Yang Yeung: soundpocket Pocket 1 and 2

Originally posted on November 14 2013

soundpocket is a Hong Kong collective founded in 2008 that focuses on sound, or “sound art” and its various manifestations, from ambient music produced from common materials, to explorations of sonic spaces, and onto the fundamental sounds we make and call language.

Their most recent online project can be found at: the_library_by_soundpocket

Likink is very happy to carry two of soundpocket’s titles: Pocket 1: Around and Pocket 2: say, Listen . . and what follows is an interview with soundpocket’s director Yang Yeung, in which she talks about the evolution and production of these two books.

Likink: What was the process or what are the differences between Pocket 1 and 2?

Yang Yeung: Pocket 1 came out of the 2009 Around sound art festival. My concept of a catalogue had been limited to those electronics, phone-book-thick objects that include everything…every gadget, every bit of information about the listed items, This is, by the way, my childhood experience because my father had a small trading company and specialized in transistor radios. And my concept of the art catalogue came much later and has never quite been settled in my mind – I had no idea why a catalogue that introduces and discusses the artworks of an exhibition should come after the exhibition . . . . if I don’t have the experience of the exhibition and I have the catalogue which aims at and desires everything, how would that change (and possibly reduce) my imagination of the artworks? So I wasn’t imagining a catalogue but a book – though I must admit I wasn’t being very creative and consistent by calling the book Around, the same title of the festival, which back then, confused a few writers (it was a sense of confused humor we shared).

Imagining ‘a book’ helped me survive the festival. This is probably hindsight, but perhaps I did think of it that way, too, knowing that I would need that book-space, those pages that are much slower, much more intimate, even a bit autistic, to make sense of what was happening around the festival.

So during the festival, I mentioned to some of the participating artists (eg. Kawai Shiu, Jerome Joy, Akio Suzuki, Yan Jun, Black, Mike Cooper, Cedric Maridet) that there was the possibility of a book, to see if they would be willing to contribute. I also had in mind ‘memories’ from the festival – so whoever made their way to the festival, and would be willing to write about their experience, I wanted to hear their voices (eg. Lau Gukzik, Edwin Lo). And then I also wanted the chance to self-write, to address the confusion and awe that I went through with this new festival, and the new organization soundpocket which was one year old in 2009.

One special case was Felix Hess’ writing – I first read his work in his book Light as Air. We worked together on my first curated show in 2007 – in midair, sound works Hong Kong. We spent a lot of time together, over beer at sunset in Cheung Chau where he was staying and where he presented his work. I saw his writing giving a solid base to the book – or the ideas later collected in the book.

Also, quite some time ago, when I first stumbled upon art in Hong Kong, an older established artist lamented how artists in Hong Kong didn’t write. I didn’t know much about the art community in Hong Kong or how things worked back then. I was very ignorant actually. I took his ideas in and considered them important, so I thought I would invite many artists to write – in Hong Kong or elsewhere – to encourage other artists to make that effort. It was a bit of a revolt against that status-quo.

When making that book, I was already thinking it would have to be ready by the Around sound art festival and retreat in 2010. And we did launch the book then. I thought it would be a nice gift for the artists involved in that project. I think of these objects (full of ideas, memories, imagination etc.) as magically bringing people together.

I must also say the books’ designers have been amazing. I don’t remember how I first met them, but back in 2009, Untitled Workshop ran a small gallery in Sau Wa Fong near Saint Francis Yard and they were the festival’s partners. Untitled Workshop was founded by Firenze Lai and Lulu Ngai. They are both painters and very good friends. Their small independent space was called hulahoop.

We made an event/ exhibition of sound making toys (via an open call) as part of the festival. Anyhow, somehow we just began collaborating on the book. I really find their touch, their painterliness in some ways, inspiring.

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Pocket 2 was quite different. This time, the core wasn’t Felix Hess’ writing, but Carlo Fossati’s writing on Rolf Julius. Julius’ idea of “small music” compelled us to listen to everything with a neutral stance, and also to listen to the most trivial things – dust on the ground, scraps of discarded metal etc. When he participated in Around sound art festival and retreat 2010, he performed with an open speaker system laid on the floor. He was kneeling and we were sitting around him, listening to the tiny changes in the vibration of the sounds that he made possible.

When we were applying for a grant for this project, Julius passed away. It became very important for myself personally and for soundpocket to remember him dearly, feeling his generous presence. And then I started thinking about how to contextualize a piece of writing which would be about an artist, about his works and his different approaches. Among all the artists that we have worked with, it’s always the activity of listening that is of primary importance – not what sound the work makes, but how it compels us to listen, to listen in different ways, and to discover things in the listening. I imagined Julius would feel comfortable with being among those who listen, who may not necessarily be artists. I also imagine how artists and non-artists are capable of empathizing with each other, and safe-keeping each others’ need for a space where there can be personal reflection. I guess I was thinking of Pocket 2 to be reflective on listening as an ordinary and artistic activity at the same time. I wanted to see if this could be a viable idea – to keep the singular in a common, both fluid and changing. I imagine it to be an art book, not an artist’s book – that begins from the idea of artist’ biography, and extends into other people’s lives.

Likink: Can you mention a few writers or books that helped you with or inspired you about the interaction between the written (or read) word and sound (or “sound art”)?

Yang Yeung: Here are some that keep inspiring me on sound, art, listening, writing, words etc.

(I list only the early ones, not the most recent ones):

Max Neuhaus‘ “Sound Art?”

– Kenneth Gaburo’s “The Beauty of Irrelevant Music”

– Felix Hess’ book Light as Air

– Jacques Derrida’ book The Ear of the Other

– Dan Lander edited book Sound by Artists (an important first initiation for me)

– and a poem I read at school in the English class when I was 13 called “Sarah Cynthia Sylvia Stout” by Shlley Silverstein

Likink: How/why did you become interested in sound as an “art object” or source material?

Yang Yeung: For me, sound is a material with a physicality. There could be many threads to this question, but to be more directly related to art (or contemporary art), I was deeply inspired by Su-mei Tse’s L’echo, a video installation I saw at the Venice Biennale in 2003. That probably fundamentally changed my way of thinking.

But the time before sound, the time when I got the chance to learn about art and how artists make work, that was important in opening me up to those kind of experiences, in preparing me for this ‘sound as art’ that came along later.

On the personal side, I have been on this journey of finding my voice since – I don’t know – my memory began. Not that I was conscious of it early on, but I don’t remember speaking up at all when I was young. I didn’t have a voice – perhaps by choice, perhaps by exigency, I don’t know. I do remember the sounds of my crying, though. Now that I am teaching, I keep learning how to speak – what to say, how to say it, in what tone, what voice, what attitude etc. And there is still a lot to learn.

I also remember some years ago, how I thought I was losing the sound of my dead father’s voice in my memory…it wasn’t traumatic or anything because he died in 1983 (a long time ago!). But it was a moment of awareness that was interesting to me – how do we remember voices?

Likink: What other “sound art” or recordings would you recommend?

Yang Yeung: Actually, I would first recommend 2 documentaries:

– Stephen Vitiello: Listening With Intent

– Lomax the Sound hunter (this was introduced to me by Ah Kok, a Hong Kong musician with many hats)

Then, I would recommend the blind singer Douwan 

My friend introduced “Baldessari sings LeWitt” to me…and I found it fun.

I actually listen more to the streets and the surroundings than to recordings these days.

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