Stéphane Garin & Sylvestre Gobart:
Gurs. Drancy. Gare de Bobigny. Auschwitz. Birkenau. Chelmo-Kulmhof. Majdaneck. Solibor. Treblinka
Anyone contemplating creating an artwork that invokes WWII and the Nazi regime's ‘Final Solution' (more specifically the attempt to exterminate the entire populations of Jews, homosexuals, etc.) knows that delicate, emotionally charged ground will be trod upon and that whatever's done will have to be done with circumspection. In broaching the subject, phonographer Stéphane Garin and photographer Sylvestre Gobart first considered the memories being kept alive today in light of the ceremonies and monuments that currently engender memorialization of a particular kind and then decided to create new associations by producing visual and sound portraits of internment, deportation, and extermination facilities from Gurs, France to Poland (Garin has collaborated with figures like Carl Craig and Moritz von Oswald, performed with orchestras such as the Brussels Philharmonic and Orchestre philharmonique de Radio France, and collaborated since 2005 with Gobart, a France-based photography and video artist, on the work in question).
Towards that end, they broke away from established iconography by eschewing the use of familiar photographs that convey the horrors of the camps; instead, the images they use encourage us to see the sites anew, severed from the ties to collective memory. While they may be stripped of that history, the photos by Gobart included in the release are nevertheless haunting, not only because of one's awareness of those associations but also because they're printed (for the CD release) as dark, duotone-like images that have a kind of chemically aged, silver-tinted appearance and thus take on an ethereal quality. Not a single person appears in photos that otherwise display trees (the forest in Treblinka), train stations (one for deportation at Bobigny), and other key sites (a snow-covered forest that was once a Birkenau crematorium, an open field at one time an internment camp at Gurs, men's showers used as a gas chamber at Madjanek, and so on), making their already ghost-like quality even more pronounced. Such apparently untainted settings nevertheless carry the weight of history and thus paradoxically render visible within the viewer what's no longer seen.
On the phongraphic side, quotidian sounds—car engines, clomping footsteps, barking dogs, children playing, people talking—mask the darker realities of the locales, enabling the listener to ease into a relaxed state that helps facilitate reflection upon the contents of the field recording portraits. No one would ever think that one is visiting a site of common graves in Majdaneck when the sounds of classical music, dogs, people, and traffic fill the air. Likewise, a pastoral idyll filled with chirping birds turns out to be the site of an internment camp at Gurs. On the other hand, the sorrowful singing that appears towards the end of the recording made at Chelmno-Kulmhof, a Jewish place of pilgrimage, suggests a powerful connection to its setting, and hearing the clattering rhythms of moving trains brings with it a disturbing suggestiveness that such a sound wouldn't have in another context. Certainly the reverberant echo of footsteps trudging through Block 11 at Auschwitz is disturbing enough all by its lonesome (the corresponding photo is the only one of those included where everything is buried in darkness save for three overhead lights). At times, imagination and reality collide. In the first disc's eighth track, for example, the sound of water drizzle immediately invokes the association of the men's showers at Majdaneck that were, in reality, a gas chamber, but it turns out that we're actually at an arms factory in February, 2006. Other sites where recordings were made include a train station for deportation at Bobigny, Auschwitz crematoriums. Though disc two's ten-minute Sobibor recording (construction sounds dominate) is twice as long as it needs to be, missteps are few in what cumulatively impresses as a beautifully designed and powerful aural-visual document by the collaborators.