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Framework Intro: variation for a door, a sigh and a cheap guitar.

On Thursday the 6th July I read of the sad death of composer and musique concrète pioneer, Pierre Henry. I shared the Quietus announcement of his death on Facebook and a few minutes later had a message from sound artist and Framework curator, Patrick McGinley (AKA Murmur). Patrick asked if I would be interested in recording a Framework intro for a special edition of the radio show, which would be broadcast as ‘a farewell and tribute to Henry.’ Those familiar with Framework, would know that the intro for each show is created by listeners from across the world. Contributors respond in their own way to a set of recording instructions provided by Patrick on the show’s website. Patrick needed the intro for the following day and thinking aloud said, ‘a squeaky door perhaps’. Coincidentally, on the day Pierre had died I had been recording the Lifts (elevators) on my journey to work, a sort of aural reconnaissance for a project in Southampton this autumn. Although my ear was focused on the damped shush of the Lift doors close, I unintentionally stumbled upon a normal door with an exquisite hinge: I paused, pressed record and mimed the arch of my entrance, allowing a ghost of myself to pass audibly through.


My door recording, which at the time of Patrick’s invitation seemed serendipitous, if not suspiciously portent, formed the starting point of the compositional process. In 1963 Henry used the recorded squeaks of a farmhouse door, alongside the sound of a sigh, a blocked up stream, starved pigs and other occasional off stage noises (Art Lange, The Wire) to compose, Variations pour une porte et un soupir (Variations for a door and a sigh). As a vegetarian, starving a pig seemed intellectually and morally complex, nor did I have access to a farmyard, but as I think back on the intro now composed, other elements of Henry’s variation seem to unintentionally arise, return and resonate.

On Thursday, prior to my learning of Henry’s death, I had been exploring other possible sounds for the forthcoming project. This included a Ping-Pong ball, which, at the request of the winds intermittent sigh (and the occasional impatient forefinger), rolled up and down the un-tuned strings of a cheap guitar. These aural ascents and falls seemed intended for the composition. Having recorded Framework intros before, I realised I would be required to speak the provided statement. I am always slightly uncomfortable hearing my own voice and have previously used methods to place (or hide it) it away from me, such as leaving it on an answerphone tape. In 2007 I recorded an intro with my mother reading out the Framework statement. I decided to use this recording and searched back though my files to find it. I then re-recorded her voice through the larynx of the cheap guitar strings. My mother died in 2011, and it was lovely to hear her voice, her sighs and hesitations, pronounce the air once more. This personal aural link to memory and loss again seemed appropriate for the Henry introduction. As a conclusion to the piece, I printed out the Framework statement and ‘diced’ the words into single letters and full stops. I dripped these alphabetic remains infrequently upon the guitar and listened to language disappear, plucked of meaning but still vibrating.

The premiere of Framework #606 [pierre henry] curated by Patrick McGinley was broadcast on Resonance FM last Sunday and is now available for listening and download on the Framework website. Framework is also broadcast on radio stations across the world (details here).

Thank you to Patrick for asking me to provide an introduction for his beautiful hommage and adieu concrète to Henry.

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Earlier this year I was asked by Anna Cady if I would be interested in contributing to Water, the next film from her ‘co-creative’ project, Elemental Dialogues. In 2015 I had contributed to the previous dialogue based on the film, Air, by Cady and Pauline Thomas. Pauline who had began work on this new project, very sadly died before its completion. In many ways this new film, Water, feels like a lament, a quiet lamentation on loss and absence.

As in the previous project, I received a link to a muted version of Water and was asked to use my own practice to ‘interpret or translate’. And again I felt the best way to translate, was to watch the film a few times, then to look away and let my memory work upon it. It was important not to simply create a new soundtrack, but to work with the film (or the memory of it) to develop a sonic landscape in which it may occur.

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Pantry Recording:   from water recorded in the 13th century Cellarium at Mottisfont.

There is something in the evasiveness of water, its ‘insubstantial nothingness’ (Bachelard), which we can feel but not necessarily touch, that equates to our experience of memory and the unconscious. For Bachelard, ‘[Water] is a substance full of reminiscence and prescient reveries.’ For the film director, Andrei Tarkovsky, whose films are soaked in the continual drip and drop of time escaping and returning, ‘[water is] a mysterious element, [which] can convey movement and a sense of change and flux…[water] has subconscious echoes…’

It is this temporality of water, coupled with the sense of depth and distance created as images submerge and emerge in the surface tension of the film, which persisted in my remembering and which informed my translation. There is a sense of cyclical progression, but, as I have stated previously, the composition is not intended as a synchronised soundtrack, fixed to the film, but rather a work from water and memory, a coincidence for sound and image to coalesce and discord.

In October Anna created an installation at Mottisfont House using the film and it’s interpretation by poets, visual artists and musicians. The installation occupied the 13th century cellarium: a storehouse or pantry belonging to the Monastery which once stood at Mottisfont. This architecture is temporal in intent, creating a space and atmosphere, that privileges stasis and inhibits decay. The cold arch of the pantry, offered an elegant  architectural shell in which we could hear the wet soundscapes of sound and poetry, repeat and recur. We could walk through the atmosphere of the film and its dispersed soundscape to find sounds collecting in corners and clinging to the pantry ceiling.

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Anna Cady will be present A Balancing Act, an interactive event in the cellarium at Mottisfont House, which will combine projections of the film with the recorded sonic translations, live poetry readings by Joan McGavin, Camilla Nelson and Briony Bennet, and live ‘tacit’ drawings by Mel Rose

On the 12th November the four films from the Elemental Dialogue series will also be screened in the Vintage Mobile Cinema as part of Southampton Film Week.

 

sebastiane hegarty: a line with four arcs

I recently composed a new soundwork for Sonospace, the online sound art gallery, curated by Harry Sumner. The piece is based on field-recordings made on a short walk through the water meadows near St Cross Hospital in Winchester. This path follows the River Itchen and is part of Keats Walk, which retraces the steps of the poet who visited Winchester in 1819. On the 19th September 1819, Keats traced the river, through the meadow and along the desire line of this footpath. Returning from his walk he composed Ode To Autumn, a poem of three stanzas in which language pronounces a landscape trembling with sound:

Hedge-crickets sing; and now with treble soft
The redbreast whistles from a garden-croft;
And gathering swallows twitter in the skies.

I did not choose my route for its association with Keats, although, like him I was drawn to the soundscape of the meadow. I have walked the trail many times, although only recently have I noticed a particular note hanging in the landscape. As I approached St Cross, a distant and quiet whine appeared, a ‘treble soft’, on the cusp of audition, intermittent yet regular. Approaching closer, the whine was joined by others in a phased pattern of plaintive cries, at once near and at a distance. The sound, as fragile as swallows and reminiscent of the electronic whistle of radio tuning, seemed to possess a form; an acoustic arc, that begins, curves and closes. The arc turned out to be the sound of people moving through the landscape, opening and closing the four kissing gates[1], which interrupt the path. As I meet the first gate and perform the choreography of its action, lifting the latch and swinging the kiss of its arc, I hear space opening and feel the vibration of its close in my hand. The sound trembling through my body causes a blurring of the distinction between the materiality of my body, the gate, and the landscape. In the sounding of our ‘vibrant matter’, the material and immaterial are hinged.

a line with four arcs: sebastiane Hegarty
Kissing Gates
The physicality of the gesture and the vibration it creates, directs attention away from the surface and toward the interior, the whine being only the audible tip of a soundscape detained in substance: a ‘Music, slumbering’ (Coleridge) inside the gates metallic arch.
In a line with four arcs, contact microphones are used to record and listen to this internal soundscape. Recording each gate in succession, a line of movement is mapped through a landscape, and the abstract terrain beneath the visible uncovered. Distinct from the ‘soft floating witchery of sound’ present in Coleridge’s Eolian Harp, this micro-phonic contact reveals a ‘wailful choir’, a mournful howl of space rent open. Awoken from its slumber we can hear substance singing as it disappears.

The exhibition in Sonospace allows images to be used with the sound exhibited. I wanted to emphasise the abstract qualities of the work, so rather than simply using imagery from the walk, I decided to appropriate images from other sources: images e from other places, but which seemed to correspond with the sound of the arc.

a line with four arcs in Sonospace

[1] A ‘half-round, rectangular, trapezoidal or V-shaped enclosure with a hinged gate trapped between its arms’, a kissing gate is so named because of the gentle collision of its close: ‘to kiss, to caress, to ‘touch gently’. The word ‘kiss’ is onomatopoeic in origin: ‘an imitation of the sound of the thing meant.’

 

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.

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red sea: dissolve
red coral dissolve / mp3

red coral and white coral dissolve / mp3

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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.

 

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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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rain choir
Impulsive Habitat
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I am delighted to announce that the rain choir has been released on the excellent field-recording label, Impulsive Habitat. The choir is available as a free downpour in two versions: the original choir and a recital of the work recomposed from the original field-recordings and those made during the installation of the work in the crypt of Winchester Cathedral. This recitation is, as its name suggests, ‘a repetition, a ‘reading aloud from memory’: rainfall evoked and remembered, coloured by the acoustics of the space and the incidental voices of the building.
The relationship between memory and water is familiar to anyone who has watched the beautiful films of Andrei Tarkovsky. Films such as Stalker and Nostlaghia are saturated with water; pools of reflected stillness; echoic drips; rain falling outside and inside the empty rooms of remembered spaces. In a short article (after the rain) for the British Library blog, Sound and Vision, I discussed the sensuous and mnemonic qualities of water and in particular rainfall.

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duet for vinyl: edit

The date of the Impulsive Habitat release has a personal memory for me, the 16th being the birthday of my mother who died in 2011. Some years ago I made a covert recording of a telephone conversation with my mother. This was re-edited in the work, duet for radio (and subsequently duet for vinyl), removing my voice and replacing it with the static of telephone silence. In this imposed solitude of our conversation, my mother discusses her day-to-day: what she is having for tea, the weather outside her window. As she listens to a rain I cannot hear, there is a pause and then speaks:

“What have you been doing today, has it been raining? Raining on and off here all day………I can hear on the windows and it just sounds like someone’s breaking in………………….. sounds as if someone’s breaking in…………it’s terrible, I’ve never known it to be like this before…”

In the silent rain of this inconsequential soliloquy, I find a frailty and vulnerability that returns my mother to me. These intimate and mnemonic qualities of rainfall were audible, when Radio 4 broadcast from the public memorial for those murdered in the recent Paris terrorist attack. As the crowd gathered to hold their silence, the radio transmitted a vacant crackle of heavy rain, falling upon umbrellas and coats. As I listen, I hear my own silence in the rain, and I become another silent drop in a collective downpour of remembering.

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Download rain choir / rain choir recital here

 

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