Review: Yann Novak – Presence

Presence started life as a sound performance at Torrance Art Museum in California back in June 2010, in which digitally enhanced cell phone recordings were combined in a manner designed to travel “smoothly through a number of emotional and physical states”. But just as with emotion itself, Presence never exists as a definable “state”; it’s a complex array of states at various degrees of intensity, forever rising and subsiding over time. Emotion and Presence exist as states of change and in the constant expectation of change, and rather than simply travelling between emotional and physical states, I perceive the piece to perform a slightly different function: it transfers the flux of emotion to physical spaces, conjuring imaginary locations eternally going through transformation.

It begins as a large empty hall, with a dissonant and vaporous chorus of drones floating across its high ceiling and gushes of wind circulating slowly in the space beneath. And then it’s underwater – rumbling with a deep, gargled pressure that rolls alongside submarine mechanism whirr – before becoming airborne, with a sense of space determined by the whispy clouds of sound round the edges but essentially untethered and ever ascending. These changes of location are never permitted to settle and fully materialise; each feels like a watery vision, conjured purely for the fleeting minutes that the listener exists within it, forever midway through a state of change. But it’s not a simple case of Novak cross-fading between them. Presence documents the sound of air thickening into water and then evaporating into mist, and bright lights fading into absence. It’s a process by which some elements are mutated while others are discreetly left to drift out of earshot, treating each as a shape-shifter to be eternally broken down and rebuilt, with transience the only constant identifier. Arguably the first half just about edges the second in terms of engagement, Presence is very transfixing in its entirety.