Saturday, December 4, 2010

Live review: MIUC August 17th - QUE NGUYEN


Que Nguyen is a sound designer, co-founder of the Within Earshot collective, composer and performer with an interest in the use of voice within stereo/surround composition and live performance. Her Make It Up Club set begins with a slow, doomy machine pulse a la Coil, a buoy bell tolling on some distant sea, synthesised helicopter rotor blades whirring in and out. The appearance of these latter sounds acts automatically as cinematic madeleine for filmgoers of a certain age, but overall this piece isn't any Apocalypse Now-style assault on the subject of the Vietnam War. There does appear to be an element of biographical sound montage in the piece, perhaps recounting a recent visit or a sonic description of her parents' former life in their home country in the form of an audio verite parade. The set consists of a shifting cinematic montage of sampled sounds, alternately proceeding in a linear fashion or by laminal intersection: festival and street sounds, cymbals, drums, cock crows, gongs, child singing groups, laughter, traffic. Nguyen sings scraps of folk song over the sound elements, her cadences possessing an almost American Indian quality at times (though perhaps that is more due to the cultural default setting of Western ears trying to identify mysterious folk forms - thanks to Daryl Rabel for passing on this theory). As various patterns and motifs emerge out of the samples, those whirring blades, whatever their sonic significance, often reappear to dissect everything else. While a strong programmatic aspect is suggested, a thematic thread connecting the vocals and soundscape isn't palpable in the midst of the performance; possible interpretations - a desire for immersion in ancestral connectivity, say - come to mind more after the event. That minor quibble aside, Que has an appealing singing voice and genuine skill in audio collage construction. The individual components of this set were appealing enough overall to warrant further investigation into this young artist's oeuvre which can only deepen with maturity.


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