When did we become so oversensitive? Gabriel Ledoux attacks this question head-on in his dynamic new set, accompanied by a 60-page booklet of essays and art. Some memorable examples: a visitor to Dachau is told he cannot see a famous plaque because it would be insensitive to photograph it; at the same site, people are led away from a memorial to homosexual victims so that they can concentrate on the “real” victims. Ledoux himself receives criticism (and poor grades) based on his “insensitive” choices to incorporate sound samples from Waco and Columbine. One of the essayists writes some potentially offensive statements about my own religion. I could be offended, but I choose not to be. The whole idea that no one should offend anyone is ludicrous at best and impossible at worst; how are we to know how we think and feel if we are afraid of ideas? Isn’t this the same sort of narrow-mindedness we claim to hate when it appears in a nation without civil liberties?
One of the narrators of “Stay very, very quiet” explains that he is just trying to tell the story in a way that helps him and his family. And not everyone is helped in the same way. One person, for example, may wish to see a nice movie about Columbine that focuses on the triumph of the human spirit, while another may prefer a more realistic description. But God help the filmmaker who shows any sympathy for the perpetrators. And what to make of the artist who co-opts the tragedy as inspiration for a sonic collage? It can’t be that Ledoux is going to be topping the charts with this album and rolling in dough, so the motivation isn’t financial. Instead, it might be described as a questioning fascination with evil. The same motivation was behind Apocalypse Now, which like Ledoux’s work “prettified evil”; the only difference is the amount of acclaim. There’s a huge difference between exploiting the suffering of others and investigating it, and Ledoux falls safely on the latter side of the line.
So yes, it would be easy for one to be offended by the voice of a child being taught to say, “I’m a violent revolutionary”. But does this mean his voice should never be heard again? Or that each time his voice is heard, it should be accompanied by a long apology, an expression of sympathy for the family, and directions to a memorial, along with the donation of any potential proceeds? Does such political correctness help or hurt us in the long run? Can’t we simply hear the raw material and have a discussion? And what if we make a joke? Will we be invited back?
Leaving these political issues aside, Le vide parfait succeeds because it is a particularly well-composed piece: an elaborate sound collage in the manner of Matana Roberts. Ledoux integrates electronics, percussion, clarinet, french horn, viola and voice to create a richly-textured work that is best enjoyed – yes, enjoyed – as a whole. The cumulative effect is nearly overwhelming, producing not repulsion but fascination. By taking slices of tragedy and splicing them together, Ledoux has created order from chaos, reversing the flow of the original events. Be offended if you will, but there is great value in this distillation of anger, sadness, and curiosity: an autopsy of darkness laid bare for all to see and hear. (Richard Allen)