white coral: dissolveIn the Margins: Mark Peter Wright

Is it Eating you?
IMT Gallery
London
Saturday 21/11/15
18:00-21:00

Free Admission

Is it Eating you? is a performance event curated by Mark Peter Wright as part of his solo exhibition I, The Thing in the Margins at IMT:  ‘A night of sound, film and performance exploring non-human worlds. The title of the event takes its cue from Larry Cohen’s 1985 b-movie horror comedy, The Stuff. The plot involves a goo-like substance that is extracted from the ground and sold as frozen yoghurt. As the story unfolds we discover the yoghurt is a parasitic, even sentient organism that gradually takes over the human brain and turns people into zombies before shedding their skin. Inspired by Cohen’s film the evening will mix humour and horror: amplifying a host of matter and affects; from animals to microbes, technology to plants, soil and screams.’
The evening will feature:

Sebastiane Hegarty
Mira Calix (screening)
Esther Planas & Jennifer Ipekel
Graham Dunning & Tom White
Pond Scum Light Show (Jennifer Pengilly, Ash Reid & Jamie Sutcliffe)

I will be performing a new variation of the rain choir with dissolving coral accompaniment. Since its installation at Winchester Cathedral, variations of the choir have been recomposed, installed and performed for various situations in the UK and Europe. In this dead sea variation, the original field-recordings of rain falling the guttering system of the Cathedral are joined by ‘live’ voices respired from the sarcophagi of deceased and fossilised corals dissolving in acid: a reaction echoing ocean acidification. In this resuscitated breath of Paleozoic air, molecules of carbon dioxide, exhaled 429 million years ago can be heard (and inhaled) as they dissolve back into the atmosphere. A collective sigh of dead sea air.

red coral: dissolve
red sea: dissolve
red coral dissolve / mp3

red coral and white coral dissolve / mp3

North Sea: Silence Lost 2Sebastiane Hegarty: silence lost
On Thursday the 27th of August I took a 10” vinyl record to the shingle shore of the North Sea at Cley in north Norfolk (N 520 57’ 41”, E 10 3’ 47”). With a single-side of unrecorded silence, the record plays nothing for seven minutes before spiraling into the looped shush of the run-off groove. The flip side, the b-side, is smooth and blank, except for the etched details of a return address.

The tide was going out.

I removed the record from its sleeve, walked to the edge of the sea and threw the silence into the waves.

The tide was still going out.

silence lost: announcmentsilenceCrop_w
On Thursday August 27 2015 an announcement appeared in the Lost and Found section of The Times newspaper (No.71687). It read:

Silence lost in the North Sea at Cley, Norfolk. If found
return to: S. Hegarty c/o The British Library Sound Archive

The record lost was one of four such silences, one for each of the seas surrounding the coast of the UK: the North Sea, English Channel, Irish Sea and Atlantic Ocean.
Each record is cut with a silent groove. Without input or original signal, the record is not a record of silence, but rather a period of space and time during which nothing is recorded. If ever found, the audible harm of the damage done to its surface, becomes a record of its disappearnce and return.

The release of each record will follow the same process: at four different points along the coast of the UK one of the four records will be thrown into the sea. The silence of the record will not be recorded and its loss will not be filmed or photographed. An announcement placed in the Lost and Found section of The Times, will act as documentation. This will ensure that the loss of the silence will be recorded and held in the archives of the British Library. The British Library Sound Archive kindly agreed to the use of their address for the return of the silence should it ever be found. This has been etched onto the b-side of the record.

Silence lost: sleeve
Perhaps this silence is not lost but rather discarded or surrendered? The lack of physical evidence and documentation undermines control, suggesting surrender. As the silence enters the unknown, control is lost and time and tide are allowed to compose a journey and determine survival. The silence is lost in terms of its geography: I have not calculated the currents effect upon its movement or used GPS to track its position. Whilst the address etched into the record, anticipates return, indeed asks for return, surrounding the discarded and surrendered silence with a sense of loss and of being lost to.

The lack of concrete documentation may call into question the existence of the record, truth of the action and site of disappearance (if ever it did disappear). Like the silence of its surface the record and its loss addresses the unknown and inaudible, it turns our ear toward sounds imagined, forgotten and ‘unstruck’: a silence lost to audition but not to our listening.

John Hull: Peter Middleton & James Spinney
Notes on Blindness: Middleton & James Spinney
Notes on Blindness: Peter Middleton & James Spinney

John M. Hull 1935 – 2015

I am so very sad to hear of the death of John M. Hull, who, following a fall at home, died in hospital on the 28th July. Emeritus Professor of Religious Education at the University of Birmingham and Honorary Professor of Practical Theology at the Queen’s Foundation for Ecumenical Theological Education, John Hull was widely published on the subjects of religion and blindness. Born in 1935, John developed cataracts in his youth, losing his sight completely in 1983.
I first came across his writing in Oliver Sack’s book An Anthropologist on Mars. Sacks’ books and bibliographies have introduced me to so many fascinating texts, from Luria’s The Man With A Shattered World to Penfield & Perot’s epic paper The Brain’s Record Of Auditory And Visual Experience and of course Hull’s Touching the Rock. In the book Hull describes and reflects upon his own journey into blindness. The writing maintains the honesty and intimacy of the cassette diaries from which it was transcribed, but it is much more than an autobiography of someone else’s experience. As Sack’s writes in his forward to the book: ‘The observation is minute, and it is also profound. The incisiveness of Hull’s observation, the beauty of his language, make this book poetry […] Hull reveals a world in which every human experience […] is transformed’.
I own two versions, the original, Touching the Rock and the later On Sight and Insight, both now full of marginalia and words underlined in reverential pencil. There is so much I would quote: the description of how he and his son learned to wave goodbye at the school gates, shouting ‘bye’ until neither could hear the other; or listening to church bells: ‘To me the very air I was breathing was bell-shaped’.

after the rain: sebastiane hegarty
Perhaps because of my own field-recordings and sound work, the words I return to most concern his experience of rainfall. John writes about rain and thunder several times in his books. There is also a beautiful recording of him describing a thunder storm in an episode of Blind Man’s Beauty, Peter White’s series for Radio 4. Like his writing, John’s voice has a rhythm and tonality, which seem to bring the words closer to ear. He returns to the rain in Sound: An Enrichment or State, an interview for Soundsacpe: The Journal of Acoustic Ecology:

I can remember times when, in my study at home, I would become conscious that there was a storm going on. I would forget about my disorientated and vacated interior and would become aware of the wind, thundering upon the corner of the house, whistling through the eaves. And then I would become aware of the rain, splattering on the windowpane. I would stand up. I would press my nose hard against the window. And gradually it was as if the glass disappeared, because now my consciousness extended out from my nose pressed upon a panel of glass until it became un-conscious […] The rain had turned the light on […] And as I listened…I realized I was no longer listening, because the rain was not falling into my ears, it was falling into my heart.’

This capacity for the sound of rain to dissolve the borders between the body and the world it senses, is perfectly expressed in Touching The Rock, when Hull writes:

‘As I listen to the rain, I am the image of the rain, and I am one with it’.

To See and Not See, the chapter in Sack’s book where first I read John’s words, was concerned with the case of Virgil, a man virtually blind since childhood, who had his sight restored. Having been without vision for over forty-five years, Virgil could see, but was unsure of ‘what seeing means’. ‘He saw, but what he saw had no coherence’; he could see individual letters but not the words they created. ‘He found himself between worlds, and at home in neither’. Virgil would have to learn to see. Sacks writes: ‘When we open our eyes each morning, it is upon a world we have spent a lifetime learning to see. We are not given a world; we make our world…’

Through his writing John Hull offers a moving and profound account of sight-loss, he not only builds a bridge between the worlds of the sighted and blind, he enhances our senses and remakes the world we see and hear.

Notes on Blindness:Peter Middleton & James Spinney

Last year John very kindly accepted an invitation to be the Keynote speaker at Chalk: time, sense and landscape, an interdisciplinary symposium I am organising in Winchester this October. The symposium, now dedicated to the memory of John, will begin with a showing of the short documentary Notes On Blindness, directed by Peter Middleton and James Spinney and based on the cassette diaries from which Touching the Rock was formed. This beautiful documentary is now being made into a feature length film.

Lift_1lift
I approached Supersymmetry via a car park lift illuminated in a narcotic violet glow. Cellotaped to the lift wall was a piece of A4 paper, upon which was printed ‘THIS LIFT DOES NOT SERVE THE 3rd FLOOR’. Interjected in felt tip between ‘The’ and ‘3rd’ was ‘2nd’. I got in anyway and was served with the 1st as promised, from here I took the stairs to the 3rd and final floor, where I entered the enclosed darkness of Ryoji Ikeda’s latest installation. It is ironically appropriate to enter the digital, dark matter of Ikeda’s Supersymmetry via an out of order lift and a dank walk up the concrete steps of a car park stairwell.

Sebastiane Hegarty: Ikeda experiment 0Sebastiane Hegarty: Ikeda experiment

Supersymmmetry presents: ‘ an interpretation of quantum mechanics and quantum information theory from an aesthetic viewpoint […] drawing on [Ikeda’s] exchanges with scientist and engineers […] at the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN), the worlds largest particle physics laboratory’.

The installation is divided into two separate parts: experiment and experience. Entering the first ‘experiment’ I am enveloped in a visceral bloom of base, intermittently pierced by sublime, frenetic pinpricks of sound. People gather like moths around three, elevated pools of squared and flickering light. Small round particles of matter roll across the surfaces of this illumination, generating patterns of shade, which shift, disperse and congregate. The motion is hypnotic, strangely reminiscent of those oily wave machines, so popular in the 1970’s. These wave machines were the domestic equivalent of the Executive Ball Clickers, whose cradle of steel spheres once provided an aspirational pre-glitch click to the ‘modern’ office soundscape.

Sebastiane Hegarty: Ikeda experience 1Sebastiane Hegarty: Ikeda experience 2
From the experiment I proceed through a curtained blackout, toward the noise of experience. Synchronized bursts of light and data travel at speed down a corridor of screens accompanied by an interrupted cacophony of bleeps and blips. The sound suggests organised forms of communication and analysis, as if we were listening to something being questioned, measured and sent. Physically engulfed in the sensual broken waves of digital noise, I am surprised to be suddenly awash in childhood memories of Star Trek;  beamed back to the deck of Starship Enterprise, where control panels flash and everything looks like it is doing something, when of course, it isn’t. As I look around I notice that most people are filming, immersed in Supersymmetry through the raised screen of their mobile phone, a gesture reminiscent of Spock, who would survey new worlds with his handheld Tricorder. A sense of pretense begins to intervene in my experience and I am suspicious that the ‘scientific and mathematical model’ that Ikeda presents is a facade, a beautiful, sensual but ultimately empty aesthetic experience.

Sebastiane Hegarty: ikeda's ceiling
In a sudden peak of brightness I look up and notice a series of wooden structures attached to the roof: they looked like upside down tables. Above these I can see damp stains of peeling paint. I realise that the structures have been designed to protect the technology of the installation from the holes in the car park roof. These uncomplicated structures offer an eloquent mathematical model for the solution to a real problem: how do we protect the fabrication of Supersymmetry from the reality of rainfall?

Carroll/Fletcher: a citySebastiane Hegarty: Harrison & Wood A film of a city
From the pavement outside Carroll/Fletcher I stare through a window at A film about a city (2015), part of the new Wood and Harrison exhibition An almost identical copy. The clinical austerity of Wood and Harrison‘s architectural model is touched with elements of futility as I notice hoards of miniature human forms sheltering under the canopy of a square, whilst others sit on a solitary bank of stadium seating, facing nowhere, waiting for nothing to happen. There is something desolate about this city, this idea of a city and I am reminded of the Talking Heads song The Big Country, in which David Byrne describes an aerial view of the perfect country:

I see the school and the houses where the kids are
Places to park by the factories and buildings
Restaurants and bars for later in the evening

Byrne concludes: I wouldn’t live there if you paid me to.

Carroll/Fletcher: 100 FallsCarroll/Fletcher: Semi Automatic Painting Machine
Unlike the ‘scientific and mathematical models’ of Ikeda, these models, reminiscent of train sets and Airfix kits, are intimate human spaces, they share a physical ratio with reality.
In the video installation 100 falls (2013), Harrison climbs a ladder ascending out of frame. A pause. And then a human dummy dressed as Harrison, drops to the floor. An obvious video edit and the lifeless dummy reanimates as Harrison. He stands up and proceeds to climb the ladder again. So it continues, one hundred times and then, one hundred more. As I talk to one of the Gallery administrators I am aware that behind his back, whilst we chat, Harrison continues with his pathetic ascent and fall, caught in a tragic, inevitable loop of self-harm. The sense of inevitability continues in Semi Automatic Painting Machine (2013) in which we observe various objects as they are mechanically conveyed through a process of being spray-painted. Amongst the bunting, plants and flip charts, we find John Wood, who was born with a face that looks like it has always been expecting this to happen. He is transported and sprayed white, turned, conveyed and sprayed high visibility yellow. Just as Harrison accepts the inevitability of his continual fall, so Wood is resigned to his place in the chromatic production line of the painting machine.

Carroll/Fletcher: Wood and HarrisonSebastiane Hegarty: Wood & Harrison tennisCarroll/Fletcher: car park
The downstairs gallery seems abandoned, models of tennis courts and industrial estates are deserted; the funfair has moved on. In the out of town car park of the video installation DIYVBIED (Do-It-Yourself, Vehicle Bourne Improvised Explosive Device), model cars randomly explode, not in a CGI altered reality sort of way, but in an indoor firework, Captain Scarlet sort of way. The cars look out of date, unexciting variations of the Hillman Avenger or Morris Marina (once the most popular car in the UK). As one car explodes and then another, I am reminded of those television images of motionless cityscapes, evacuated in response to telephone warnings and suspicious devices, scenes which are then suddenly reanimated by a controlled and remote explosion. As another door flies off another Avenger, every car becomes suspect and the anachronistic image becomes a contemporary premonition of landscapes to come.

Carroll/Fletcher: a ruler Carroll/Fletcher: rulers Carroll/Fletcher: tape ball
As with all of Wood and Harrison’s work there is an obsessive attention to detail. In the gallery upstairs their almost compulsive obsession to order, results in a series of small, pointless and joyous interventions. In what appears to be the office work of bored and idle hands, drawing pins are organised, pencils sharpened, rulers bent and string measured, In the senseless world of Wood and Harrison, everyday objects are faintly rearranged and organised into poetic models, which question our perception of the tangible and concrete, perhaps much more than the aesthetic particle physics and sensuous digital immersion of Ikeda’s Supersymmetry.

KPhoPoster_BL

out: sebastiane hegarty

Curious listeners are invited to Kinokophonography, an evening of curated sound cinema at The British Library on Wednesday 27th May 2015. Organised by Kinokophone, the evening will include one of my recordings as part of a themed programme of ‘disappearing sounds’. Inspired by the British Library’s Save our Sounds project the event will feature sounds which are perhaps becoming closer to silence than audience: sounds going out slowly.

With a title from adapted from the safety instructions on a box of Swan Vesta matches (‘Strike gently away from the body’), air struck gently (slowly going out) concentrates attention upon the momentary illumination of a match struck in air. Like the quiet choreography of the gesture that accompanies it, the sound of a match is gradually disappearing from audition and memory. Condemned to extinction by the demise of smoking and the convenient, controlled ignition of the disposable lighter, the chemical reaction of a match offers a brief, obsolete and fragile soundscape of undetermined duration. In the vulnerable brevity of its flame we can listen to light appearing and sound going slowly out.

closer out: sebastiane hegarty

closer out / 03:52 / mp3

In closer out (2015) one of a series of ‘match’ recordings has been slowed down, bringing the flame closer to our ear, prolonging and amplifying the sonic details of its narrative: a roar of ignition followed by a gaseous cackle of flame and a last creaking gasp of extinction as the match goes out.
The hysterical (pathological) juxtaposition of a flame struck in the quiet, dark paginated archive of The British Library is not lost on me. I am strangely drawn to the casual poetic threat that the heat of this endangered sound creates amongst the  libraries preserved manuscripts of silent language.

Kinokophonography at the British library is free, but places are limited and should be booked online via the British Library website.

 

Goldsmiths, University of LOndon

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rain choir: the St James Variation
Live performance at St James Hatcham Gallery, Goldsmiths, University of London

On the 5th May I took part in a small concert as part of the opening of Sound / Place, an exhibition curated by Tom Tlalim & Sandra Kazlauskaite, at St James Hatcham Gallery, Goldsmiths, University of London. The concert, which included performances by Yiorgis Sakellario, Istishhad Hheva and John Garcia Rueda & Ella Jane New, took place in the Listening Box, also known as the Sonics Immersive Media Lab (SIML). The immersive qualities of this technological space seemed to share a concern with the manipulation of sound present in the architecture of the Cathedral. I am interested in how the performance of the choir offers an opportunity for a continual recomposition within the dynamics of another place. Each recital introduces variations of acoustics and pattern, producing a form of sonic palimpsest: a murmuration of rainfall.

dRain_3w

Limestone dissolve: sebastiane hegarty

The Listening Box (SIML)


rain Choir: the St James variation (edit) | mp3 | 2015

The St James variation of rain choir draws on the field-recordings of the original site-specific sound installation for the crypt of Winchester Cathedral. These recordings explored the acoustic qualities and rhythms of rainfall as it fell through the gutters of the building. The choir also included sounds created by dissolving fragments of the Cathedral walls in acid. Echoing the percussive qualities of rainfall and the effect of its polluted chemistry, this naive chemical reaction releases a Palaeolithic and audible air of effervescent CO2, from the fossilised skeletal remains which form the Limestone.

In his autobiography of sight loss, John M. Hull describes how the sound of rain, ‘throws a coloured blanket over previously invisible things; instead of an intermittent and thus fragmented world, the falling rain creates ‘a continuity of acoustic experience’. For Hull, rain reveals place, presenting ‘the fullness of an entire situation all at once, […] actually and now’. He continues: ‘If only rain could fall inside a room…’

The rain then falling inside St James sounded out place. The original voices of the choir and those coloured by the acoustic of the cathedral crypt were joined by a ‘live’ dissolve of limestone fragments from the crypt and walls of the Cathedral. In an arid, invisible downpour, the choir immersed the audience in the dynamics and architecture of the Listening Box: an acoustic rain simultaneously describing and being described by the present site of audition.

Sound Place continues until 13/05/15 at St James Hatcham gallery, Goldsmiths, University of London.

 

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air: acoustic match / mp3 / 01:01

I was recently invited to take part in Elemental Dialogues: air, an interdisciplinary research project by the artist filmmakers, Anna Cady and Pauline Thomas. The project involves artists from an array of disciplines, writers, musicians, poets and dancers, all of who were invited to create their own ‘interpretation’ of the short film Air by Cady & Thomas. The resulting interpretations would then be ‘re-embedded into the film’, creating new, pluridisciplinary artworks, each of which tells a different and sometimes radically unexpected story’. It seems inherent to the project that the contributors interpret not only the film, but also the meaning of interpretation.

Perhaps because of my use of field-recording and an educational diet of 1970’s conceptual art and avant-garde film, I have an inherent suspicion of interpretation. As a word it suggests a concern with the subjective and considered. In her essay Against Interpretation, Susan Sontag describes interpretation as “a conscious act of the mind [illustrating] a certain code”. This description is augmented by the Oxford English Dictionary, whose definition combines the austerity of ‘explaining’, ‘understanding’ and ‘defining’ with the superficiality of ‘stylistic representation’.

Whilst field-recording I attempt to be as transparent as possible in order to let the sound through, allowing the unrecorded present to become a recorded past with as little interference (or interpretation) as possible: in the words of John Cage: ‘let sounds be themselves’. I am of course aware that Cage was not a fan of recorded sound (see David Grubbs book, Records Ruin the landscape) and I accept that the fluff of my blimp and bent of my microphone will find and amplify certain noises, whilst excluding others, thereby interfering with the sound recorded. But an inclination toward absence remains, whilst in my practice I accept and often celebrate the flaw, blemish and failure inherent in the act of recording.

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air: wire wool and battery / mp3 / 01:10


dialogue with air: composed interpretation / mp3 / 03:56

For my contribution to the project I wanted a dialogue with ‘air’ that would avoid subjective, analytical, or emotional ‘responses’, preferring an ‘interpretation’ focused upon the sensual and temporal qualities of the film. I was drawn to the ephemerality of the imagery, and began listening for moments of air when its presence drifts between the audible and silent. I was interested in listening for these temporal qualities, more than the sonic consequence of its visibility: such as the rustle of leaves in a breeze. I began exploring chemical reactions that required air to occur, moments where air is used up and sound goes out. These field-recordings included the flameless chemistry of wire wool kindled by electricity and the designed illumination of a match struck gently[1].

I used these recordings to ‘compose’ a soundscape in retrospect: it was important not to watch the film whilst recording or composing, to look away in order to allow the sensual and temporal qualities to be filtered through my memory. This also helped me to avoid the temptation to synchronise sound to imagery, although a simple graphic score was created, to map the geography of the composition. I also used the fixed length of the film to set the duration of composition. Subsequently, it occurred to me that this almost intuitive inclination to synchronisation created a restriction that would be neither required nor applied to an interpretation in words or drawing. It seemed more appropriate to interpret the film holistically rather than breaking it up into a code of synchronised fragments.

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air struck gently (away from the body) / mp3 / 05:05

Listening to the soundscape and the original field-recordings I found the austere narrative of a match struck, was the most transparent and eloquent interpretation of the film. The temporality of each match was innate, unique and complete, whilst in the composed soundscape time was fragmented. I concluded that the interpretation should preference performance to re-composition, allowing the unique sound of each match to occur and disappear like a breath, unformed by the voice of aesthetic decisions.

I found the stillness and temporal shifts in the film, reminiscent of Yoko Ono’s Flux Film No. 14: One (1966), in which the muted strike of a match is filmed at 2000fr/sec, extending and pausing the moment of illumination. Free of a prescribed duration, I applied this process to one of the match recordings, prolonging and amplifying the sonic details of its narrative, from the rush of chemical ignition to the gaseous cackle of flame and the final intermittent creek of exhalation as the match curls up in the silent darkness of light and air exhausted: ‘Then there begins a silence that breathes’ (Gaston Bachelard)

[1] The safety instruction on boxes of Swan Vesta matches advises the user to: Strike gently away from the body’.

An ‘exploration’ of the interpretations by artists, writers and dancers have been ’embedded’ in a site-specific collaboration at The Manor, Huntingdon, Cambridgeshire next weekend. More details here: https://talkthinkmake.wordpress.com/book/

Another collaboration will take place in London on the 7th May.

INVITE the Manor copy

 

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