In Collapsing Ourselves from 2014, Hong-Kai Wang and Mattin presented a formal exploration of a dialogue in disorienting spatial contexts: four tracks layered over each other with varying levels of audibility, Chinese, English, sounds from different spaces, digital artifacts, snippets of self-reflexive conversation. This was done not as a way to innovate a new compositional framework or sound, but rather to problematize the social experience of playing the recording back, listening to it, and reflecting on it.

With this next iteration of the project, the process of superimposing four recorded conversations is repeated, though this time it was done with material recorded remotely over Skype and the addition of myself as the third conversant in the mix. A live remote performance took place between Taipei, Berlin, and Philadelphia on Saturday, December 16th, 2017 and the resulting audio contribution is a layered mix of all three sites (with Berlin represented for about a third of the recording due to technical issues). The playback experience is likewise affected, collapsing the boundaries between what is happening on the recording and the spaces it occupies.

Collapsing is the process of linking the inside text with the outside world. There is no outside-text. The tension between what we hear and how we talk about what we hear constructs a multi-layered dialogic space for the listener. Much like the use of diegetic and non-diegetic sound in film, the audible questions posed by Hong-Kai, Mattin and myself for our own reflection are turned around and opened up for a speculative listening audience.

On the sleeve of Collapsing Ourselves, Mike Sperlinger writes, “When Hong-Kai and Mattin speak, they are talking over themselves. When they pose questions, it is not clear who they are for, even if we can discern them, or whether an answer is expected – perhaps they are rhetorical? A rhetorical question is a kind of mirror too: it assumes we know the answer, that we reflect the views of the questioner. But I am not sure if the questions in Collapsing Ourselves are rhetorical. I am not sure that there is an answer shared enough to remain unspoken, or that I know who ‘we’ are any more than I know who you are. The answers that are spoken, for the record, are uncertain. Thoughts out of harmony.”

Upon playback of the combined session I find myself swallowed in the sea of voices, straining to follow any particular snippet of conversation. At points, Hong-Kai tries to swim in the opposite direction, asserting herself against an indifferent wave of chatter: “I’m trying to have a conversation here!”

But conversation isn’t the locus point of activity. Rather it’s the trying, the effort to correspond or alternatively the lack thereof that opens up a disorienting space for corrupted reflection and shared social confusion. We speak into disparate spaces, and hear but can’t quite listen, as one Philadelphia audience member posits. The sea amplifies or obscures our voices and ultimately collapses us.

– EL

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