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3 April 2017

Yann Novak: Ornamentation (Touch)

Los
Angeles-based sound artist Yann Novak has been busy, having released
both this recent performance recording on Touch as well as a two-hour
album last year on his own Dragon’s Eye imprint, Idleness,
Endlessness
. For those unfamiliar, Novak’s repertoire focuses largely
around highly minimal drones and field recordings, often supplemented
by light-based visuals. Ornamentation is a live capture of one of
Novak’s performances, and it falls right in line with other works in
his œuvre. Like some of Novak’s other work, Ornamentation is perhaps
best understood by means of its conceptual underpinnings. Rather than
rewrite the press release, here is what Touch has to say about it:

On
Ornamentation Novak resists modernism’s problematic relationship to
race, class and labour, and attempts to decouple contemporary
minimalist sound work from this historical precedent. The title
refers to Adolf Loos’s notorious 1913 manifesto, ‘Ornament and
Crime,’ in which the author argues that the desire to adorn
architecture, the body, objects, etc., is a primitive impulse, and
the proper and moral evolution of Western culture depends in part
upon the removal of ornamentation from daily life. Loos devalued the
labor traditionally associated with aesthetics and beauty, and
equated ornamentation with the degenerate. In this context, one could
consider ornamentation as a way of viewing decay. His examples as
such (tattoos, fashion, style, painting, et al.) predictably fell
along divisions of race and class, coding modernity as the next
outward manifestation of white, capitalist patriarchy. Throughout the
process of creating Ornamentation, Novak attempts to sidestep some of
Loos’s modernist intolerances by focusing on the labor of composition
itself, rather than particular processes or structures. Novak began
by incorporating specific field recordings from his archive,
deliberately selected for their poor quality; awkward interruptions,
low fidelity smartphone recordings, problematic frequencies. The
selection of these difficult sounds, processed alongside recordings
of his modular synthesizer, created a unique set of challenges for
Novak where the familiar, reductive approaches would fail to be
useful and ultimately abandoned in favor of more dynamic, additive,
and laborious process. Unlike minimalism with its roots in modernism,
or “sound art” with its conceptual biases, Novak creates a
work that acknowledges these conventions, yet stands apart as a
meditation on beauty, labour, and aesthetics; Ornamentation as an
adornment of time itself.

I
find this interesting in the sense that Novak eschews ornamentation in any traditional way, but he also is creating music whose utility is ornamental by nature, albeit one that largely has no shape or definition in any conventional sense. There is
none of the elaborate intricacy found in the works of Louise Nevelson, nor the highly
detailed filigrees of rococo, as two more sculptural examples that
come to mind, but perhaps I’m merely bringing my own baggage to the
table in what “ornamentation” means.

It’s that paradox that makes
Ornamentation perhaps most compelling; it’s simultaneously hinging on
its own elaborate, laborious nature of construction and execution,
and yet the finished product’s ornamental nature is diffuse, minimal,
additive but reserved. It’s simultaneously concerned with a highly
labor intensive methodology in execution, and yet largely free of
obvious decorative gestures or adornments; all an applied means to a
decorative, arguably ornamental end without any of the formal results that one might associate as such. So while his methods and approach
may fundamentally have deviated from what would be more personally
familiar, Novak’s end result does not feel so removed from his
greater body of work. Those familiar with a past release like his
Line album Relocation.Reconstruction may not be surprised by
Ornamentation, for example. But while they may not be surprised, they
will no doubt be moved by its sublime beauty and gliding elegance.
Ultimately, Loos be damned, Novak has crafted another sublime field
of drones that I highly recommend.

Buy it: Touch Shop

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