An Awakening Dream

الجمعة 16 نيسان 2010

By Regina Mamou*


To engage in a daydream is to allow the mind to wander while awake and in doing so, to entertain fantasies with limitless creativity. In an improvisation on this meaning, Toleen Touq, an Amman-based artist, creates limitations for the waking dream, confines it, and sets it free again for the listener. Before beginning a 2-month-long residency at Makan in October 2009 Touq gave herself guidelines; that is, to record sound between 4 and 5 in the evening. The result of her experimentation is Daydreaming at 4:48 PM; a project that combines Touq’s transmissions into an extended narrative.

In Daydreaming, Touq uses her self-enforced limitations in Amman and a combination of sounds gathered from outside sources, described by the artist as, “sounds from Damascene cafes and sounds of spiritual processions sent from across the Atlantic.” The existing work collected by Touq includes recordings from the Brazilian artist Isabela Prado and The Freesound Project, an online collaborative database. Additionally, on the project’s website Touq provides four maps which accompanied the text at the final exhibition at Makan in December. The images zoom out from one another like nesting dolls, presenting the viewer with maps of Amman, Jordan, the Middle East, and the world, hinting at the connections the sounds bridge.

toleen 2Touq’s “soundscapes,” the term used by the artist to refer to the recordings, are arranged into episodes: organized compilations of the transmissions and added material within the larger work of Daydreaming which in their entirety span about one hour. The journey of the main character, described by Touq as a “heroine…[but] not a heroine in the real sense,” is the thread connecting each episode. The narration—expressed in prose-like form and engaging the listener in a voyage of sound—oscillates between public and private spaces: a cluster of ringing tower bells, directions to a house, the pacification of rain water, and recounting furniture in a room.

The set begins with Prologue: heavy breathing coupled with a ghostly vibrato, doors slamming, then opening and closing again. This single minute leads into the 1st Episode, where ambient noise fades directly into words, forming a description of the heroine’s environment, a static counterpart to the watercolor blur of sound. Then, just as quickly as the clarity of the voice begins, it is replaced by the loudspeaker of a tomato seller, transmitted to the recording device in a looping drone in which words quickly lose their potency and meaning as repetition gives way to the abstraction and beauty of sound itself.

The narrative continues its unfurling in the 2nd Episode, which introduces a cluster of voices in a café. The sound seems to be transmitted from afar, only audible at an eavesdropping distance. In the 3rd Episode, the listener is greeted again by a private encounter of the heroine, as ascending counting breaks the smoothness of speech; later, rain is heard, the drops ranging from fluid and thick to thin pinpricks of noise that seem to dent holes into a metallic surface.

In a departure from the longer piece of Daydreaming, the 4th Episode (Interlude) opens with a swelling sound, driving the listener away after the intimacy of the preceding episodes. A piano melody, composed by the Palestinian musician Dirar Kalash, and ringing bells echo one another, repeating each step. What begins as a constant call-and-response turns to dissidence as each bell collapses, folds, and falls into the other. The piano notes become heavy and engulfing; the abrupt change halfway into Interlude reminds the listener of the ghostly quality of the transmissions, teasingly shifting their shape. The fluidity of language leading into the 5th Episode begins to exhale the transmission into silence, and then footsteps are heard, as if the listener is actively walking a path, at first as a companion, but soon in frantic stride.

The Last Episode recalls the sensory experience of a parade: soft noise begins from a distance, but slowly grows louder, eventually fading again into the passage of a procession. The interaction is replaced by its opposite. the inverse of experiencing an event—a conversation. Here the act becomes personal and intimate, performed in front of a single person. The noise that is captured harmonizes day-to-day sounds: a grinder, shaking a bag, the tactile noises of objects in a bowl, the swishes, sways, and pauses of human interaction.

The transmissions of Daydreaming, the chance of recording for a short pause coupled with its poetic form, allow the listener access and awareness of everyday sounds. It is the record of physical interaction, often gone unnoticed, as does sighing or swallowing. Like the mechanics of the human body, Touq’s transmissions switch between static words and rhythmic descriptions to the sounds of repetitive and machinelike taps, asking the listener to sync sound to breath, to acknowledge one’s own heartbeat. If the limitations of recording force one to become aware of movements in the course of daily routine, than Touq has taken this process a step further by asking the listener to also create a limitless, endless story; to daydream with her, if only for a moment.

This event was part of the project entitled Makan’s Transformation, a four month voyage undertaken by two artists who explored notions and meanings of space through the transformation in function of the physical space of Makan.

Makan’s Website

Listen to Toleen Touq’s Project here.


Regina Mamou is a photographer, educator, and published artist. She is currently a Fulbright Fellow to Jordan working on “Mapping Collected Memory,” a project interpreting Amman through methods of navigation.

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