Yan Jun is a pretty cool dude. He has a simple sound set up where he plays feedback frequencies, or, as he said in the Q&A following the performance, he “dances” the frequencies. Because the Carrack is a small, enclosed venue, Yan Jun chose to use silence/ambient noise as a part of his performance. As he began, he looked over his sound rig, which was several small, naked speaker parts, a shotgun mic with parabolic shield, contact mics, a mixing board and speakers with their own mixer. He looked at his rig for a long time, as if he had never seen it before. (He had been sitting and looking at it for the hour or so before he started performing. He said he had done an hour long sound check as well.) He was focused, relaxed and unhurried.
I listened to some You Tube videos of Yan Jun performing and knew what to expect. This is the realm of noise, static, and all inclusive harmonics with very few tones standing out to the ear. This is a different kind of music with a deeply interactive function. Yan Jun interacts with the feedback loop frequencies, the space, the vibe of the people in attendance, even the vibration that is posturing the space we were inhabiting. I asked him about his process and he said he goes by the “feeling” of the frequencies. He makes decisions about whether or not to “follow” the sound that happens in the moment. He seems to be having quite an intimate experience with the vibration. So then how do I, as an audience (in the truest sense of the word) find a way into what he is creating? Without the familiar tonal forms and cadences, clearcut harmonic relations, how do I engage with this music?
There seem to be a vast number of ways to engage and disengage with Yan Jun’s creations. His very deep focus on his personal interaction with vibrations in the room really demands the same from us as listeners. We have to bring something to the table. One woman said she was directed by his movements as to what to hear. Mirroring the creator’s experience is one way our brains and minds can interact with this creation. As it is a kind of “abstract” music, the invitation is to “read story” into it. We are highly trained experts at reading story into all aspects of existence. Since Yan Jun was so deeply engaged, many people could access by reading story into his movements and the resulting sounds.
People with hearing sensitivites might be invited to disengage. The frequencies and the distortion, while not painfully loud to me, may have been to others. This type of performance pushes the boundaries of our perceptions and our expectations, which often limit our perceptions. This can be a painful experience, but not an intolerable one.
I decided to use a spectrum analyzer to engage with the performance. Yan Jun said he pays no attention to what frequencies he is generating; this is not scientific, he goes by feel. My interest in the spectrum analyzer was to see/ hear if there were any patterns to his performance. First a disclaimer: I am just learning how to use spectrum analyzers, so I don’t understand everything about them. They give a measurement of amplitude to frequency, which I read as a means of locating dominant (louder) frequencies. I weighted the analyzer with a lower sensitivity to low sounds, sat as close to the sweet spot between the four speakers as I could get, and used an Ipad app called Analyzer. I went back and forth between watching Yan Jun and the analyzer. While I could not see patterns, a sonic progression did emerge.
He began with silence, then brought in low rumbling frequencies below -40 dBl FS (I used this amplitude parameter, which is used in computer sound measure where 0.0 dBl is the loudest sound before clipping. I don’t know if this was an accurate way to measure acoustic sound, but I went with the familiar.) My window into the app tops at about 14 kHz. Early on, I was not seeing any frequencies except the low ones (which at one point were picked up by a passing motorcycle). So I watched Yan Jun, who, at times made gestures and no change occurred in my ear, so he appeared to be having some difficulty engaging the frequencies. He got up and moved his chair back and to the left. From that point on he stood, and seemed to get entrained to what he was looking for. Frequencies around 13 kHz gave way to more around 8kHz. At one point bunches of frequencies popped up in the 13-14 kHz range. As the performance progressed, he engaged more frequencies in the 8kHz range, then he spent some time in 1-2 kHz (this range sounding a bit more familiar to my ear.) At one point there were patches of frequencies slightly above and below the lower ranges of the human voice (100 Hz- 1kHz) and I thought he was avoiding those frequencies. By the end, he was bringing up more frequencies in that range, with harmonics at 8kHz popping up many times.
So I was engaged in watching and listening to (I don’t feel that I can say I was hearing them) frequencies and how they unfolded during the evening. Seeing a progression of movement was very engaging for me. I was also thinking of this experience as a sonic cleansing or a brain massage. Brain research has revealed that when a specific frequency is generated and picked up by the amazing human hearing mechanism, part of the brain physically vibrates at that same frequency. This has been measured and there is a direct vibrational correlation between frequencies and your brain. So just WoW, and congratulations to all who came and experienced some edgy performance art. Your brains are probably better for it!