Ride The Sound Waves

I hear the faint rushing sound of my train approaching three minutes before it was scheduled. I am running. My boots are beating against the pavement (6 beats per second) in yet another one of those daily battles against time. My heavy breathing is providing the treble while my heartbeat pumps up the bass. The Doppler effect of a passing ambulance adds a false (yet humorous) sense of emergency to this all too common scenario.

Disregarding the incidental irony, I am rushing to see the exhibition “Spend Time, Waste Time” by Israel Martínez at DAAD Galerie before it closes for the day. Surprisingly, I was enjoying this unexpected time crunch. The rush of blood added  a heightened sensitivity to my senses and every sound around me appeared more vivid. Aside from the annoying jingle of three keys inside my pocket, I was certain the acoustic composition I was internally registering would have been music to John Cage’s ears. The premature train, it would turn out, was not only out of service but was not even the one I was expecting–time had again been reconquered and I was back on track.

Who is Israel Martínez?

Israel, the 33-year-old artist born in Guadalajara, Mexico, could tell you he’s an electro-acoustic musician or a multidisciplinary artist commanding sound, video, installation, and even art interventions. What he will not tell you, but rather let his work secretly whisper into your ear, is that he is also a poet. The current works at “Waste Time, Spend Time” can attest to this. Consider the two flat screens resting on the main floor of the exhibition. On one, titled Countercurrent, you will find yourself looking down upon the futile attempts of surfers who, one by one, inevitably succumb to a seemingly unstoppable and endless ripple of waves. Cleverly cropped so as to be void of geographical context, it comes as a surprise to discover the video was actually filmed in Munich. “The powerful sound of water in the middle of a metropolis caught my attention: a ‘wave’ of noise, and, in fact, there were waves. Metropolitan surfers moving their bodies against the current, as if dancing with a noisy soundtrack,” recounts Martínez.

If his description walks on the border of the poetic, it is because there might be no other way to describe what we are seeing. With media that could be so easily distorted with innumerable visual/sound effects, Martínez confidently relies on the power of both the pure image and unadulterated sound. Here’s where the magic happens: he doesn’t force it out but instead lets the poetry build up enough courage to come out from hiding and confront you. Consider the other flat screen on the floor, Encounter, where the camera’s perspective forces you to crouch and get a more accurate look of an undisclosed site in the Bavarian countryside. Suddenly, just after you’ve already entered into a semi-meditative state, a (premature?) train passes along and disturbs the peace. “In the countryside, the quietness is agitated when a furious train passes, producing a shock in the body that remains after its passage due to memory and auditory imagery that only a chance encounter can produce.”

And all of this happens while you have to continuously deal with the interruption, every six minutes to be precise, of helicopter noises coming from speakers at each corner of the ceiling. This noise intervention drastically changes the soundscape. It deliberately carries the capacity to transport us, if only in thought, to any major city in northern Mexico where, if you are not already aware by now, for the past 6 years the Mexican government has been waging war on the organized crime that has terrorized the nation. In fact, some of the noises recorded were from helicopters flying right above the artist’s current studio in Zapopan, Jalisco.

Right before his trip back to Mexico, after a 6-month residency sponsored by the Artist-in-Berlin program of the DAAD, I had the pleasure of interviewing Martinez via e-mail. What follows is a transcript of our conversation: 

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