Review: Maria Chavez – Plays (Macro, Sep 20)

The minimal graphic on the cover of Plays, established abstract turntablist Maria Chavez’s interpretation of Stefan Goldmann’s Ghost Hemiola, reminds us that on the surface of the seeming flat discs we place on record players every day have rolling peaks and valleys, towering landscapes too tiny for us to see or even notice (apart from the sounds they encode). Chavez is well-known for her experiments with and unconventional presentations of the vinyl medium, from solo improvised performances to educational workshops to ambitious interactive installations, but Plays, her first full-length release since 2004, is something else entirely. Contained within its 60 minutes and 27 seconds are those same peaks and valleys and landscapes, this time in the form of heavily processed sound objects sourced from the customizable lockgrooves of Ghost Hemiola’s pair of prepared blank records. Chavez cited the curious concept of “something from nothing” when describing the work, an idea that many artists have explored, but none have delved into this particular—and highly unusual—knotted paradox of mediums. We know that “digitization liberated content from its physical carrier. [Then], Ghost Hemiola liberate[d] the physical carrier from its content.” And now, Plays hovers its spectral, synthetic form somewhere within that elusive neutral space; the sounds are audible but irreconcilable, only existing because of the sounds that are made when emptiness is lifted from the object that contains it, or when that now noisy emptiness is translated into the digital space. Amidst the meticulous excursions into stretched sonics, pseudo-industrial rumble, alien electronic pulse, and stretches of careful reductionism or even silence exist fundamental questions about the relationship between audible sound and physical media, questions that Chavez has been asking and attempting to answer for quite a while now—but no work, hers or anyone else’s, has dealt with the massive array of intrigue and uncertainty that Plays opens up.

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