by Lara Acuin
▶︎ Despite the wordiness of the visual-archival matter, it is the mixture of sound-music in “Attitude of the Mind” that decidedly overwhelms. The aural works permeate into one another. This is signaled visually by the absence of enclosures and seating in the Main Gallery. Everything is out in the open but also walled in. Taking into account, as argued by Steven Connor, that sound is almost always “extramural”, the task of traveling towards the expansive cultural complex with its perennially congested roads, not-quite deserted buildings, breakneck streams of commuting bodies and imposition of an auditory backdrop — technological, industrial, propagandistic, big city sounds that, like most of National Artist for Music Jose Maceda’s work, demand some large amounts of both human and financial capital — is all too familiar inside the gallery walls. A sonic continuum from extramuros to Intramuros.
Inside, a few music players with headphones shut off the surfeit of sound temporarily. Maceda’s compositions are rigorously thought-out but malleable and welcoming. Accompanied by a few images and some scholarly analysis, it is the profusion of musical scores complementing the soundtracks that stress the importance of Maceda’s ocular directives in his work. This curatorial move to include them in an exhibition that purports to introduce the composer to mostly non-musicians is instructive. Playing with scale and layout, Maceda’s sheet music is idiosyncratic and especially complex. And while they may seem even more complex to those who are not literate in music, several codes and words are familiar: Wala. Kanta. Palakpak. A square stands for a scraper, a circle for a body in space. Maceda’s handwriting, too, is equally methodical. Even spaces and careful, hand drawn lines intimate a deliberateness that is, at the same time, mundane and recognizable, even friendly.
Much place and privilege is given to Santos’ reading of Maceda’s work and this is made clear by the number of texts lifted from the former’s manuscripts accompanying the latter’s music. It is a prudent decision, considering the intimacy between the works of the two composers, but also, possibly, discursively limiting.
Musico-technical terminologies such as “spill”, “leak”, and “bleed” recall visceral terminologies that often conjure a plenitude of the body, often in an unhealthy or unusual state. I am reminded of how, generally, in pan-Philippine psychology, “ginhawa” or the soul — not quite the mind, but close to it — is seated in the liver (atay), hence the Filipino’s supposed high regard of this particular organ. This trajectory circles my thinking back to Maceda’s well-noted and unique nativism, his grappling with his own (de)colonized-thinking after his studies in Europe and America, and his insistence on a communal Philippine sonic system. The Philippine body, which Maceda’s corpora not only depended on but also resided in, seemed to have been of particular concern to the artist, especially if considered in congregation with other types of bodies, ie. a community or a band (in Accordion and Mandolin Maceda conjures of a “special orchestra”) even if provisional, as in a performance.
A subtle proposition is made in relation to this in the sections that present a collage of some yet-to-be-studied photo-documentation taken during Maceda’s field recordings. According to the wall text:
“To draw the attention on the role that music instruments and audio recorders play in the communities they occupy — from traditional villages to concert halls and field research to audio laboratories — is a proposal to reflect on the social lives of objects, on the space they occupy vis-a-vis unfrozen time and space (sic)”.
Here we are presented with the people that have originally produced the sounds we have been hearing in Maceda’s compositions. While it is difficult to correlate them to the actual, arranged music presented, there is some theorising here that the exhibition stops short of making. The photographs show how device, instrument, and documented do not quite recede from view even when Maceda himself is the subject. It is this rare collection of images and the gentle language used (“to reflect”) that, while remaining slightly unelaborated, hint at a certain generosity allowing ample room for thinking and imagining.
Returning to the main space, the mixture of sounds instinctively triggers my body to navigate its way awkwardly across the gallery. In Accordion and Mandolin, I find myself listening next to a speaker only to realize that it is playing nothing and that the sound is coming from the other speaker across the room. Whether this is intended or not, this spatial set-up brings up an impulsive desire to soundproof. However I recall, almost immediately, as someone who has worked in museums myself helping install works — of the audio-visual kind — how I am also of two minds about this. Soundproofing is not only notoriously super expensive, but it also not always super necessary. There are some limited ways around it too. Considering, for example, the diverse sound ecologies present in our aural world, and the many bodily exigencies of different people, soundproofing may not always be a welcome thing. The porousness of a soundscape can be reassuring: a newborn’s mother’s sense of hearing is biologically heightened for good reason. Perhaps Attitude of the Mind can be experienced with these reckonings--- both with an openness(as asserted by the exhibition itself) and with an awareness of the body in constant conversation with and always sympathetic to the mind. ***
Lara Acuin is a freelance art critic and contributing writer to the Philippine Star.