Studio visit: Yann Leguay

How do you control the Quasi Static Crack Propagation? What is your fallback when all of this collapses? Media saboteur and cross-border worker Yann Leguay has his finger on the pulse of our schizophrenic world and delves into the cracks in the system to explore the raw materials of sound and society.

A lot falls through the cracks in the system, while the system deftly tries to close the gaps as much as possible. Control – in the name of constantly besieged security – has become the most normal thing in the world, the desire for physical and mental freedom of movement suspicious. And the same is true of the possibilities created by that freedom of movement. Freedom is the summum bonum in the artistic practice of Yann Leguay, an explorer of the world beyond the borders of what is considered certain, stable, inflexible, and unchangeable. His medium is the raw material of sound. “Sound is my medium of preference, but I consider it more a means to analyse or understand what is going on around us. It is my way of confronting the things that interest me. I do make music, or something like it, but I do not consider myself a musician. I use sound primarily as a raw material and I involve material aspects in it as well: sonorous objects or objects associated with sound.”
In “Fallback”, the exhibition with which he filled in the carte blanche he was given for the crazy spaces at Greylight Projects – his first solo show in Brussels –, that conceptual breadth becomes clear instantly. A cable rolled into an imposing vinyl record, an enormous catapult that blasts speakers through the wall as an assertive reaction to the use of sound in warfare, the unified remains of the live destruction of a microphone, a hilarious video recording of an idyllic field performance with Pacôme Beru – play “the tune the old cow died of” in your mind –, a record player that rotates under an inert record, a drill that revolves around its own axis and keeps the drill bit stable, and a massive fridge that the foolhardy should just go ahead and open. A free spirit’s visual game of forms and peregrinations along the boundaries of sound.
Yann Leguay's vinyl releases – on his own label Phonotopy, Artkillart, or Consumer Waste – evince the same unpredictability. A record without a hole, with the cynical, unplayable audio an explanation of how to get the missing hole exactly in the middle, a record that layers four tracks by four
turntablists in four grooves over each other, causing randomised play, or a record consisting of the sounds that CD players, tape recorders, and other audio devices make. “Quasi Static Crack Propagation, the title of the last record, is actually a scientific term: if you test the resistance of the materials, that is the first point that will break, the beginning of the process of breaking, the crack propagation. That point is actually more like a zone that is not stable but 'quasi static', and hence which cannot be controlled entirely because it depends on a variety of contextual factors such as temperature, humidity, weak points in the material.”

That uncontrollability is essential to Yann Leguay’s thought and work processes. A non-musician who releases records and performs concerts, an artist who shies away from the artistic scene. “Oh, I like to leave the audience free. If people want to hear music in it, they can. But if they want to experience the concerts as performance art, that’s fine too. You can present a concert in a concert hall and be considered a musician, and do exactly the same thing at a gallery and be called a performance artist. Therein lies the hybrid aspect: I’m not interested in defining my work and the forms that I practice. I like to present various dimensions and various perspectives of the material you can hold, hear, or see. I’m not really interested in the congealed forms of the art world. I’m more excited by things that are spontaneous and by doing things. And Brussels offers those opportunities. For example, over the past year I have been involved in HS with Jean-François Blanquet and Frédéric Bernier. It’s a place without a defined stage, which musicians and performers can adapt according to their own performance. That was a way to address the hybrid form, which gives freedom back to the audience. We don’t impose a correct way of seeing or hearing.”

That flexibility is applicable more broadly: “It is a way of life, of reacting to the contemporary context. We live in a kind of schizophrenic society, with absurd, perverse contradictions: you eat organic food, but you also have an iPhone. You support the slavery at Foxconn, but at the same time you try to be an environmentalist. Those contradictions are both vicious and pernicious. That’s the reason I don’t trust so-called certainties, be they political, economic, or social, and that in turn affects my work, which often embraces a reversal, improper use outside normative frameworks. Spontaneity is a defence against the rampant system.”
The modus operandi is empirical too: "You’re stuck with the means you have, and you use them in function of the moment. I am not focused on a particular goal or result, that kind of formal reflections is spontaneous. I react to things. It is not a dogma; you have to leave room for coincidences and surprises. That is essential when you are folding objects and reality in on itself. You have to be receptive to the essence that is exposed." Borders are made for crossing: "There are always borders: your own limitations, the physical limits of the materials you use… But it is true that I like to look beyond those borders. To see whether they can be moved or if they are insurmountable."

This cross-border work is expressed in the stretching of what we consider permanent and unchanging. It gave Yann Leguay the nickname "media saboteur". "I have sabotaged and damaged a lot of media. [Laughs] A medium is a form of memory. The sabotage, changing the supposedly fixed form, elicits reaction, especially nowadays when people are so concerned about the storage of information. I’m not indifferent to it. But that’s precisely the point: what is our relation to objects, media, and materialism?" Against that materialism, Yann Leguay sees the immediate and the temporary. "I increasingly like concerts, performances, and collaborations. That atmosphere of sharing and exchange comes out of the music scene, but the results are always different: you’re bound to the context, the mood, the dialogue, the location, the atmosphere, etc. I continue to make records, but I import the temporary aspect by making covers that are all different, or by enforcing random play."
Uniqueness, transience, and immediacy also vein the city in which Yann Leguay washed ashore from France six years ago. "The city is constantly in flux, transforming all the time, which opens up spaces, but also makes them temporary. That is both positive and negative: it lends an urgency and dynamism to these places, but at the same time you know they won’t last long. They are always on the point of disappearing. The system doesn’t know how to deal with them. Just think of what happened to the Compilothèque, which offered a space to alternative concerts that exist in parallel to the usual fare. It is bizarre: those are places that have been lulled to sleep, and are being opened up again by a group of people. They are being respectfully reinvigorated. They see a gap and an opportunity to let those places exist. At the same time, there are the nimble fingers of the system that wants to curb freedom and regain control of things once abandoned."
In Yann Leguay’s studio, there is a shard from the old Compilothèque, a reminder of that temporary memory of the city. Cupboards full of records, a table covered with technical wonder stuff, a stove that heats the space and the occasional knife stabbed into a beam. Yann Leguay is armed to the teeth to fight the battle against "technological slavery", which is also the summons of The collected writings of Theodore J. Kaczynski, a.k.a. “The Unabomber”, which lies on the table. The alternative places that give Yann Leguay energy, the independent label where he can express himself… they all result from the urge to escape through the cracks in the system, to take the emergency exit.

All photos © Heleen Rodiers

Borough: Anderlecht
Exhibition: “Fallback”: > 27/4, do/je/Th > zo/di/Su 14 > 18.00, Greylight Projects, rue Brialmont 11, Sint-Joost-ten-Node/Saint-Josse-ten-Noode, www.greylightprojects.org
Recent release: Quasi Static Crack Propagation, Consumer Waste, 2013
Info: www.phonotopy.org

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