Nour Mobarak is a compelling new artist from Los Angeles whose work, as she describes "excavates violence and desire – the compulsions, and glitches in both a person or nation state." We fell in love with what she does thanks to her 2019 album 'Father Fugue', released on Sean McCann's Recital label. In it, the left channel of the audio documents conversations with her father Jean Mobarak - a polyglot who has a 30-second memory and lives in the mountains of Lebanon - while the right channel is composed simply of improvised song. The result conjures a similar effect that of Godard's 'Numéro deux' - whereby documented, composed and improvised elements are projected through two channels, then coagulate to form a multi-faceted, beguiling whole.
To understand Nour as a film-maker - someone who acts behind and in-front of the lens - is perhaps easier than that of a musician. When we asked Nour to do a release for Takuroku she kindly responded by offering us compositions used in her multi-disciplinary, multi-channel live performances over the past 2 years, mixed down to stereo as self-contained works. What we hear is just one part of her overall projection, but that of which delves deep; investigating the voices of others, her own voice and vocal material that forms human languages. It's poetry, a Cassavetes set piece, a walk in the park, a voice in abandon, a philosophical meditation on voice, agency and human beings - but of course much more than ideas projected on a flat canvas. Each piece moves and shakes, creating rhythms emanating from the syntax and intonation of language and the voice. Toothtone sounds like rippling streams of water running concurrently, splashing into themselves and overlapping one another. Allophone Movement and its arrangement of voices captures the immediacy of machine-funk sampling techniques, whipping the immediacy of vocal expression into a composition that swings back and forth, like a Ron Hardy edit stripped to its bones. On Phoneme Movement her own vocals take centre stage with spirals, gurgles, purrs and cries that reach ecstatic heights: the voice excavated from its bodily origins. Hopefully we'll be able to present Nour's work in Cafe OTO some time in the not too distant future.
All music & recording by Nour Mobarak
Photo: Performance of “Phoneme Movement II”, Los Angeles Contemporary Archive, December 8, 2018. Photo by Marco Kane Braunschweiler, design by Oli Barrett.
“Allophone Movement” samples sourced from the UCLA Phonetics Archive.
“Toothtone” voices recorded in Pershing Square, Los Angeles, September 2019.This project was supported, in part, by a Foundation for Contemporary Arts Emergency Grant.
Editing technical assistance for “Allophone Movement” and “Toothtone” by Sean McCann & Juliette Amoroso
1 - Allophone Movement [6:38]
2 - Phoneme Movement [4:38]
3 - Toothtone [37:37]
3 PERFORMANCE WORKS EXPLAINED by Nour Mobarak:
Allophone Movement ---
“Allophone Movement” is a project built out of the vocal material that forms human languages. Multiple tracks are composed of collaged samples from the sounds of over 40 languages recorded and stored in the UCLA Phonetics Lab Archive. I'm presenting it here as its own self-contained stereo composition, but it has also been separated into 6 channels as the foundation for performance. While this multi-channel composition is playing, I, the performer, move inside and outside of the space of the track, while using my voice to play with speech sounds, or allophones, of human language. My interest is in the investigation of the affective quality of the human voice in space, outside of the fixed meanings of language. The systems of signification that are built out of language and speech are ones which generate entire complex world views, complete with micro and macro politics, imagining assumptions of rationality and irrationality. Societies are now atrophying more and more around the English tongue, with its mere 44 or so used allophones, which has overtly colonised language-worlds. “Allophone Movement” – a track from a forthcoming release on Cafe Oto's digital only TakuRoku label –investigates the sonic component of these systems.”
Every time I perform this piece, the movement is numbered, as each time it is different due to my improvisation. I think I'm up to Allophone Movement IV now.
Phoneme Movement ---
"Phoneme Movement" succeeds "Allophone Movement" when performed. Here I move into my own voice.
Toothtone was composed using the recorded voices of strangers I approached in Pershing Square, Los Angeles throughout the month of September 2019. I would scan the square, and when I felt I could hold eye contact comfortably with someone, I would approach them with my big boom microphone and ask them if they would be willing to talk to me and let me record them for any amount of time up to one hour, for the modest fee of $20. I recorded 9 people this way. This composition was then separated into 16 channels, each channel piped out of speakers I built out of clear acrylic sheet and hung as invisibly as possible under 16 benches made by artist Nancy Lupo. Nancy Lupo's 16 benches were placed in an ellipse formation in Pershing Square for 2 months, as an artwork called Open Mouth. She invited me to perform there. The benches vibrated by the sounds of the voices. On the night of October 13th, 2019, each bench emitted a voice, and the 16 benches played the composition you hear mixed down to stereo for this release. Each voice was assigned two opposing benches, save one voice that briefly stole another voice's place. As the audience moved from bench to bench, they heard the individual voices of the strangers phase in and out. During the performance that night, I would sometimes sing from the center of the ellipse of benches. Three months later, the benches were installed at the MCA San Diego as a part of Nancy's show Scripts for the Pageant. There, the 16-channel sound piece was installed from January 16 to January 21, 2020. One night that week, I performed the benches, remixing Toothtone as the audience members sat on the vibrating artworks. I also performed Allophone Movement, Phoneme Movement, and Other Songs through the benches that night.
Nour Mobarak excavates violence and desire – the compulsions, and glitches in both a person or nation state. Her body acts, in voice, sound, performance, writing and video, as one hybrid part under current geopolitical conditions. Mobarak has performed at such locations as the Hammer Museum, Los Angeles; Miguel Abreu Gallery, New York; Stadslimeit, Antwerp; Cambridge University, Cambridge; and the Getty Museum, Los Angeles among others. Mobarak has published poems in journals such as F.R. David, The Claudius App, and The Salzburg Review among others. Mobarak has participated in exhibitions at Miguel Abreu Gallery, New York; Cubitt Gallery, Rodeo Gallery, London.