Abby Yuen / Tool-Being (2): Texture? Abstraction? It all began with my semi-analogue synthesiser  「工具在,我在」(二):抽象、質感,由造聲開始

Abby Yuen / Tool-Being (2): Texture? Abstraction? It all began with my semi-analogue synthesiser 「工具在,我在」(二):抽象、質感,由造聲開始

YUEN Hui-ching Abby 袁栩晴

發表於: 23 Dec 2022

Second of the “tool-being'” series. In response to Graham Harman's ”object-oriented philosophy, we continue to delve how our perceptual experiences of things in the world are inseparable from our use of tool to “remember” a moment on the spot. What new insights would we have of our experiences if humans and tools/machines are understood as assemblage, coming into the presence of each other to seek collaborative possibilities? Abby Yuen reveals how her abstract video of foams was the result of a s

ound machine she made. (Editor)


Abby Yuen: Untitled (3m59s) | viewable on site at Floating Projects 2022.12.27-2023.01.11


I have been experimenting with my semi-analogue synthesiser (see the figure above) to make drone music. In making this video, I used sound as my point of departure. An element of improvisation is required as much as thoughtful patching when making the sound track using the synthesiser; the knobs and patch connections are very sensitive and it makes unpredictable sounds as a result. To a listener, without seeing what I was doing on the synthesiser, it can be confusing to what exactly one should be listening. I suppose listeners should just relax and let themselves be immersed in the sound – they may begin to notice the different sounds layered on top of one another. 


In accordance with the structure of sounds in the audio track, I want the video to follow a slow progression so viewers would pay attention to its visual textures. I have highlighted the duality of the high and low tones in the piece to make them and the evolving timbre audible – this I did by playing with overlaying and additive/colour settings.


I believe this exercise was a good start in my exploration between sound and visuality, as I have always focused on sound mainly. For me, sound comes before vision. If my sounds do not have a narrative or general structure, how do I create something that can represent its characteristics yet does not stray too far from the connection between the two? And more importantly, what is the connection between sound and visual? If there is one thing I find interesting in both, it would be texture. Therefore, in this video for Micro-Narratives, I chose sound absorbing foam to complement the sound track I first made. I found the foam really interesting to look at in the dark through the night vision mode on the Canon XA10 camcorder. I liked how the night vision light could capture the contours and rifts of the foam, creating shadows and dips in the material as I moved the camera across the surface. The colour-changing LED light casted from the side makes the foam look like some sort of alien organism with circular mitochondria. The tiny holes concave in the foam absorb light differently from a flat surface does. I played with this feature more in editing by overlaying the same video but of a different colour to create some unexpected textures of the foam. I felt like this paired well with the sounds I created as it contains unexpected textures through improvisational patching. (Yuen, December 2022)


The rhythm of sight, stills from Abby Yuen's Untitled (2022)




As I experiment with departing from traditional trajectories with drone music and video, I quickly discover how much I have internalised the conventional systemic way of thinking. How do I unlearn what I’ve been taught? Such programming started in childhood years in primary school where we learn the generic start-middle-end structure of a story, up until university where we elaborate on all the different exact points of a narrative such as exposition, rising action, climax, falling action and resolution. During one of my long-duration practices with my 0-Coast synthesiser where I explored the possibilities of the sounds and textures created using the machine, I had a mini existential crisis about what it was that I was doing. Why, and what is the goal? I Iooked at the timestamp which told me it had been 26 minutes since I started recording. I had absolutely no idea. I had lost all sense of time as the slowly evolving droning sound penetrated my ears and brain. There was no way for me to tell for how long I had been sitting there. I have often focused on turning the knobs delicately as they are very sensitive to the touch, and listening to the tiny changes asserted on the sound.


Reflecting on my practice, I tend to avoid set structures and appreciate events as a whole. I prefer an improvisational, intuitive approach, thus, the goal is to study and manipulate the timbre with my ears and hands inter-connectedly. French composer and founder of Musique Concrete Pierre Schaeffer called this type of listening “reduced listening,” where you focus on the traits of the sound itself, independent of its origin and meaning. [1] I really enjoy this act of listening to the characteristics of the sound rather than see it as a means to an end to convey a message, because if I come across a particular sound that I like, I physically keep tweaking its characteristics such as the contours until it feels satisfying to my ears and brain. Through improvization, I am free from the restraint that comes from sticking to a set narrative. 


Through confronting the topic of vision as a response to sound, I was able to discover a type of embodied experience for myself as the creator of a work. In psychology, embodied cognition is a recent development that seeks to understand the relationship between sensorimotor parts of our body and how it functions as a whole. It is a challenge to standard cognitive science in which the parts are studied as separate components. This resonates with me as I have spent much of my practice thinking about sound and visual as different components rather than two elements working together as a whole. I now have a clearer starting point in connecting the two elements together, by focusing on the overlapping characteristics such as texture and timbre. I will not limit the possibilities by separating the elements, but rather deepen my understanding of them by dissecting their individual qualities and finding ways to marry them together.



[1]  Pierre Schaeffer, Christine North, and John Dack, “The Reduced Listening System: Musical Dualism” in Treatise on Musical Objects: An Essay across Disciplines. 1st ed. University of California Press, 2017, 276-284. http://www.jstor.org/stable/10.1525/j.ctt1qv5pqb

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