EJERCITO DEL AIRE’S WAR DISPATCH #1,
Considered by critics as a key dancer in contemporary dance, the irreverent movements of the Seville leave no room for middle ground in the viewer who, stupefied, not manages to whether hate or adore him. However, beyond subjectivity, he has a refined movement technique that by being umbilically related to flamenco dance (specially through the ‘taconeo’), explores an unprecedented dimension in the history of dance: the organic experimentation with sound frequencies produced by the body.
The Next Level
It is said that once accuracy is achieved with a musical instrument, the next step to overcome with technical perfection is to control the intensity of the sound (volume). Therein lies much of the secret to not end up giving audiences to the arms of Morpheus.
The same happens at a group level with orchestras. The phenomenon also acts with spokesmen: a speech smoothly in intensity is the perfect fertilizer for snore flowering, even if the speech subject is interesting for the audience. However, there is a further aspect apart from intensity when it comes to manipulating a musical instrument: its timbre. That means to not just learn how to achieve a pure sound, but to get more out of it.
In these times, it is a common mistake between amateurs to believe that only electronic synthesizers can explore the timbre dimension. While a professional musician knows it is not like that, technological advances have ended eclipsing, between the profane, the endless sonic possibilities of the traditional instruments.
The Gothic Trio
My first experience with this matter was in 1999 in Lima with the Trío Gótico, from Galicia, a musical group of Spanish classical guitar (which is not the same as flamenco). It was awesome to notice that they did not need pedals to explore sonorities. Of course, they were playing classical guitar pieces, and I am not referring to distorting the sound, but to other qualities that could be controlled from the acoustic guitar (such as deleting or boosting high frequencies, and simulating ‘reverbs’, ‘chorus’ or ‘delays’).
With that sonic epiphany, I had no choice but to talk to them. The group’s director, Ignacio López Gallego, with satisfaction on his part, confirmed me that this was one of their major concerns: producing timbres with their acoustic guitars. In this regard, the great anecdote is that this fundamental characteristic of the group was not outlined in the program of the event or any newspaper article of the time in Lima.
More radical effects (such as distortion) can be achieved also on acoustic guitars with gadgets such as pieces of paper clips or clothespins properly placed between the strings (as does the great Italian musician based in Barcelona, Paolo Angeli). With other instruments, such as voices and violins, you can also distort naturally and play with the natural harmonics of this kind of instruments.
Back to Israel
On the Saturday night of July the 7th, at Dies de Dansa Festival 2012, in Barcelona, organizers proposed a flamenco night, but from the perspective of contemporary dance. The two dancers that preceded the Seville offered its particular atmosphere, but because of his performances I thought that the sound engineers of the festival had done a lousy job with the amplification of the footwork (something unforgivable in the Iberian Peninsula). The dancers did not seem to wear heels but slippers. When the time of the most flamenco Dadaist (or vice versa) came, his disturbing figure in the darkness appeared not only to offer one of those ‘performances’ that have become a work of art in itself (without physical or conceptual distinctions, Israel Galván is its own work of art). In the arduous road to that goal, the thoroughness of the dancer has managed to unknown heights the exploration of sonic capabilities in his flamenco dancing.
I’m not saying that he is the first to accomplish this feat in the world of flamenco and tap dancing, but with the thoroughness that he works the sound, yes there is an unprecedented element. Besides, his artistic reputation enables more serious reflections on such experimentation. I am not an expert on ‘taconeo’, but I have lived very closely the flamenco culture in my home (with frenzied footwork destroying the wooden floor of my house every afternoon and for years). Therefore, something I know. Depending on the way a surface is striked with flamenco boots, you can control not only the volume but the sound of it.
In this regard, there are two key parts of the shoe: the end and the heel. Typically, the end is suitable for high frequencies and the heel prioritize the low ones. But this can change according to the time that the shoe stays in contact with the ground (something equivalent to the appliances of sustain, attack and decay into a synthesizer). Also, ‘taconear’ with both sides of the shoe at the same time expands further the sound potential (something equivalent to two oscillators in a synthesizer).
Israel Galván has exquisite taste exploring; covering with crazy obsession (or genius obsession) the widest possible with sound. That Saturday, he showed that the sound engineers of the Centre of Contemporary Culture of Barcelona had done a good job, but a good ‘taconeo’ was also needed either to appreciate all the possibilities that a pair of boots can offer. And to further enhance the effects, Galván used a gimmick in some part of the scene (in the back-right, from the point of view of the public).
I went to ask the audio man what it was exactly that sound trick that could be perceived clearly, and he explained me: “In one part of the stage, he commanded to put some pickups under the clapboards for boosting the ‘lows’, but the rest of the stage, he managed with the frequencies.” That it is, Galvan had commanded placing microphones (pickups) interrupting high frequencies inputs that only allowed the low ones to go into the mixing console, where they had a higher volume (“bass boosting”).
As the audio man said, in the rest of the stage, Galván managed to keep offering new sounds. He even was able to generate white noise! How? Dragging the soles, placing his shoes ‘that way’ and so on… To all this, we only have referred to the sound richness of his footwork and, vaguely, we made mention to his rhythm or movements that are necessarily linked to a philosophy, a way of being, of conceiving the world (when a dancer does not have a philosophy about dance, that is something very evident on the stage… and not for good). The Galván’s experience is complete, and, therefore, impossible to frame. Writing and thinking about his art is a guarantee for long discussions. Here, we are opening one of many dimensional doors.