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Terry Fox: "The Labyrinth Scored for 11 Cats"

img  Tobias

For anyone familiar with the work of video- and performance-artist Terry Fox, his relatively low-key profile must come as an oddity. After all, Fox wasn't just a much-respected collaborator for Joseph Beuys and other key-artists of the past century, but had a remarkably recognisable vision of his own as well. In his oeuvre, a physical element prominently manifested itself in pieces somewhere between sculpture and installation, revealing their creator's curiosity for the mythical. Today, his oeuvre seems astoundingly accessible and, as this re-release of an original cassette-edition from 1977 proves, of an unexpected relevance to contemporary audiences. The sad fact, however, is that despite the press release calling him „legendary“ and Wikipedia referring to him as an „important figure“, Fox was never cut out for his fifteen minutes of fame. When, in 1993, he was chosen to be featured as part of the Moore International Discovery Series, it was the first major public exhibition of his work for twenty years in the USA.

„The Labyrinth scored for 11 different cats“ could now mark a justified turning point in the public reception of Fox's work and serves as a perfect portal into his cosmos - if only because it displays his almost obsessive discourse with the labyrinth of the Cathedral of Chartres. The labyrinth was not merely of interest to him as a space with a distinct sonic aesthetic, but also as a barrycenter for his activities. Over the years, he would make use of its acoustics, spend time decoding its secrets, model its architecture and use it as the point of departure for a variety of formal experiments. The latter became increasingly important the more Fox began to suspect a hidden logic behind the design of the location, which begged to be released through art. For the album at hand, for example, he went as far as to regard the labyrinth as a score and its „552 Steps, 11 concentric rings and 34 turns of the floor mosaic“ as playing indications. Through a designation process, these steps, rings and turns would trigger samples from a pool of pre-recorded cat purrs, creating an hour-long collage of feline joy.

Perhaps it would be safe to assume that Fox considered the inner architecture of the labyrinth as comparable to the qualities of the „golden means“ in painting, which could be enjoyed without precise knowledge of its workings. As a listener, in any case, „The Labyrinth scored for 11 different cats“ never comes across as complex or intellectually embellished, but rather presents itself as a charming continuum of a cornucopia of purrs - some of them excited  and dynamic, others quiet and luxurious; occasionally calm and constant, then again uncontrolled and irregular; clean and crisp in one instant, asthmatic and grating the next. At times, the sounds seems to break into two different lines, as if the cat were dueting with itself only to lapse back into a disembodied grunt shortly after. In some moments, it even no longer seems to indicate comfort and complacency, but rather compulsion and constraint, taking on the form of a cold mechanical pulse.

The exact details of this process remain unspecified, but the underlying concept should not be confused with the actual composition anway: The musical tension derives purely from the nuances and dynamics of the source material, which strongly differs in terms of volume, breathing rate, timbre and emotional connotations. The press release proposes that these emissions „resonate in a shimmering wall of sound“, which is quite obviously a misguided claim. Don't let yourself be fooled: All you're going to hear here are pure, undiluted, seemingly unprocessed and minutely recorded pet-purrs. The arranged source materials are not considered the basis for electronic transformations, but as the finished composition itself. The pleasure derived from the music instead lies in an increased awareness of the quality of the purrs themselves. You can hear how they're related to the respiratory system or the blood flow, detect the myriad of microsounds accompanying them as well as the various moods they're evoking.

If making us see and hear the world more clearly is indeed a fundamental aim of the arts, then Fox has achieved it formidably here: A visit to the animal shelter will never be the same again.

By Tobias Fischer

Homepage: Choose Records

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