A Practical B&W

Media performance, 2018

Durational music work with electric guitar and a vast number of amps in a chaotic circle around the audience and the performer

Developped in close collaboration with guitarist Virginia Arancio

In his newest sound installation that has been created in close collaboration with guitarist, Virginia Arancio, Marcel Zaes takes on what must seem impossible: a soft and salient sonic world consisting of the utmost slow sounds, paired with the violent force of a heavily amplified electric guitar. Gendered and genre-specific stereotypes of punk and rock subcultures are reminiscent. Arancio on the guitar, over the course of the performance-installation and in an almost dark space, produces fragile background noise with only the pickup of the guitar, and some loosely pressed, blurred chords. Ocasionally, she will also strum an overly loud isolated chord.
The performative installation is based on the chord progression that might be one of the most common ones in popular music history, namely a progression first used by Pachelbel in a canon in the 17th century, which here appears at a drastically slowed down pace. A large number of guitar amps, set up in a seemingly chaotic large circle around performer and audience, help spatialize these purely guitar-driven sounds. However, Zaes includes an apparatus of electronics between Arancio’s guitar and the array of amplifiers. Reiterating his compositional style, a BRAID.live software algorithm structures the slow sustained sounds into fast rhythmic patterns, which relentlessly play with repetition and variation. Thus, the live guitar is continuously being recorded and fragmentedly sent to different amplifiers sounding from all directions. What appears to be too slow for what one might call ‘punk,’ now in the resulting installation is almost too fast and nervous, and is hence a play with scale in the sense of temporal dimensions. The distorted signal, resulting from the 16 amplifiers, troubles the dichotomy between noise as a loss of signal, and noise as a gain, that is, as a timbre on its own, with attached political siginificance. One might ask if Zaes, with the interest in the timbre of noise along with a system of cultural references and an almost entire negligence of form, chord and pitch, in his practice is akin to the very idea of punk. Virtuosity, and especially the masculinity and authenticity of what normally is coded as punk or rock, in this work, remains unsatisfied: a female performer, with a purple guitar, in a look that is slightly reminiscent of characters such as Patti Smith, hardly moves and only plays a chord every other minute, while most of the time she is pausing on stage and holding the visual tension.
A Practical B&W is a constructed situation, a punk reference clearly placed within contemporary arts, in which the human act of playing the guitar is wedded with a digital aesthetic of mechanical time. The pure physical moment of the vibrating low bass frequencies, the orchestral droning of the 16 amplifiers, and the shrill high frequencies add to the experience. The audience is freely moving through the installation-performance, free to enter and exit the space at any time.