Yann Novak

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On Site: Sillness.Subtropical

— By Clive Bell

So, Shoreditch and Dalston, read and weep: the first UK gallery devoted to sound art is, astonishingly, located in Tottenham. And hardly more than a half-brick’s lobbing distance (to use a local unit of measurement) from my home. Soundfjord is a modest space, inside a vast pile that used to be a floorcloth factory, back in the days when the whole street was a thriving outpost of the rag trade. It’s the brainchild of artist Helen Frosi and sound designer Andrew Riley. The Gallery has barley been open a month, and already they’ve organized a sound walk across Tottenham Marches and a newsletter that amounts to a sound art zine-cum-noticeboard, plus the first is a series of monthly live events called Immersound. Los Angeles based Yann novak’s work is in the space for two months, shown in two parts: first Stillness.Subtropical, and during September, Stillness.Oceanic.

Subtropical is a supercalm piece that seductively suggests you bask for a while and maybe drift off into a southern California state of mind. A gentle, harmonious drone accompanies a wall projection of exotic, layered colors. Likewise, the sound has layers and a fuzzy surface like felt. The visuals shift perceptibly in and out of sunrise tones, while the sound may be changing too (though it’s hard to say). There’s a lot of ambiguity here, as to whether the material is abstract: both sound and visuals could be digitally generated, but have a warm patina.

For all its cool distancing, Subtropical is a highly personal work and its subject is Novak himself. In fact the images are derived from actual landscapes filmed near Novak’s adopted southern California home, while the sound is a filtered loop of static taken from an empty radio station in the same area. Stillness.Oceanic (which I haven’t seen) will rejig the process with material from the American North West, the Seattle area. And so the whole two-part piece deals with Novak’s relocation from one part of the US to another, and his feelings about that. Novak explored the same subject last year at Kings Place, London with another installation titled Relocation.Dislocation.

Inside Soundfjord, on a cosily domestic scale, the experience is an intimate one. Although the room is otherwise bare, it’s as though you are in someone’s home rather than a clinically neutral space. Novak’s work feels like it has comfortably moved in; a heady evocation of Californian beach relocated to North East London. In the future, Soundfjord hope to show more sound art by Song-Ming Ang, Rie Nakajima and Simon Whetham. In an area more noted for ice cream vans and night-time helicopter surveillance, some of us residents are very grateful.