Some people seek comfort in music. Others seek questions. Traveling far beyond the sofa, sound artist David Vélez probes the unresolved. If to extend oneself requires risk, listening to his compositions requires leaning into space, surrendering to a balance that is felt and yet unseen. When not leading projects such as Impulsive Habitat, Vélez wanders his homeland of Columbia and abroad, recording sounds from our surroundings. His work collages noises from everyday environments—gurgling drainage pipes and squeaking subway brakes on along with sounds removed from public life—farm equipment on Sonido Descompuesto and forest wildlife on The Wait.
Unique for field recordists, Vélez credits inspiration to teaching foley to film and art students. In the reigning digital age, foley is the endangered art of creating fictions by manipulating physical objects. Equipped with a microphone instead of a brush, the interplay with his subject mirrors that of a studio painter. First, he selects objects based on their “musical potency to suggest places, situations and actions.” He then manipulates them by spinning, bouncing, or breaking, turning resonant objects into impromptu drum kits.
Quite fittingly, the physicality of his process struck (literally) while directing a foley workshop for a wrestling match. (Although costumes are unavoidable, there are no punches pulled in the ring of life.) The Things That Objects Can Teach Us About Ourselves advances a theme developed in Unseen Terror, exploring how sound can embody “the stances of catastrophe: anticipation, strike, and aftermath.” Unseen Terror ends with the smashing of a wooden chair; The Things That Objects Can Teach Us About Ourselves begins with the breaking of a window.
While Vélez may not be a psychologist, he studies themes familiar to the trade: contingency (sounds of weather), dissonance (machine noise), and fragility (scraping or breaking objects): “More than the relation between chaos and nature what interests me is the relation between man and nature, the way they clash and the way they co-exist.” Man remains an object among objects—an object prone to breaking. Humanity’s dilemma endures: contact with the world creates friction; the absence of contact, however, also creates conflict.
Balancing tension and release, Things That Objects Can Teach Us About Ourselves builds connections with the world which lean outward like the forward slash. In common convention, slashes establish connections in dates and fractions; in computing; and even in verse division. In the less familiar sound worlds of David Vélez, slashes become ruptures of consciousness, helping us reckon with the mystery of our surroundings, the mystery of ourselves, asking us to lean into his questions, deeper still, until
Forward / Slash.
Sound leans into / Silence. Forward / Slash. Self leans into / Other. Forward / Slash. The world is / Talking—for those who care / To listen.
Silence // Throbs / Wobble /
[CRACK] / (Cracking) window pane / Gulp air shatter glass fall sand crawl waterfall / Don’t (touch) don’t (sit) still pucker window sill hiss Guernica sunset in utero / Siren end loop flutter soft echo rain / Who belongs here / Belongs near objects nearing us (nearly) / Use you too
Inspect insect friction empirical grave inches turn gravel underfoot / Or overhead / Factory fact trap stammer crowded with crows /
Where am I conveyor belt iambic snap / Elastic zip code sequester / Concrete cavern clatter cold slowly /
What a difference a day breaks / Scud dusk resonance / (Chant) / Saint subliminal / Tap tap empty vat kick drum / Bottle spun high-hat jazz hatter / Scatter grain matter / Rat laugh last tenant now /
Gas lisp gasp bird call / Wheeze white knuckle fever / Twig snap storm tin roof membrane /
[Wait] leak (valve squeak) ping pan current hum chatter pipe flake / Forget / [Weight] cuticle drag concrete floor /
Noise if unwanted / Else amble elsewhere / Foley junkyard score / Glove flap flap seagull shore / Vélez brightens what enlightens (fade childhood tag) / Impulsive habitat aftermath / The Things That Objects Can Tell Us / About Ourselves /
Evaporate // Genre surrounding / (Us all) /
“The being of objects is an issue distinct from the question of our knowledge of objects. Here, of course, it seems obvious that in order to discuss the being of objects we must first know objects.”
— Levi R. Bryant, The Democracy of Objects
(Todd B. Gruel)