Yann Novak (b. 1979 Madison, WI) is a sound, video and installation artist living and working in Los Angeles. His work utilizes different forms of digital documentation as a point of departure. Through the digital manipulation of these sound and image files, his works serve as a translation from documents of personal experiences into an open ended autobiographical narrative. By choosing subject matter that is also relatable to the audience, Novak’s work creates a hybrid state, balancing between his own personal history and that of the audience.
His recorded works have been published by Dragon’s Eye Recordings (US), The Henry Art Gallery (US), Infrequency Editions (CA), Koyuki (IT), LINE (US), Mandorla (MX), smlEditions (US), White_Line Editions (UK) and others.
Novak’s installations and performances have been presented internationally at prestigious events and venues including American Academy in Rome (Rome, Italy), Blim (Vancouver, BC), Decibel Festival (WA), Ersta Konsthall (Stokholm, Sweden), Fiske Planetarium (CO), Henry Art Gallery (WA), Hit Art Space (Gothenburg, Sweden), Kasini House (VT), Las Cienegas Project (CA), Lawrimore Project (WA), Los Angeles Contemporary Exhibitions (CA), Mutek Festival (Montreal, QB), San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (CA), Seattle Lesbian and Gay Film Festival (WA), Soundfjord (London, UK), Soundwalk (CA), Suyama Space (WA), TBA Festival (OR), Torrance Art Museum (CA), Western Bridge (WA) and others.
As a result of these endeavors, Novak had been invited to numerous Residencies including the Environmental Aesthetics Residency (WA), the Espy Foundation Residency (WA), the Jental Artist Residency (WY) and the Kasini House Studio A Residency (VT).
In 2005, Novak re-launched his father’s Dragon’s Eye Recordings imprint with a new focus on limited edition releases by emerging and mid-carrier sound artists, composers and producers. Since its re-launch, Dragon’s Eye Recordings has published over 25 releases and has received critical acclaim. In 2009, Infrequency Editions, curated by Jamie Drouin, was integrated into Dragon’s Eye’s operations and distribution.
In recent years Novak has collaborated through select installation, performance and recorded work with Gretchen Bennett, the Crispin Spaeth Dance Group, Robert Crouch, Jamie Drouin, Will Long, Marc Manning, Alex Schweder and others.
My work is an exploration of incident, process, and narrative. Central to my practice is the capture and manipulation of audio recordings and photographs. Through various types of digital media, I collect material from a range of sources, initially selected because of the subject matter’s emotional content. The content of these documents is used as a point of departure and a catalyst to recall the experiences; it is never used or excluded because of aesthetics. These documents then become highly charged fragments of an ongoing autobiographical text. Dramatic events like relocating from one city to another, or simple day-to-day incidents like being trapped inside during a strong rain, can be equally compelling. I am interested in reconfiguring documents of moments such as these into abstract, open-ended narratives. My intent is to create experiences that give the audience a window into my own personal experiences, but leave enough to the imagination that the viewer has room to relate their own experiences.
By subjecting these selected recordings to a series of erasures and treatments, a delicate palette of textures, drones, and subtle melodies emerges. When photographs are incorporated into my work, similar treatments and erasures are used to shape them into videos of slow moving or static color fields intended to tint the listening experience. Each piece is then composed from numerous variations from a single source, meticulously sculpted to highlight some aspect of the original document. Although significant details and artifacts are deliberately eliminated, the narrative and structural elements of the source material are left intact. The final form of my work may be realized as sound installation, sound performance, large-scale projection, video work or recorded work.
Each of my works is an investigation into presentation, composition and perception, not just to be heard, but to be felt. By creating situations the audience can relate to, a hybrid state is created, existing somewhere between my own personal history and that of the audience.
Recorded Work Description
My recorded work functions in a number of ways, all with the final goal of re-presenting my work in a format that is more easily accessible to a larger audience. One way I take advantage of the recorded format is to explore and further expand on themes and ideas present in installation or performance work. In these instances, fragments of, or source material from previous installations or performance works are reworked to further explore the idea expressed in the original.
I also use recorded works as a way to catalogue and document my installation or performance work. When I use recordings for this purpose, each work is treated differently depending on its origin. Generally, the goal is to preserve as much of the original experience as possible or to simplify the piece to not detract from the original experience.
The final way I use the recorded format is to free my process from the dependence on an exhibition or performance space in order to explore concepts or techniques not suitable for those venues. In this final form, recorded works serve as a platform to sketch, experiment or collaborate with other artists and affords me more freedom while getting exposure and feedback from an audience. Publishing recorded work allows me to breathe new life and longevity into pieces that would otherwise not allow it due to their ephemeral nature.
Sound Performance Description
My sound performances utilize the same techniques as my recorded or installation work: transforming a simple environmental recording into a richly layered, and emotionally tense composition. Since each of my works is constructed out of numerous variations on a single recording, my performances are composed from a library, unique to that piece, of altered sounds. Through this process my performances can take on aspects of my recorded or installation works, while maintaining the flexibility to adapt to unique venues, situations, environments and the audience.
My performances are also adaptable through their presentation. Generally I will perform in stereo, but when possible, my performances can be expanded to up to 6-channel surround. My performances utilize darkness as a visual cue to draw the audience into a deeper listening experience. However, in some cases, video will be utilized as a focal point if the piece was originally conceived with a video element. The video paired with my performances is similar to my installation works, slow moving or static color fields projected behind me on stage or in multiple around the audience. Both of these elements can be discussed with the organizer and are expansions on the basic elements of my performance.
“Novak does not waste his chance to make a first impression. In fact, with remarkable economy he transforms the three rooms he’s been given to work with into chambers where you can be transported into states of mind that feel both personal and familiar. Using digitally altered field recordings (in which the sounds are heightened but the time is real) and snapshots digitally stitched together and abstracted into gleaming videos, Novak both fills the work up with his subjective experience and empties it out to make room for you. There’s just enough specificity and just enough blankness.
I know, technically, how Novak made this work, but I don’t quite know how it works. The closest I can get to describing his approach is that it’s a combination of generosity and restraint. Each detail being so firmly in place means that the rest is open.”
– Jen Graves , The Stranger (From “Yann Novak’s ‘Relocation’: All Kinds of Movings On” May 13, 2009)
“The work is distinguished by its clean design, with its constituent parts meticulously woven into a seamless flow without a superfluous element in sight.”
– Textura (CA)
“Essentially, this is a drone workout, but in the hands of one of its most proficient exponents, becomes a glistening, precious sound work, unrivalled but by a handful of contemporaries. Novak has seemingly taken an obvious source sound, and with an exploratory and majestic treatment transmuted it into sonic gold. Masterful.“
–BG Nichols, WHITE_LINE (UK)
“Novak creates a sense of distance by abstracting his source materials beyond recognition – whatever is going in is obscure, and far away. Hence the vague, rotorblading, respiratory effects of the first of these three tracks – the sound of systems ticking over, yet whose undulating motions are curiously involving.”
–David Stubbs , The Wire (UK)