Once in a while, we receive a sonic document that breaks the boundaries of art and becomes important in other arenas: historical, political, personal. OUA_BF is one of those recordings. Without the background, it’s an engaging piece, but with the background, it’s an emotional treatise, an elegy and a plea.
The title is an abbreviation for Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso in West Africa, a nation with which S/QU/NC/R (François Larini) has had a 16-year history; in fact, his 10-year-old son lives there. While in London earlier this year, Larini received a call informing him of a terror attack in the city; a close relative and one of his son’s friends were among those killed. Returning to the city, anguished by the ravaging of memory and impression, the artist attended a funeral, then climbed to a rooftop to listen to the sounds of the city. Was it still the same? As he writes, “the usual night crickets and birds, the usual moped and people passing by, the usual muezzin calling for prayer, the usual sound of a plane … but it’s not the usual night. Something has changed.”
Larini is quick to point out that Burkina Faso is not typically a dangerous nation. The first recording ~ “HA_HA” (Hostile Aircraft/Harmonic Approximation”) ~ is meant to represent a state of mind, a quest for elusive truths, comfort in the face of lost innocence. Larini’s experience has become more common in recent years, as few nations have been immune to violence. Does it change the locations as well as the residents? In some ways, yes; the more violent an incident, the deeper the scars. The university killings in Kenya forever altered my own perceptions as I struggled to hold onto the memories of my peaceful experiences there; and while I live in New York, I have yet to revisit the site of the former World Trade Center.
And yet there is healing in these sounds. Play “HA_HA” and one will hear beauty despite the violence: perhaps the region is more hushed than usual. During the first play, the listener remains on edge, but these sounds are not abrasive. Instead, one can hear what the artist himself heard from the rooftop: gentle music, soothing traffic, life going on because it must go on. As a sonic document, the piece is priceless. In the aftermath of a terror attack, so much attention is given to written and visual records, but so little to the aural; and once the opportunity passes, it can never be recaptured. Months removed from the tragedy, the field recordist may be revisiting these sounds himself, if only to reaffirm that goodness is still present, calm is still possible. The world is injured, but not ruined.
On “Wend Paanga D,” the artist revisits a series of recordings from 2000, collected in a region now closed to travel due to terrorism. On his old tapes he finds “hours of oral archives in Mooré (language of the Mossi people, Burkina’s main ethnic group) relating local mythology” and other traditions. This soundscape allows room for mourning as well as celebration: the richness of traditions lost, yet found. By smudging the sounds, he preserves their holy nature. Listening is like leafing through someone else’s old love letters and discovering the origins of a relationship. In revisiting the past, Larini finds a possible path to the future. Much has been lost. Much can be rediscovered. Much exists that has yet to be found. OUA_BF is a labor of love and grief, but it lays a template of hope. (Richard Allen)