Egyptian artist embraces the anarchy of intangible sound

Heba El-Sherif , Sunday 15 Mar 2015

Khaled Kaddal's 'Trapped Sounds', performed in Rawabet Theatre in Cairo, will now head to the Goethe Institute in Alexandria

Trapped Sounds
Photo by Amr El-Sawah, courtesy of the event's Facebook page.

Last week, audiences at Rawabet Theatre were rooted to their seats for 30 minutes as Khaled Kaddal utilised a range of ambient sounds to communicate what is essentially a personal struggle.

His props? A computer, a controller, a stethoscope and his body.  

The audience sat in a sharp edged u-shape. In the middle, a square sheet was stretched. Kaddal walked to the centre, a ring of light forming slowly around him.

“It’s a fight between an individual and the collective,” claims Kaddal, whose sound performance relied on his own breath, heartbeat, frequent chitchats with friends, TV commercials, babbling talk show hosts, and excerpts from a string of ponderings by American philosopher Alan Watts.

What started off as regular breathing turned into what sounded like waves crashing ferociously, a storm almost. When human voices were introduced, Kaddal became distressed and the images on the ground, delivered by Mohamed Abd El-Zaher (DADA), railed in anguish.

The performance is a dose of gripping noise, some familiar and some rawer than others. Collectively, they sent the audience on a soul-searching journey that was not entirely unfamiliar.

After Wednesday’s show, Kaddal told Ahram Online that one member of the audience told him that the performance captured the problem of a generation.

“As a generation, we are imbalanced, unable to take decisions … something is off. There’s two of each person, not one,” Kaddal told Ahram Online.

A little over a year ago, Kaddal was drawn to the idea of doing something with breathing. He started toying with a stethoscope at home.

“I always feel that 80 percent of what we say in daily interactions is bla bla bla … It’s as if we’re filling up time. At the same time, we are exposed to TV, politics and breaking news etc … All these elements push you farther from reaching inner stability.”

Kaddal is not insinuating that we are not in control. But he feels it necessary to address the constant struggle that is posed by the need to keep in sync with external forces — the necessity to find balance between one’s internal dialogue and the unending stream of outside interferences.

This sentiment was cleverly depicted through the visuals accompanying Trapped Sounds, which Kaddal worked on with DADA only 10 days prior to the show.

“I could see the performance visually before working on the visuals with DADA … We had spoken about it several times,” he explained.

The result of their collaboration was a string of biological elements that kept growing bolder and faster as Kaddal’s breathing mounted.

On sound art

“What pulls me the most to sound performances is that conceptually there’s a lot of freedom in this genre. There’s a form of anarchy in it, musically speaking,” said Kaddal.

It offers a blank slate; an opportunity to partake in a new school of music, Kaddal added. 

“You can do whatever you want in whatever form. You can do a performance, or an installation, or a combination of both, or none of the above, all using sound as the primary element,” he added.

Originally a guitarist, it was the mathematical aspect of this genre of music that propelled Kaddal to delve into sound art.

“In sound, there aren’t rules. It’s always new, for me at least. A lot of what I have seen in sound performance lacks drama ... It’s very calculated, mathematical. I liked that,” he said.

Sound becomes a raw material, according to Kaddal. “[It becomes] like colours, which you as an artist use away from classical formations. Naturally, any new genre of music charts out its own formations.”

The rise of sound performance meant that new notations were to be written and new formations were to be developed.

For instance a violinist draws the bow across one or more strings to produce a range of sounds. For a more contemporary sound, the violinist would tap on the instrument's wooden body (or belly) and “this had to be translated into musical notation,” Kaddal states.

He uses Mahragant as an example of carving new territory in music. “It (Mahragant) created its own framework of multi-layered oriental beats that are slightly distorted, coupled with auto-tune singing and a bass … These rules were created.”

Across the world, sound art sits in the experimental music niche, and so for most people it remains a territory untapped. Egypt is no exception.

“It worries me, the idea that people may not relate to what I am putting forth, but I try not to tie this feeling to my work,” Kaddal told Ahram Online, adding that questions around sound art are no different from questions raised in reaction to contemporary art in general.

The noise produced by Trapped Sounds produces a special resonnance, as it is clear that it comes from deep within the artist. The audience listened intently, trying to digest the intangibles that made the sound, watching Kaddal get breathless as he told the story of a confused generation.

Trapped Sounds will be performed on 21 and 22 March, 8pm
Goethe Institute, 
10 El-Batalsa Street, 

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