Narrative Structure

Tibetan Red

Tibetan Red
Narrative Spaces

Not a species of canine this, sorry all you dog-lovers out there. Incidentally, the Tibetan Red Mastiff is a pricey mutt, too. No, this is a series of four pieces of sound manipulation, all around 10 or 12 minutes in duration, presented to us – or “explored by” – the project named Tibetan Red, otherwise known as the Catalan/Canadian artist Salvador Francesch. Francesch has been using this name on his work with sound since the early 1980s when he produced a radio programme called The Labyrinth for CKLN Radio in Toronto. Irregular releases followed over the subsequent thirty-odd years. This is Tibetan Red’s fifth album since 1985’s Freedom In A Vacuum (re-released in 2000), after which there was a long hiatus (presumably this is when he made the switch from music to painting – examples of his painting make up the sleeve of this album) until his 2002 collaboration with Victor Nubla: Tao Point on Hronir.

According to his website, Francesch’s intention for pursuing sound work was “…to explore other possible readings of given sound texts, by extracting and adding his own created sounds which search to weave massive tapestries of psychic geographies.”

The opening piece, ‘Portrait of an Ascension’, is serpentine fizz of static. There is no reference to either John Coltrane or Glenn Branca’s works by the name Ascension. However, it is dedicated to the artist Roman Opalka. Opalka said of his work, “…I inscribe the progression of numbers beginning with one, proceeding to infinity, on canvases of the same size, 77.17 x 53.15 in (196 x 135 cm), in white by hand with a paintbrush. Since 1972 I have been making each canvas’ background about 1% whiter each time. Thus the moment will arrive when I will paint white on white. Since 2008, I have painted in white on a white background, which I call “blanc mérité” (white well earned)”. I have to say, good as ‘Portrait of an Ascension’ is, I find the work of Opalka infinitely more interesting. Furthermore, Francesch’s painting reproduced on the CD sleeve is an unremarkable exercise in colour-extension, to me, conspicuously resembling a piece by Mark Rothko, possibly the one artist in modern art it’s pointless to try use as a starting point, so complete and recognisable were his achievements. It is not until six minutes in that we hear the first voice, counting in Polish. The dedication implies that this is the voice of Opalka himself but this is not confirmed in the credits or sleevenotes.

The second piece, ‘Encounter at the Taizo-in Temple’, is a field recording presumably of Francesch walking through leaves or snow. A light breeze and birds are clearly audible, along with the light tapping of the recorder or mic against his body as he walks, whereupon, in due course, the voice of an old man – a monk from the temple? – snorting in consternation, a laugh. Francesch walks a bit further, to a sheltered area? Whereupon the old man holds forth again with great enthusiasm. Quiet, more birdsong. Walking again, and then a hard cut where just over a minute of silence is inserted at the end; an effective building block to prepare the ear for the next piece.

‘Geisha’s Walk’ starts with what sounds like a vibrating metal wire being twanged which gives way shortly to a quiet, melodic hum, possibly the sound of a computer hard-drive. An oriental female voice is heard briefly, and then repeated. Like ‘Encounter at the Taizo-in Temple’, there is the sound of walking, over hard pavement this time, and you can hear the conversation of passersby, all the while the melodic humming continues. A sung chant appears, perhaps from a nearby radio, as a motorcycle races past.

The final piece, ‘Invisible Voices’, comprises recordings of loudspeaker announcements at railway stations. Synth sounds resembling something by Popol Vuh are blended in discreetly. Trains can be heard, and passengers or station staff trudging up and down the platform. One chap is singing to himself as he passes Francesch’s recording equipment.

There is little or no production detail on either the CD sleeve or on the Tibetan Red website informing us how these pieces were made, where the voice recordings came from, who made them, whether they are all found recordings or Francesch made some of them himself, how the sounds on ‘Encounter at the Taizo-in Temple’ were layered for example, the significance of the temple in the second piece or of the railway station in the last and so forth. It feels to me like Francesch’s artistic approach has dictated the work to “stand in its own right” perhaps, which I’m not necessarily in agreement with – if this had been presented as a set of field recordings, the accompanying production detail would quite rightly be considered an important facet of the work.

However, what I like about Narrative Spaces is that overall, the recordings of voices are used architecturally to attempt to construct a sonic environment; it is this structural use of voice recordings which give underlying strength to the album. They function like the underpinnings or colossal reinforced concrete footings of a strange new municipal building. I have grown to consider Narrative Spaces as one whole piece of work. I can imagine it would work well as a sound environment in which to view Francesch’s paintings in a gallery space.