A Day at the Taj
meinebank, Berlin, 2003
In Vertigo, WG Sebald quotes the French novelist, Stendhal, on touristic travel engravings “before very long they will displace our memories completely, indeed one might say they destroy them.”
Image-glut of some places, such as the Taj Mahal, now does not even permit the formation of memories. Paul Paulun never even wanted to go to the Taj Mahal. “Although a postcard is just surface,” Paulun points out, “the media high pressure of the Taj made me feel as though I had ‘already seen it’.” Not only is visual and visceral complexity of place reduced by the postcard, but more seriously, the sound field diminishes and is degraded. (And dangerously, this might all be happening subconsciously to some of us.) In A Day at the Taj, Paulun investigates restoring not only place but also memory to us.
At the Taj Mahal, Paulun recorded 24 hours, beginning at two in the morning on April 3, 2002 and finishing in the morning of the following day. With minimal editing, he chose one-minute situations to represent each hour of the day. Each minute of sound confronts a postcard image of the Taj Mahal. It is the sounds of nature we first hear: water, birds, city dogs and then the urban awakening: the first motorcycle, shops opening, trains, loud speakers, people talking, street sellers, visitors and tourists at the Taj Mahal. The increasing crescendo of urban life until sunset and the soft conversations that murmur until sleep comes.
Someone said that for you to remember something it has to be associated with something you already know. Memories of place begin when they can be connected by us to specifics of places. The Taj Mahal cannot come into being for us until the smells of it connect to other smells, until the image of it connects to other images, and until the sound of it connects to other sounds. A memory begins with connections to our experiences that can then release us to look at the new and unfamiliar and still construct a memory of it. The postcard allows for no experience exchange. The postcard distances the image and sound of the everyday, which is where we begin
Paulun uses the sounds of the everyday to bump, nudge, poke, and jab the numbing media-gorged image. Jolts of memory sound begin the process of image displacement.
In the beginning of A Day at the Taj, the image overwhelms the sound. “The sounds are trying to scrape on the building. Step by step, the sounds succeed.” Paulun says, “In the end, there is not so much of a distance. There is an ‘Annäherung’ (a ‘rappoachment’ or convergence) of the two relationships.” Paulun offers us the possibility for our memories to make a memory. He returns the narrative to the listener. We have been given the possibility to make a new memory of place.
Maria Thereza Alves
Bild: D.N. Dube (Postkarte)