2 x Vinyl LP
“我看见了, 我忘记了”—I saw, I forgot. Within these eight syllables, sung in Chinese, lies the central conceit of Tissues, Pan Daijing’s latest masterwork of ambient, drone, and opera. Tissues is a meditation on representation, referring not to the buzzword of choice for neoliberal multiculturalism, but to that embattled relationship between signifier and signified. At its base level, Tissues is an archive, a documentation of three performances commissioned by the Tate Modern in October 2019. As such, there’s a palimpsest of representations inscribed within the record, which operates on multiple levels—a mass-produced studio recording of an excerpt of a performance of a composition. With each of those iterations comes a loss, a forgetting, a mistranslation.
Documentation is the buffer between seeing and forgetting that Pan explores in Tissues. As she once put it in an interview with Andrea Lissoni, “documenting has always been an important part of my work and also something I want to challenge.” Though each version changes the original material, stripping the aura and affect of the original performance’s engagement with “sound, movement, [and] space,” causes something different to emerge in this work of art and its digital reproduction. Like most people who will probably hear this record, I wasn’t able to experience the original performance at the Tate in 2019. I didn’t see, so therefore cannot forget. From the record’s hazy synth textures and pensive melisma, then, the listener is allowed to construct their own memory and experience with its complex exploration of sorrow, an individual interpretation made in solitude.
Like Boris’s Flood, another work of atmospheric development in four parts, Tissues is better thought of as a unified whole and experienced as such. Out of a scramble of modular electronics emerges a quavering drone that dances with the four singers’s vibrato, evolving into ripples and swirls of noise that function both as texture and tone. There’s genuine moments of despair; 12 minutes in, Marie Gailey’s elegiac mezzo-soprano intones the lamentation of forgetting that opens this review. Floating over a haunting soundscape that rivals Tim Hecker’s most melancholic work, it’s an occasion for catharsis. Pan doesn’t linger on this mood for long, however. She introduces icy piano strikes that slowly silence the vocals to make room for cold, stark noise. In the following section, that noise takes rhythmic shape around high-pitched vocal aspirations and squeals, before dramatic piano chords signal re-entry into funereal territory. The record concludes with a hypnotic duel between the soprano and mezzo-soprano—a single note caught with straight tone and thrown back via tremolo, before finally giving way to a disconsolate whistle. Beginning with the electronic and finishing with the organic, Tissues uses the relationship between those two sound worlds to represent the effect of time on memory, emotion, and meaning.