering has a more arbitrary character, in which the wanderer occasionally escapes his or her routine roles. Inevitably, the wanderer must spend some undefinable, void time between one business and another, retreating from the roles he or she plays and watching the cityscape, while his or her mind is floating about.
It is exactly this atmosphere of wandering in the city that we try to portray in the upcoming performance. The bicycles play a central role, either as a vehicle for the wanderer to move with or as the background color of the cityscape that the wanderer sees. On top of this, sounds will flow in and fade out, and the audiences’ imaginations may wander, based on their lives’ memories and experiences, and the moving images they have seen on the screen.
About the Artists
Anita Pan is creative with multiple mediums. She studied literature at Leiden University and is now based in Beijing. In her exploration of the relationships and boundaries between word, image and sound, she works with mediums such as sound, word, photo, video, installation and performance. Her vocal practice has a focus on the interaction with environmental elements, so as to build imaginable scenes and atmosphere in accordance. She is the sound designer and musician in artist Gao Yuan’s animated short film Lunar Dial.
American born electronic producer and multi-instrumentalist, thruoutin, has been based in China since 2009. His work varies from project to project, but often revolves around the combining of different genres and with a focus on organic and digital sounds. He has brought his music to Canada, Taiwan, Korea, Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia and various cities in the US and throughout China. Besides self-releases, thruoutin has also been featured on such labels as Jingweir (Beijing), Huashan (Shanghai), 87Fei87 (Beijing), LABAREDA (Lisbon), Senzu Collective (North Hollywood), Aud-Art (Pittsburgh) and Ran Music (Beijing).