Posts Tagged ‘soundscape’

I was a participating sound artist at the May 2015 Aural Lighthouses symposium in Santorini, Greece. As the brochure explains:

Curated by Ileana Drinovan-Nomikos, the event hosts artists and scholars from around the world including Greece, United States, India,United Kingdom, Australia, Germany and Italy. Sound artists and atmospheric scientists are brought together to evoke the emotional, affective and visceral responses of sound and frequency, and their effect beyond what scientifically manifests in graphs and images. The symposium explores human aural performance and how we make and create disaster sounds to seem natural and to fade into a perceived inaudibility. The works further explore the oscillation between apprehensive, stressed, distressed and relaxed listening, and so the difference between dread and the beauty of disaster listening.

My contribution was a four-channel immersive sound work, constructed from sonic materials that were part of my 2012 City of Melbourne public art work, Revoicing the Striated Soundscape. Unfortunately I couldn’t attend the conference but I was lucky enough to receive this feedback from the symposium co-coordinator, Ljubi Matic.

Rupture was played publicly starting from Tuesday May 19th, 2015 through Saturday May 23rd, 2015, every day for at least 4 afternoon and early evening hours. A separate room, approximately 4×4 meters large, was dedicated to the piece. Santozeum is a conglomerate of rooms of different sizes on several floors, so the audience could ramble around the space walking in and out during the pieces and taking in different sound events at their leisure. In the room where Rupture was listened to, there were 4 paintings on the walls, copies of the wall paintings of Akrotiri (an ancient site on Santorini). The speakers were located on the ground, in the 4 corners of the room. The audience was not seated (as I think you had originally suggested) because we thought that chairs would make the space too cramped. However, some listeners felt inclined to sit down while listening, on the ground and next to the speakers, and then rotate their position during their listening session. This rotation could and did happen quite quickly as the speakers were not too far from each other. The room, smaller than what is a typical gallery space, thus, I think, brought a special sensitivity to auditors’ 4-way movements. Those among the listeners who did not have the chance to read the info found in the brochure had not been informed about the type and provenance of the sounds you had created and used for the installation. Upon learning that, some came for the second time. An audience member told me he felt listening to Rupture transported him above the ground, to a flight of sorts, that is, flights of different kinds, some more or less comfortable, others evoking situations of fleeing and mobilization for war. Another one compared the listening experience to a “slow-motion of gigantic waves” with “abrupt abysses of silence (ruptures?) gaping from the oceanic expanse.” A third one was struck by the “compulsiveness” she sensed in the sounds of machinic origins as well as in her urge to stay put in the room and listen to them. The presence of ancient human and animal figures on the wall paintings gave a special twist to the experience at those moments where your composition brought breaths, sighs and strange (gutural?) sounds to the fore. It almost felt like anthropomorphic auricular traces were being uncovered from the strata of our machinic past, or like some kind of otherworldly communication was under way. Santorini, after all, is all about multifarious geological layers. Must be same for Melbourne and thank you for making us become aware of that.

I was also sent some photographs of the exhibition. Fascinating to consider Melbourne’s laneway sounds finding a home in the island of Santorini! photo 1photo 15photo 9photo 6

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What is the sound of heavy industry, machinery and metal? Has it a detectable “atmosphere”, a taste, a sensuality? Urban noise is often loathed, and there is good reason for this considering its ubiquity, and dominating effects. And yet, inside noise, there is something tantalizingly alive. I think of urban noise as in its infant phase; a neglected child yet to find its true potential. Or a formless material without a maker to provide it with diverse expressions. Luigi Russolo, John Cage,  Christina Kubisch and Max Neuhaus are four well-known composers/artists who brought to urban sound a musical sensibility; that is, treating urban noise with a musician’s respect.

day full container

Note the four speakers on the two containers. On the right container you can see one of the transducers in the center that was used to vibrate the container. Lengths of neon can be seen on both containers.

From the 22nd-24th January 2015, a team of artists including Fiona Hillary, Shanti Sumartojo, Eliot Palmer and myself were invited to produce a three-day atmosphere as part of Dagmara Gieysztor’s 3 month artist residency on the Maribyrnong River in Footscray. The shipping containers were located adjacent to a heavy freight rail bridge, which crossed the river to reach a giant container loading bay. Industrial soundscape 101!

Left image: The container storage yards on the other side of the river by night. Right image: A view of the train bridge running over the river toward the container storage yards. Containers are at the bottom of the hill to the left.

Left image: The container storage yards on the other side of the river by night.
Right image: A view of the train bridge running over the river toward the container storage yards. Containers are at the bottom of the hill to the left.

In response Eliot Palmer, who is a sound-artist, rigged up two transducers, one on each container, to vibrate the containers’ architecture. We closed up one of the containers and placed two shotgun microphones inside. The mics picked up the internal resonance of one of the containers which we threw out of four speakers sitting on the roof of the two containers. Included with these feedback sounds were various transformed industrial recordings I had made on site, industrial soundscape designs from my previous installations including Revoicing the Striated Soundscape and Subterranean Voices, and the use of rapid-tempo sequencing through a Korg synthesiser to further “suspend” the vibrations. Fiona Hillary and Shanti Sumartojo created a visual feast with neon lights and data projectors accentuating the multi-coloured and linear arrangement of the containers across the river. (For further description of the visual creations see this link).

The containers by night. At this point the atmosphere becomes surreal as both real and ghost trains pass, and neon glows in the dark.

The containers by night. At this point the atmosphere becomes surreal as both real trains and ghost trains pass, and neon glows in the dark.

Listening to the sound recording, which is live and unedited (besides a few cut and pastes to minimize length) gives a sense of the augmented atmosphere. The soundscape, which can be heard below includes the familiar sounds of trucks and trains aside the continuous drones and snores of vibrating containers, and the other-worldly calls of alien industrialism.

The soundcloud link below includes a silhouette of the four artists basking in the nightlight of the neon.


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The wild paths of nature.

The wild paths of nature?

The love of Nature in industralised countries is, looked at historically, a bizarre phenomena. We spent centuries (even millenia) being frightened of nature, wary of it and struggling within it to survive. It was only when we had dominated it, repressed it, that we suddenly came to develop a love affair with it. Once we were safely divorced from nature, and her powers had been tamed to such an extent that we could control our own destiny, did we come to love the concept of ‘nature’.We have been locking tracts of nature up into small parcels called parks dominated by human law (fences, signs, boundaries a.k.a. environmental management) for the last 150 years, about the point that the industrial revolution had succeeded in divorcing us from our natural surrounds and encapsulating us in the mechanical life of the machine.

We use nature for two purposes. Firstly, recreation. For some people this means tearing up the ground with 4WD or deafening birds with the roars of motorbikes or disturbing possums with the riotous thump of a rave party. At the other pole it means days of walking alone absorbing the beauty and stillness of wondrous sites. But most people would not enter a park when it has, for example, been raining. I remember a friend who was going walking in the You-Yangs near Melbourne. It was raining and he received a phone call from the organiser to say the walk was canceled. It caused me to think that the group was going for a walk in a park, not ‘nature’, and only when the weather was right. This is a perfect example of the way we have controlled our relationship with nature. It is only in that control that we become comfortable enough to enter it. In effect we have created parks for our pleasure. The wildness of nature is destroyed or at least pushed away to a safe distance.

The other relationship people have with nature is reverential. It has become a kind of religion; ‘she’ is worshiped. Hordes of Green voters plunge through national parks for days on end and come out the other end with a glow you never see in an urban dweller. There is no doubting the power nature has to restore and regenerate those willing to tackle her distances. However this is still a park mentality. We follow paths erected by environmental managers and are safe in the knowledge that several helicopters followed by the media will come to our rescue should any danger befall us. How many people would actually disappear into nature? In the movie ‘Into the Wild‘, based on a true story, we see a man face the reality of living in nature when he truly leaves civilisation behind him. Another rare story is that of the ‘Squatters Arms‘. A couple traveling around Australia on a yacht discovered an isolated part of the bush in the Kimberlys and decided to stay put. They battle with typhoons and hordes of snakes and isolation (and they love it), but these experiences are truly natural, unlike rambling down carved out paths, ready to run back  to the car at the first hint of rain.

In his book ‘The Tuning of the World’, Murray Schafer describes a soundscape survey (conducted in the seventies) where people around the world were asked to respond to different sounds. Here is what he had to say:

As people move away from open-air living into city environments, their attitudes toward natural sounds become benign. Compare Canada, New Zealand and Jamaica. In the two former countries, the sounds of animals were scarcely ever found to be displeasing. But every one of the Jamaicans interviewed disliked one or more animals or birds – particularly at night.

This doesn’t require much explanation. It is suggestive that the further we are from nature the more we romanticise it. Jamaica is now a developed country. I wonder what the survey results would be now?

I love absorbing the power of ‘nature’ and I think it is important lock up tracts of land so other animals have the space to survive and evolve. It is people’s relationship to nature I find fascinating. How can we come to worship something we spent so long escaping from? Or is that we didn’t escape, but were just seduced by a lifestyle that took as further away from the source of our existence? Is our ideation of nature a reflection of our desire to return to it? There are some cultures that remain intact with their natural lifestyles, notably in the Amazon and PNG, but how long can they resist the prying fingers of the Western machine and the allure of the bright lights of civilisation? We had hundreds of years to have our link with nature severed while we got used to locking her wildness away in manageable parks. But true ‘nature’ dwellers who are thrust out of their lives in the modern world have insurmountable challenges to face.

What if civilisation should one day fall, and our buildings crumble and nature slowly swallows our cities? We would be back in nature. Struggling to survive, eking out an existence. There would be little time to walk along paths and gasp at natures beauty then. What would our relationship with nature be like in this scenario?

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