Fata Morgana

by Yann Novak & Robert Crouch



Fata Morgana originated as an audiovisual performance commissioned by the Pasadena Arts Council for the AxS Festival 2011 and curated by Steve Roden.

Fata Morgana is a kind of fragmented travelogue, reconstructed through field recordings from the Bonneville Salt Flats, Utah and Lake Mead in the Valley of Fire State Park, Nevada. The piece mirrors the rare and complex Fata Morgana mirage phenomenon which hauntingly inverts the boundaries of figure and ground over both desert lands and seas.

Fata Morgana is presented here as a stereo mix recomposed for home listening.

Originally commissioned by the Pasadena Arts Council for the AxS Festival 2011.

Yann Novak recently took time out from his Dragon’s Eye enterprise to explore more installation-based work. Through Japan’s Murmur we have a sample of one such here in Fata Morgana, a kind of reconstructed episodic travelogue mediated via video and audio field recordings using sound and multi-screen projection. Robert Crouch is roped in as fellow-traveller for what is described as a ‘digital take on traditional landscape painting’ that seeks ‘abstracted expressions of personal experiences.’ The title, for the uninitiated, refers to a phenomenon involving inversion of figure and ground boundaries over desert lands and seas effected by light refraction from a body of warm low-lying air reflecting images of distant objects the earth’s curvature would normally obscure.

First performed in 2011 at Steve Roden-curated AxS Festival, Novak and Crouch’s Fata Morgana is a remote wispy embodiment of the eponymous mirage—an audio version recomposed for home listening. It sets out with programmatic intent, developing a sonic articulation of the figure-ground inversion by means of a high-low to’n’fro. A concomitant perceptual ambiguity is felt in shifts between chthonic and aerial sounds and dessicated sunblind sand-trickle rattle early on. A nocturnal hum spreads over desolate wind-blown heat-hazed plains, seeping through the interstices between field recording resonances (captured from Bonneville Salt Flats, Utah and Lake Mead in the Valley of Fire State Park, Nevada). Against this backdrop Novak’s signature drone-wash presence (cf. Presence) gradually takes on more conventional melodic electronica shadings from Crouch’s end—modular synth motifs, pulsations and harmonic strokes, a constant organ-esque tone acting as a locus for protean billows. Sudden exits of low-end anchorage leave the listener adrift in synth-aetheric highs, former and latter ceding by turns one to another. Subtle transitions occur, notably halfway when elements fall away to leave only bass pulses and faint melodic intonations against a prominent insectoid thrum. Melodic spectres strain for audibility across the synth drone and heat-haze canvas—a sparse bass figure, mid-range chords—emerge then succumb again to Novak’s tinnitus-like leitmotif.

By the end the electronic glide in blue looming above the soft bass drops and field sounds suggests the horizon’s erstwhile illusion smear had metastatically effaced real environs. Depending on which side of a figurative vs. self-reflexive divide you dress, it may propose itself as semiotic of a binary interplay of anima v. natura. It’s a thematic keynote sounded initially by Fata Morgana’s cover visual, a wagon train apparition streaming signs of human life against oppositional flats of unblinking blank nature. It’s further compounded by veiled trails of life sonically channeled—cricket chirp and snake rattle, human voice wraiths—ghosting through the wrap-around sound/land-scape. Going with it, the narrative pay-off is then clinched by the entry of filmic synth-strings, knowingly poignant affective signifiers, tension moving to resolution as it makes itself comfy with more familiar ambient tropes, seeking total tonal settlement.
– Igloo Magazine

Using field recordings, a multiscreen projection and other rarefied sounds, Yann Novak & Robert Crouch have created a fascinating narration with multiple concatenations and measured minimal arrangements. Appropriately, the title “Fata Morgana” is a direct reference to the optical effect that can be seen in a narrow zone above the horizon, a mirage that viewed from different angles produces a compression or enlargement of vision (an effect the investigators appear turn into a technique, expanding and containing the drones in the unraveling of patterns and ambiance). The evocation of perceptive illusions goes together well with the sound continuum, unfolding fascinating abstractions in a constant dialog between frequencies, with added audio captures that were recorded mainly in the Bonneville Salt Flats and the Lake Mead area, America’s largest water reservoir. Just as ghostly images can appear in empty spaces surrounded by water and air, so can sounds emerge from equally intersected substrates, the result of a clear sense of bewitchment caused by “layered illusions” – upside-down lights that can create virtual images and sounds. There are no vibrations in the void and sounds can’t exist, but it just takes the slightest control over acoustic emissions on a surface to propagate a vibration that leaves us sweetly enchanted.
– Neural

Yann Novak recently put his Dragon’s Eye Recordings, a landmark showcase for minimal ambient and textured electronics since 2005, on hold while he explores more site-based, gallery work. Fata Morgana is a “digital take on traditional landscape painting”, created for a performance commissioned by the Pasadena Arts Council for the AxS Festival of 2011 and curated by the like-minded, similarly-talented Steve Roden. In attempting “abstracted expressions of personal experiences”, Novak and Robert Crouch repurposed field recordings made at the Bonneville Salt Flats, Utah, and Lake Mead in the Valley of Fire State Park, Nevada, as an audio approximation on the phenomenon of the fata morgana, an optical illusion that inverts land and sky.

It’s a consummate study in the richness of stillness, the music of water evaporating off the surface of the Dead Sea. Stretched out beyond clear focus, in pace and colouration this forty-five minute piece captures all that invests the natural world with greater beauty through artificial means. It is bleached white slowly turning pastel, wispy white cloud constantly changing shape against sharp blue sky, white noise swallowed by the ears like a rainbow.
– Cyclic Defrost


released June 7, 2012

track list.
1, Fata Morgana (44:48)

Yann Novak is a sound and visual artist living and working in Los Angeles. Through the use of sound, light and space, he explores how these intangible materials can act as catalysts to focus our awareness on the present moment and alter our perception of time. Novak’s work, whether conceptual or rooted in phenomenon, is informed by his investigations of presence, stillness and mindfulness. His works can be experienced as audiovisual installations and performances, durational performances, architectural interventions, sound diffusions, concerts and recorded sound works.

Robert Crouch is an artist and curator whose work encompasses sound, performance, and technology. As an artist, he locates his work with the intersection of post-phenomenological listening practices, conceptual sound art, and contemporary electronic music. At its core, his work can be understood as a conversation between tonality, context, history and subjectivities. Similarly, Crouch’s curatorial work focuses on the overlapping disciplines of sound, technology, movement, and performance.

Published by Generosity & Restraint(ASCAP)
Licensed by murmur records.
Originally commissioned by the Pasadena Arts Council for the AxS Festival 2011.



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