Review: Martijn Tellinga – Positions

Martijn Tellinga - PositionsThe trombones at the top of Positions droop like aged oak trees, hunched under the insistent weight of centuries alive. The drones curve solemnly; sepia memories of passing spitfires, fanfares pointed downward to rattle through the ground and the buried dead, swarming into a microtonal smog of weariness and withering vibrancy. Their tones are noble and bold, yet their pitch wavers with weakness. It’s a sad situation to perceive. Time hasn’t been fond. I loiter beneath the three trombones and watch them stagger above me, retreating and advancing perilously. I wait for them to collapse over my head.

And now it’s me on the advance. “Truth, Exercise For A Listener” carries me through a venue as trombone and double bass emit low hums like static portions of electric fences. I step right in front of them; I wander between the conversations of half-listeners; I venture outside where the drones are a peripheral presence largely obfuscated by traffic noise. My soundscape pivots upon these two constants, and I understand my own movements only as a proximity to these two players (how the reverb respires, how the instruments bob and recede amidst the other sounds that grace the venue). In an inversion of the first piece, space navigates sound rather than vice versa.

With these first two pieces – both quarter of an hour long – Tellinga erects a spectrum upon which I traverse. On one end: sound as sculpture, as protagonist, as centre of the room. On “Three Modulators, For Basses”, I return to examining sound in the same manner as I would a painting in a gallery – reducing all of sensory data to the role of marginal experiential padding in order to grant greater focus to the object in front of me. In this instance, I hear three double basses hyperventilating as the bow surges back and forth, uncomfortable in their proximity to one another, rubbing eachother raw with harmonic friction. Echo (and by extension, space) form an absent backdrop against which these three pillars of sound are erected. For the other pieces, the focal point disperses. The instrument becomes a sound of equal prominence to the scuff of feet on bright gallery floors, or the sibilance of audience voices that rebounds into the vast space between my head and the ceiling.

I don’t know whether the whistles and extended breaths of “Positions, For Those Involved” are figments of deliberate performance or unexpected acts of focal hijacking, seizing the social rituals of the live show (in which the crowd remains quiet and still, leaving the performers to pronounce themselves upon the pale sonic canvas) in order to slip into the guise of performer. My field of listening contracts and expands as I readjust my understanding of what I should be listening to. Should my experience revolve around the sonic objects I deem to be deliberate acts of performance, or are the reverberant dog barks that infiltrate the space of equal importance? Who exactly qualifies as “those involved”?