Artists: Erik Truffaz & Murcof
Title: Being Human Being
Label: Mundo Recordings
Format: 2xVinyl LP / CD / Digital
Cat. #: mundo003-LP / mundo003-CD / mundo003-D
Release Date: November 21st, 2014
Distribution: Rough Trade
A1. Origin of the world
B3. And Nina
B4. The Eye
C1. Human Being
D2. Infinite Abstract
There is a rude expression in English, used to suggest that a play or a film is irredeemably boring. We say it is “like watching paint dry”. And yet there is nothing more powerful than watching paint dry, or watching how a wash of pastel or ink moves across a surface, when the artist is as compelling in his themes and his processes as Enki Bilal. Who would not want to dwell on those dragged areas of colour, blues like corroded aluminium, stroked-in lines that for the moment maybe don’t represent anything recognisable, sudden irruptions of stronger tones? And while we watch, entranced, music is playing out that tells us something important. If there is a fundamental distinction in art it probably isn’t between the abstract and the representational (whatever that means) but between the abstract and the human, and it is the sound of Erik Truffaz’s trumpet, with Murcof’s insistent electronic heartbeat beneath it, that tells us we have not left the realm of the human. In fact, we’re moving hypnotically ever deeper into it.
And then a face appears on screen, beautiful and evanescent, and other faces follow, some of them monstrous, some of them apparently about to dissolve back into the page, some that conjure up old books of ethnography, where hitherto unknown peoples give something of themselves to the camera. And now, as a built environment begins to emerge, the faces and bodies take on a specificity at the very moment they begin to be taken apart in vio- lence. For here, as the music strongly signals to us – a beat as terrible as anything Shostakovich ever imagined – is a war zone. It has some connection to the Balkan wars of the 1990s, which have once again in 2014 stirred up the uneasy recollection that it was a series of Balkan wars and then an assassination at the region’s heart that triggered the chain reaction of violent inevitabilities that we now call (without a hint of irony in either description) the Great War or the First World War.
Bilal and Truffaz met in the summer of 2012 in the artist’s studio, under the benign gaze, as Truffaz says, of its tute- lary stuffed zebra. The work that began to unfold there was three-way collaboration between the two men and that sound-painter Murcof, or maybe better, a three-way conjoining of creative acts that come together in BeingHuman- Being with a kind of rich inevitability. It has been Bilal’s gift to find beauty, and an occasional glimpse of humanity
in its moral sense, amid otherwise unrelieved horror. War has always traded in a perverse aesthetics. It is the origin of the trophy, whether a taken head, captured weapon, symbolically mutilated body, or the kind of photograph that leaks onto social media from soldiers’ camera-phones. But how do you communicate that awkward beauty in sound? This is Truffaz’s great gift: that he can invest a trumpet sound with a shiver of fear, insert a shard of metal into the most liquid of tones, play with the military associations of his instrument every bit as with its romantic ones.
It’s worth noting that among the most innovative and genre-stretching projects Miles Davis undertook was to provi- de a soundtrack for a so-so French thriller whose dialogue he did not understand but whose monochrome landscape suggested a new kind of sound for the jazz combo. How much more suggestive and entire a match of sound and images when the artists really can work together.
There is, throughout BeingHumanBeing, considered as a sound event, as a visual event and as a synthesis of the two, an apparent obsession with the blending of states. There is an amphibian aspect to Bilal’s story. Are we flying, or submerged? Are we East, or West? What ethnicities are these?
Perhaps the most powerful mythology of the modern world was the idea of “West” as an existential state. It be-
gan with Columbus and it continued into the Manifest Destiny that drove the American frontier. But as “the West” claimed dominance over the globe, the old serpent “East” kept slithering back into our cultural imaginations. Listen to how Truffaz conjures up lines that suggest . . . where? . . . North Africa? the Levant? somewhere out on the Silk Road? Samarkand? It is clear from the imagery that hitherto unimagined technologies and new political tectonics are at work, and that they may have had, as such paradigm shifts always do, a profound impact on our very nature.
Such changes invariably involve new alliances and the artistic alliance that gives us this world has also created fresh coalitions to communicate it. In addition to recording and imaging, the encounter of Bilal and Truffaz, and Murcof, has generated a source material for live performance, with the addition of drummer Philippe Garcia or percussionist MAHUT. We look at all of these names and for a moment have to wonder whether we are in the workaday world any longer, or the world of the story; are these musicians, or characters? Is that a meaningful distinction any more? The extraordinary thing about this great collaboration, or at least one of its extraordinary aspects, is that the processes of being human are etched out for all the senses. We read the music with our eyes, and hear it with our skin, and sense it moving over and through us as the camera moves over Bilal’s pages.
This is radical work that proposes radical ideas and questions. It suggests to us that being human and being a human being are not necessarily the same thing, but that human be-ing, with its delicate balance of sensuousness, violence, ethical sensitivity, ugliness and grace, is still being sketched out. To be human is to live in the moment when the sound is poised between attack and decay, or caught up in the echo, the moment before the paint dries.