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Thursday
Jul312014

Maelstrom

Some art just sticks in your mind. In 2012 I saw Roman Kirschner’s / Els Viaene’s Maelstrom at the DEAF Festival in Rotterdam in the Netherlands, and last year I found myself thinking about it a couple of times. Seeing the work; the subtlety of it, and not knowing how it worked left a big impression on me.

The work is inspired by the Edgar Allan Poe story “A Descent into the Maelstrom”, in which a man reminisces about surviving a storm, shipwreck and a whirlpool. Over time, memories are transformed and imagination comes into play. Our memories are liquid.

In Gaston Bachelard’s description of the most important travel of human beings, namely the one between the real and the imaginary, he states that when art takes us to this travel, it is not about the stay in one of the two realms. But instead the journey, the movement, the border crossing and the mutual exchange is what we should pay attention to. The dark line in Maelstrom is the vehicle of this travel and the border at the same time. It doesn’t show us one of the two realms. It shows us the process of trying to make sense, its materiality, its movement, its buildup, decay, turbulences, and fluidity.

When I saw the work, I had the revalation that because of not being able to understand the technology, I could focus more on the actual meaning and thought behind the work, as if it had been a painting. I did not “get” how the fluids worked, and the sounds tied in very nicely and came from within the object. If this would’ve been a projection, speakers and some visual algorithm, this would not have been possible.

Monday
Jul282014

Cities & Memory

We’ve seen quite a few projects using geolocation lately, from Sterepublic which “crowdsourced the quiet”, to the URB project in Porto, also collecting sound data from locations. The Cities & Memory project is different in the sense that it wants to record the sounds of the actual space, as well as the poetic, underlying space.

Every faithful field recording document here is accompanied by a reworking, a processing or an interpretation that imagines that place and time as somewhere else, somewhere new. The listener can choose to explore locations through their actual sounds, or explore interpretations of what those places could be – or to flip between the two different sound worlds at leisure.

I think the idea of having both the real field recording and the poetic interpretation side by side is very interesting. Of course this is an interpretation, so bound to be quite subjective. I’m especially curious if we, in time, could figure out a certain sound-vocabulary to describe the poetics of a place. If any, Cities and Memory is a good start!

Sunday
Jul062014

Frequencies (a)

Nicolas Bernier is a Canadian sound artist who we’ve seen before. His “Frequencies” is an ongoing process focusing on basic sound generation systems. “Frequencies (a)” is a sound performance combining the sound of mechanically triggered tuning forks with pure digital soundwaves. The tuning fork, producing a sound closest to a pure sinewave, provides a historical link between science, tonal instrument works, and electronic music. The performer is triggering sequences from the computer, activating solenoids that hit the tuning forks with high precision. Streams of light burst in synchronicity with the forks, creating an intense sound and light composition.

Sunday
Jun292014

Sounds Like Silver

Synaesthesia is the neurological phenomenon in which the brain mixes up the senses; stimulation of one of the senses leads to experiences in a second sensory or cognitive pathway. For “Sounds Like Silver”, Kevin Blake worked with a group of three people with sound to colour induced synaesthesia, documenting and illustrating the visual experiences of the group upon hearing his composition. The work explores the concept of synaesthesia being both a blessing and a curse, and explores visual spaces that are both real and surreal. It was completed as part of a thesis exploring the use of “Synaesthesia as a Creative Tool” - for the Music and Media Technologies Masters Degree at the Trinity College of Dublin.

As the work is based on direct input of the test group, the visual aesthetics of the piece might be hard to pin down, though it is definitely interesting to see a representation of what people with synaesthesia experience. What do you think? Is the video a good visual representation of the composition?

Monday
Jun022014

Five Sound Questions to John Wynne

Picture by Tim Wainwright.

Last week we saw John Wynne’s 300 Speakers, Pianola and Vacuum Cleaner, and also new site-specific works for “The Flux, and I” which is on in London until the 22nd of June. The delicate sounds of the huge installation were quite intriguing, so I am quite honored to have him answer the Five Questions.

1.    What sound from your childhood made the most impression on you?

I remember being 8 or 9 years old and living in Cold Lake, in Canada, running around at night with a couple of friends, unscrewing Christmas light bulbs outside people’s houses and stamping on them while they were still hot, just to hear the popping sound they made. I’m not sure whether the physics is right, but it seemed to us that the sound was louder because the bulbs were hot and it was very, very cold outside. But what I also remember, as much as the sound, was that I felt guilty about this experiment in vandalism and immediately told my mother about it. Much to her credit, I wasn’t punished, I guess because I obviously recognised that it was wrong and clearly had no intention to go on to a life of social irresponsibility. But just writing about this has triggered a forgotten memory from around that time in my life:  we were living on the air base at Cold Lake, and there was a loud siren that went off at night to mark a curfew for children under a certain age. It also went off when they were about to fly over the base spraying insecticide, which I’m sure was very unhealthy, given that this was decades ago. I wonder if that sound, a classic air-raid type siren, had anything to do with my later fascination for alarm sounds:  I’ve designed many auditory warnings for installations and other sound works over the years. 

2.    How do you listen to the world around you?

Sometimes it seems like the world of sound art is a competition to see who can be the most sensitive listener. I think I’d go mad if I were hypersensitive to sound all the time. In fact, when I was younger I suffered from tinnitus, and I had lots of hearing tests and brain scans which revealed nothing wrong, physiologically. Then I read Cage’s account of his experience in the anechoic chamber and realized that at least part of my problem was that there was a feedback loop between listening to the sounds of my own body and worrying about what I was hearing – the more I worried, the louder it got. I try to be attentive to my environment and prepared to notice interesting transient sounds when they happen, but sometimes I turn my attention elsewhere. While I was making the two site-specific installations at Gazelli Art House recently, I began by opening myself up to sound, including the ambient sounds of the gallery and the street outside, but by the end of the process, a week or so later, I was completely numb and once the work was done I didn’t want to hear anything at all for some time.

 3.    Which place in the world do you favor for its sound?

There’s a secluded lake in Canada where my partner and I spend a lot of time when we go back in the summer. You have to hike in to it, there are no occupied houses around it, and no boats are allowed, so it’s exquisitely peaceful. The lake is surrounded on two sides by tree-lined cliffs and is set in a naturally bowl-shaped landscape, so when the geese and other water birds come and go the echoes of their voices and the sounds they make landing and taking off are extraordinary. Even when teenagers arrive on holiday weekends to risk their lives on the massive rope swing on the other side of the lake, the way the sound of their shouts and splashes travels slowly across and around the lake is so interesting it almost makes up for the intrusion. But of course it’s not just the sound that I love about this place – the water even feels better than anywhere else I know and is so clean you can drink while you swim.

4. How could we make sound improve our lives?

Make less of it. Ever since Hildegard Westerkamp mentioned it to me years ago, I’ve noticed that as I get older, the frequency range of my hearing shrinks but at the same time I become more sensitive to high sound pressure levels. The noise in some public places is intolerable for me at times, yet if I compare my hearing to that of my students, who have no problem functioning in noisy environments, some of them find very high frequencies (that I hear only faintly or not at all) quite painful. Age-related hyperacusis (reduced tolerance to noise) is compounded by a decreased ability to ‘focus’ on a single voice in noisy environments. I do appreciate ‘noise’ aesthetically sometimes and some of my own work gets pretty intense at times, but these days I’m generally more interested in the lower threshold of hearing than the upper.

5. What sound would you like to wake up to?

I love Rutger Zuydervelt’s response to this question: Fuck it, I’m going to answer with the most cliché answer ever. I’m afraid birdsong was the first thing that came to my mind, too. Shortly followed by the sound and smell of coffee wafting around me on a light, warm breeze.

Thanks John! Also read the answers of other artists in the Five Sound Questions section.

Friday
May232014

300 speakers, pianola and vacuum cleaner

John Wynne is a sound artist currently based in the UK. His untitled installation for 300 speakers, player piano and vacuum cleaner plays with contrasts in size: the work is monumental and huge, while the sounds the installation produces are very delicate. In this way he is able to craft an immersive environment where the sound really becomes part of the space itself. The pianola plays some notes of Franz Léhar’s 1909 operetta Gypsy Love at a very low tempo. Synthetic sounds add to this and both the vacuum cleaner as well as the sound spatialisation are controlled through the space by contemporary digital technology. In that way the installation is about bringing together the old and the new, playing with themes like obsolescence and nostalgia.

At the moment, there’s a new show in London with site-specific works by John Wynne as well as Yoonjin Jung exploring one’s inner “movement” in relation to their surroundings. “The Flux, and I” seeks to provide a platform for the audience to detach themselves from the effects of time in order to understand and embrace the inevitable progression of events that we have little or no control over.

“The Flux, and I” is at the Gazelli Art House in London and runs until the 22nd of June.

Tuesday
May132014

Carileon

On Everyday Listening we hardly every post about novel instruments. I don’t exactly know why. Is it because most instruments are not as aesthetically pleasing to the eye? Do they not get documented that well?

In any case, this half-instrument, half-installation is definitely pleasing to the eye. New York-based sound artist Sebastien Leon created the Carileon, which can be played by the wind and a performer simultaneously. In the video you see multi-instrumentalist Loup Barrow (who plays some awesomely strange instruments) with the Eiffel Tower as a backdrop.

Some say wind chimes are the most basic form of generative music. In this installation, the generative nature and performance come together, which I think is quite interesting.

Friday
May022014

Five Sound Questions to Gordon Ashworth

I recently had the pleasure to support Gordon Ashworth in Utrecht, The Netherlands. Using only a handheld recording device playing recordings made during his travels and two fourtrack cassettedecks sharing a tape-loop, he played rich textures interwoven with noisy field recordings adding layer upon layer as he went along.

His album S.T.L.A. definitely captures the same spirit. Gordons music walks the fine line between abstract and melodic. As I was quite intrigued by his album, I decided to ask him for the Five Sound Questions series.

More sounds and info can be found at www.gordonashworth.com.

1. What sound from your childhood made the most impression on you?

 An old grandfather clock in our living room that played “Westminster Chimes.” It played little versions of this melody in E major every 15 minutes for like 18 years of my life. It was next to the upright piano my Mom used to play, so that side of the living room was always associated with music.

2. How do you listen to the world around you?

Obsessively, because I’m always listening for interesting sounds, and because I have problems with my ears and I’m constantly adjusting pressure or analyzing my hearing quality. When I travel, I’m always seeking sounds and chasing them for field recordings, which is a strong reason that I like to tour alone. I’ve gotten used to finding and using public maps after getting lost while following sounds in new places. 

3. Which place in the world do you favor for its sound?

Once I was inside the narrow spiral staircase of the cathedral in Köln, Germany when the bells began to ring… that was a very heavy acoustic experience. I love the surreal mood that surrounds bells drifting through a city at morning and evening, something seemingly common in Europe but rare in the USA. I really like street musicians and the cries of street vendors, especially in Mexico. I’d like to travel through a lot of Latin America and the Caribbean for this reason. I remember hearing beautiful early morning sounds once in Adelaide, Australia. I like how Napoli sounds like chaos.

4. How could we make sound improve our lives?

Music is so closely connected with emotion and empathy, it seems obvious that it can powerfully effect and help people emotionally. We could also benefit from a lot more quietude, especially those of us that live in dense, urban environments. If people would generally open up to sound art, it would be really rewarding. I think there are still a lot of people that think art must be visual, and sound must be musical.

 5. What sound would you like to wake up to?

Real silence.

 

Thanks Gordon! Also read the answers of other artists in the Five Sound Questions section.

Friday
Apr252014

Mirrors

With MIRRORS, Sydney-based visual artist and musician Tim Bruniges wants to capture the immersive nature of sound. With two large slabs of stone, both almost measuring 3x3 meters, one can rightfully call this work megalithic.

Acting as “sound mirrors”, these curved surfaces collect, compress and amplify all sound occurring in front of them. When received, sound is pushed outward along the edges in the opposite direction. Because the two slabs are placed in front of each other, sound is being transmitted back and forth over a ~8 meter distance, constantly amplifying the sound in the room.

This all is supported by a second layer of sound: two speakers and a microphone embedded in the parabolic reflector, amplifying the sounds in the room and playing them back with different layers of digital delay, creating a tension with the purely acoustic “delay”.

You don’t see that much sound art with a very great visual appeal. MIRRORS is different in that sense. The medative environment, the empty industrial space it is set up in, are all very carefully thought about. I’d love to experience it sometime.

Tuesday
Apr082014

Sonic Movement

As cars become more and more silent, the question “what should cars sound like?” becomes more and more relevant. Already back in 2009 this was a question with the then evident success of the hybrid car, see this post.

We’ve also seen the project Play the Road recently - which is focused more on making music than making the city a nicer place.

Sonic Movement however, is a collaboration between Semcon, who have been developing automotive solutions for quite a while, creative director Fernando Ocana and hybrid designer James Brooks, and music/art duo Holly Herndon and Mathew Dryhurst. The project aims to make the car sound in harmony with the rest of the city, which is a great aim, if you ask me. Like they state in the video:

While our cities are in continuous visual and tactile evolution, our sonic landscape is primitive and disordered. With the dawn of silent electric vehicles comes a need for pedestrian warning sounds. This represents an opportunity to reflect upon the noise of our streets today and fantasize on what the future of our cities could sound like.”

I’m particularly amazed by the way they were able to tackle safety, took the surroundings into consideration, and made it musical. Would love to hear this in action, and to know more about the underlying technicalities!