ownerBuilt exists as an aural performance reconfigured into animated cinematic space.
Hurricane Katrina and the ensuing aftermath destroyed Noel’s community, neighborhood and home. But he is rebuilding, and as he rebuilds, he tries to evoke the memories of what was, through the enlistment of his personal archives. His memories are complicated by the tragic events that occurred on the Danziger Bridge on September 4th 2005. As Noel reflects back on what has been lost, the story that he tells about his neighborhood is affected by the story of innocent people attempting to cross a bridge in search of safe haven, and for Noel their plight clarifies the questions that arose in the aftermath of Katrina.
Noel's questions give rise to other questions, especially about the status of truth in what might seem to be a post-documentary age. Noel performs his story motivated by a collection of photographs that prompt him to recount events from his past and present. An implied author, in turn, performs Noel who performs others, who themselves are performing with varying degrees of self-consciousness. And in this manner a performative documentary comes into being. This concept of people filtered through and performed by an author are extensions into pre-existing forms like theatrical monologues and stand-up comedy, but these forms are usually not situated within a documentary tradition, or, when they are, the formal aspects of the medium are usually reduced to documenting a performance. Do degrees of theatricality dictate which boxes various texts are slated into and deemed authentic representations of the truth? Such questions are further complicated by an anti-theatrical prejudice. What is the source of this prejudice? What usefulness does it pose for us? And in what ways is its application problematic in a documentary context? Presenting the work in what may be deemed a theatrical form has the potential to de-legitimize and thwart its claims for documentary status, but this is a tension I hope the project explores.
ownerBuilt is also constructed to compare archival approaches to presenting information against more structured narrative flows, so early parts of the performance present samples from Noel's archives with no attempt made to structure sequential meaning. This approach, while disorienting, creates a tension that can be explored experientially. By thwarting the desire to construct meaning out of implied causal connections, and then gradually facilitating this activity as the work progresses, I hope to provoke further questions: Is there more truth in an archival structure that doesn’t attempt to do this work for you? As listeners, do we want to do this work for ourselves, or do we prefer to delegate it to the author?
Noel’s ruminations on his recordings can be seen as evoking what film theorist Christian Metz referred to as "Aural Objects," or what Pierre Schaffer -- the father of "music concrete" -- referred to as the "sound object," which he based on Edmund Husserl's "intentional objects." Recorded media made the sound object possible, as now the sound object can manifest on demand, repeat with precision, and therefore take sculptural form, but with major differentiating characteristics. Due to the acoustic properties of space and the unpredictable manner in which sound waves propagate, an exact replica can never actually occur; every iteration, even the ones we hear from Noel, are born yet again anew and therefore are always rooted in the specificities of the historical moment in which they occur. These phenomena suggest that it may be impossible to have a pure aural object. After all, throughout ownerBuilt Noel is rooting his sound objects in the specificities of his environment, which necessarily transforms them from their original state. This transformation is furthered by the built visual environment which now accompanies the sound objects. In "Moving Lips: Cinema as Ventriloquism," Rick Altman claims that the soundtrack works anonymously behind the screen as a ventriloquist throwing the image track, in charge but unseen in the speaking picture. In ownerBuilt the ventriloquist works overtime.
ownerBuilt firmly occupies and is concerned with the space around the margins of society. This work therefore imagines the various ways anonymity can function in that space, especially as it relates to the problems of visibility and the attainment of political power. Ultimately, as an aural performance reconfigured in cinematic space, ownerBuilt is envisioned as a Radical Sound Project, where the sound of the dog wags the tail of the picture, positioning sound as the privileged track and effectually dethroning image.
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