‘(a(version)s),’ presented at Cuchifritos Gallery + Project Space, highlights the original compositions of ten sound artists who examine the formal and conceptual use of sampling—the act of appropriating pre-recorded sound. The artists in ‘(a(version)s)’ employ a range of methods and techniques to transmit experimental narratives that acknowledge and examine the politics of listening. Curated by Joe Namy, the exhibition features the work of Basel Abbas, Boikutt, Cynthia Zaven, El-Iqaa, Halim El Dabh, Lawrence Abu Hamdan, Mohamed Abdelkarim, Rayya Badran, Rough Americana, and SC MoCha.
Embedded on one dubplate, an acetate disc similar to a vinyl record, the sonic works are played out loud through one turntable and two standing speakers, at the centre of the gallery. The immersive installation contains an individual seat facing the turntable and speakers, where the listener is invited to play, handle, and control the record. Ten sound compositions flow seamlessly one after the other until the record must be flipped to its B-side.
Sound is inescapable. It is communicative, expressive, and even domineering—it affects and informs our embodied experience. The abstraction of sound through editing, altering, and mixing strips its original meaning and assigns a new, ambiguous purpose. Sampling inherently deals with history and its retelling, and creates a space for conceiving counter interpretations of dominant perspectives. The artists, who all have links to the Middle East, extract and dissect sounds to produce compositions that challenge the social and formal aesthetic of sounds art.
Using an autobiographical approach, ‘A Bag of Cassettes Vol.1’ by Basel Abbas is reminiscent of turning the dial on an AM/FM radio that catches fleeting sound bites of music, commercials, and conversation. Abbas splices, distorts, and stitches audio from childhood cassette tapes. The compilation of these diverse tapes becomes an abstract self-portrait of the artist, where he connects the impact of these tapes on his current sampling practice. His personal ties and memories to these sounds are used to explore the boundaries between organic and artificial processes when working with and through sound.
Three pieces by Lawrence Abu Hamdan isolate distinct moments that vaguely reflect the climate of contemporary culture and critically respond to our globalized society. ‘The Chipmunk in the Court of Saddam’ turns testifying voices in defence of Saddam Hussein during his trial into squeaky, high-pitched caricatures—a symbol of the fraught relationship between the West and the Middle East. ‘Animal Rights AKA: MGM’s Lion: The first sonic theft’ spotlights the iconic MGM lion roar, which was the first copyrighted ‘non musical’ sound. The nine-second piece points to the absurdity of capitalism and its imperialist tendencies to assume everything can be owned. In ‘FRE Speech 6.0,’ the artist copies instructional audio for voice verification technology from an Israeli company, linking the tensions between security and freedom. The artist’s minimal manipulation and subtle editing in these separate pieces are in themselves a commentary and critique where the listener must interpret autonomously.
Sound—ephemeral and permeable—transcends through space, time, and dimension. The artists in ‘(a(version)s)’ establish a collective narrative that considers the influence of sound and its processes. Furthermore, the experimental exhibition is a space where listeners are actively engaged. Directly above the speakers, the listener encounters wall text that references the legacy of Halim El Dabh, an Egyptian composer and a pioneer of electronic music. It also defines the role of the listener within the installation. The end of the text reads poetically yet, assertively: “The scratches and dirt on this record are traces of those who listened, held, and amplified the sounds before you, a long slow feedback loop which you are now implicated.” The listener becomes contributor to the history of these sound works through the physical act of listening—playing, pausing, stopping, flipping, and repeating.