Artist’s Statement & Reflection Paper

June 21, 2009 at 10:52 pm (Artists Statement & Reflection)

Artist’s Statement

…how do we listen to sounds never before noticed, sounds long vanished, or sounds that are not sounds, exactly, but more like the fluctuations of light, weather and the peculiar feeling that can arise when there is a strong sense of place?
(Toop, 2007: 112)

My work explores the dialogue between sound and space. More specifically, it focuses on the relationship between the soundscape and our perception of the urban environment.

I undertook this project to investigate this in relation to my own experience of London. I felt my interaction with the city was becoming increasingly dislocated and often dictated by routines of work and necessity. If, as Lefebvre presupposes, the city is expressive of a person’s being and consciousness, then this feeling of dislocation and lack of exploration could potentially sever an individual’s connection with their city and thus their self. (Kofman & Lebas, 1996: 11)

To remedy this I embarked on a series of journeys stemming from the River Thames, taking my influence from Situationist ideas of urban exploration; namely psychogeography and dérive. (Debord, 2006: 50) I didn’t plan any routes, I simply let the allure of the landscape and the sounds I experienced lead me towards my next location. These soundwalks, or sonic dérives, through London’s urban terrain were the initial steps I took towards freely recreating my experience of the city. It gave me the opportunity to examine how my perception of the spaces encountered was being shaped by the sounds present and vice versa. En route I collected and recorded the material I’ve used to create my final piece Sonorous City.

My methodologies and aesthetic decisions have been strongly influenced by experimental music and sound-based artistic practise; in particular Acoustic Ecology, defined by R M Schafer as:

…the study of the effects of the acoustic environment or SOUNDSCAPE on the physical responses or behavioural characteristics of creatures living within it. Its particular aim is to draw attention to imbalances which may have unhealthy or inimical effects.

The Positive Soundscapes Project, a detailed 4-year study nearing completion, has been trying to identify and find solutions to these imbalances in both London and Manchester. Similarly, the New York Society for Acoustic Ecology has spearheaded several community-based soundscape projects, such as Sound Seeker and City in a Soundwalk, which encourage participants to actively engage with their sonic environment and reflect upon its impact on their daily lives. (NYSAC, 2007: 55)

Although I have focused more on my own individual experience of London’s soundscape, I see my project as running parallel to those aforementioned. Whilst the agency of getting people to engage with a city’s soundscape via a composition within an installation space may differ from their methods, a common goal is shared; to heighten the sensitivity of our ears and help us establish a stronger connection with our environment through listening.

I strive to situate my work as Bill Fontana has done, existing ‘one foot in and out of contemporary music, one foot in and out of contemporary art’. (as cited in Licht. 2007: 274) Digital technologies allow me to traverse this tightrope. However, to me categories aren’t the important thing, regardless of medium the message takes priority.

Reflection

This MA has been a journey in itself. Like my dérives through the city, I defined my point of departure and let the interesting things I encountered lead me onwards. I further explored some familiar territory, but most of my trails uncovered what was new ground to me. Now that I’m at the end of this particular journey, I feel I have a better understanding of myself, my work and the possible routes I might embark upon next. New artistic opportunities linger on the horizon, which I intend to embrace with the knowledge, skills and ideas I’ve acquired through the course.

In my initial proposal I envisaged creating an interactive audio-visual piece, exploring the individuals relationship with the City. Whilst my final piece Sonorous City could be described along these lines, the agency has changed. Through practical experimentation and critical feedback, I’ve refined my approach to audio-visual composition by reducing the visual element to a minimum and focusing on sound as the main carrier of meaning. My research in to electroacoustic music and synaesthesia in art has informed my approach to soundscape composition, which I view as an inherently visual language. Much of the visual side of my work has relocated itself within my process: through both sound-drawings and documentation of spaces via a camera, as well as in the act of listening – in the right conditions our ears can stimulate spaces within the minds eye as vivid as those experienced in the ‘real’ world.

The interactive aspect to my work has also been stripped down to its essentials. I reconsidered my preliminary ideas about creating an interface using motion tracking or touch-screen technology. This was partly due to losing my computer and thus my time, but also because I didn’t want the technology to be at the forefront of the experience of my final piece. As my tutor Andy stressed, the interaction should be meaningful and not be a gimmick. Now, through the use of a seat-embedded trigger, the interaction has been simplified and will hopefully take on a more symbolic role within the work: when the audience sits the light present will fade to black, and a journey in to the city will begin. The act of listening becomes central to the experience, attempting to reveal how we can understand and engage with our environment through sound.

Within my project the historical aspect of London was discarded in favour of the present state of the city. Perhaps there was an underlying existentialist theme in this decision; I feel that I can only truthfully reflect upon the things I have directly experienced as an individual. This focus on the present lived experience was something that became more apparent as I undertook my main dérives and later attempted to describe these experiences in writing.

The use of surround sound was largely influenced by the lectures I attended at Goldsmiths. After hearing Westerkamp and Truax play their soundscape compositions on an 8-speaker set-up I realized the potential of surround sound. It can enable a more realistic depiction of how we experience sound in the real world by allowing the composer to play with notions of space and motion in more depth.

At the same time I’m excited and anxious about what the future may hold in terms of a career. I’d like to continue my creative practise through the means of artist residencies and collaborative exhibitions over the coming years, with the possibility of exploring my area of study within the framework of a PhD further down the line. Although the current financial crisis suggests finding work may be difficult, I’d like to establish myself as a freelance sound designer for film, with the long term goal of setting up and successfully running a small company. Also, over the next year I plan to start a record label as an outlet for both my experimental and dance-based music. I believe these different endeavours can exist in tandem and will definitely inform one another. If I approach each respective strand of my creative passions with the same dedication and openness to learning as I feel I have with my MA, then I will achieve my goals.

Bibliography

Books

Collins, J. & Selina, H. (1998) Heidegger for Beginners, Cambridge: Icon Books
Debord, G. (1977) Society of the Spectacle, Detroit: Black & Red
Debord, G. (2006) Introduction to a Critique of Urban Geography, In: Knabb, K.
Situationist National Anthology (Revised and Expanded edition) AK Press
Debord, G. (2006) Theory of dérive, In: Knabb, K. Situationist National Anthology
(Revised and Expanded edition) AK Press
Kofman, E. & Lebas, E. (1996) Lefebvre: Writings On Cities Massachusetts: Blackwell
Publishers
Licht, A. (2007) Sound Art: Beyond Music, Between Categories, New York: Rizzoli International Publications
New York Society for Acoustic Ecology (2007) New York Society for Acoustic Ecology, In: Carlyle, A. Autumn Leaves: Sound and the Environment in Artistic Practise, Paris: Double Entendre
Satre, J. (2008) Being and Nothingness: An Essay on Phenomenological Ontology, Oxon: Routledge
Schafer, R. M. (1977) The Soundscape: Our Sonic Environment & the Tuning of the World, Vermont: Destiny Books
Toop, D. (2007) To Move Within Sound, In: Carlyle, A. Autumn Leaves: Sound and the Environment in Artistic Practise, Paris: Double Entendre

Lectures & Performances
Cusack, P. & Westerkamp, H. (2009) Art and Soundscapes: Part 2, Goldsmiths Lecture and Performance
Truax, B. (2009) Art and Soundscapes: Part 1, Goldsmiths Lecture & Performance

Advertisements

1 Comment

  1. Welcome… « Zai Tang said,

    […] Sonorous City is an immersive surround-sound installation exploring the relationship between the soundscape and our perception of the urban environment. A series of soundwalks stemming from the River Thames form the basis of the work, which reveals an experience of London lead by the ear. […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: