The Catacombs of Yucatan

(1997)

by

Dan Senn
See this video (26:41) See 1995 installation documentaiton See Channel 10 New Broadcast Read Article about installation

This Catacombs of Yucatan was made to accompany the Catacomb Memories installation but is presented here with a sound track by the same name to enable a sense of the original 1995 installaton in rural Minnesota. Using very low tech methods, the video was created by playing back the original Catacomb of Yucatan Sound and Video Installation video interviews on a monitor while reshooting it with a second camera. It is mostly in-camera edited. The original intention wasto simply provide color and cast light over the top of a field of 24 micro-tuned paper tube drums that were being hammered by 24" pendulums while presenting a suggestion of the faces of the interviewees who's voices are also sounding within the installtion.

This piece chronicles two events, one leading to the commercialization of a remote limestone cave and associated dance hall during the depression of the 1930s, and the other glimpsing a sound and video installation which took place in the same location in the Autumn of 1995. Using the stories of nine people who once worked at what was called "The Catacombs of Yucatan", the piece consists of an interweaving of the spoken word as accompanied by the instrumental sounds of my sculptural instruments. Both the spoken and instrumental sounds were part of a cave installation called The Catacombs of Yucatan Sound and Video Installation. The video was developed as an abstraction of the video interviews presented in the '95 installation and consist of images shot off the installation monitors.

Inspiration for this piece developed directly from the pleasure of manipulating the spoken, instrumental, and video materials. For this reason, none the recorded stories have been altered; I have only arranged them to make narrative sense while pleasing an esthetic sense as a composer. (On the other hand, I have let these stories be told and am fully aware of their political, historical and social ramifications.) The instrumental sounds, however, are sectional, systematically derived and come from 4 of my sculptural instruments: a pendulyre (light pizzacato sounds); a two-string pendulyre (sounds like an out-of-tune piano); a penduling (has ringing and percussive sounds); and, a Shmoos Harp (long tones) which is heard as interludes to the other instruments. The non-Shmoos instruments are driven by identicial pulse scores (subaudio pulses drive weighted pendulums in each of these) and, therefore, because the they reacte differently to the scores, exist as variations here. The Shmoos Harp is performed as an improvisation and arranged with the other instrumental sounds, to fit an overall duration of 27 minutes, a length established by the video and spoken materials. Simultaneities occurring bewteen the spoken and instrumental and video levels happen by distant chance, a fact to be considered in appreciating the esthetic underpinnings of the piece. Therefore, if a meaningfulness arises from this piece it will do so mostly on its own.

The Catacombs of Yucatan music video has been preceded by a sound only version for radio which was commissioned by the 1996 KUOW Radio Arts Festival in Seattle. While the sound track for this music video version differs from the radio festival version, it may be played without the video; a CD or DAT is available for this.

This piece was made possible in part by grants from the McKnight Foundation of Minnesota and KUOW of Seattle.

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