Reflections on Residency

research and residency at Casa deli Artisti, Canale di Tenno, Trentino, Italy

It’s been 4 days since the return from Italy and the MA Research Trip/Residency at Casa degli Artisti in Canale di Tenno. There is a lot to reflect upon.

Initially I really had thought I’d not be able to follow through in going. It would be the first time I’d left my daughter for that length of time and for that distance. In the months leading up to it I confess to having had several nights waking up in panic at whether it was the right thing to be doing. Yet it also felt like too good an opportunity to miss and perhaps time apart would be a healthy experience rather than an anxiety driven negative one.

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So on 22nd April I found myself sat on the plane with others from the group heading into the unknown. If I’m being totally honest it was the unknown I was craving. The stepping out of the ‘usual’ the sense of adventure, the ability to be someone else, to have some autonomy, to take a risk and most of all to ‘see’ and ‘hear’ a different place. I’d been to parts of Northern Italy previously on occasion so had some sense of what may lie ahead but never had I been up in the Dolomits or indeed on an MA trip.

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Casa degli Artisti

In advance of going I had read a little about the area. I was curious in a psychogeographic way what the place may ‘feel’ like and how far I could wander off the beaten track. I had these thoughts in mind in advance. I also had some pre-conceived idea of what kind of work I may do out there (which turned out to be quite different when there). It was tricky knowing what to take in terms of materials & equipment. As much as I wanted to record and edit sounds out there I also didn’t want the ‘burden’ of taking my heavy laptop or indeed my printing tools. So I chose the bare minimum. My Zoom recorder, a set of cow bells (more on them later), some grey & white drawing paper and a selection of 5 acrylic paint colours (white, bronze, silver, purple & blue) & some pre-prepared cyanotype paper.

We arrived after a 10 hour journey on Saturday evening. It took a while to find between us and the coach driver who had never been to the house before. It involved leaving the coach in one of the lay-bys and walking up cobbles with noisy suitcases late at night. The place seemed deserted, there was no sign of life. Inside Bianca & Fabio, researchers at University of Trento greeted us (with they 13 month old baby). Everyone was fairly beat by then but a few of us went to have a sneak peak of the house and the exhibition space.

It was old. The next morning we met Manola & Juri who run the Dolomit Learning team and gave us a sense of the area’s history. It was with them we would potentially spend the next two days getting a feel of the place and going down to Riva del Garda on the shores of the Lake. At this stage I’d begun to play with some of the Cyanotype paper with remants used from the garden. I’d figured it was the only sunny day forecast and needed to make the most of it.

 

I hadn’t yet had a really clear goal in mind except I wanted to explore Lago di Tenno, a glacial lake higher up fro the house. We went as a group that afternoon and it was far less remote than I had envisaged. It was disappointingly quite touristy and accessible. For some reason I had in my mind a sense of needing to scramble through the wilds to get there but it turns out there was a path and a coffee stand next to it. The water was a stunning colour though – turquoise. And the sounds of what it turns out we think were crickets was overriding. I went off to record some of their incessant clicks.

After a couple of days it struck me there was an inherent Tension i was feeling between wanting to be part of the group and wanting some solitude and to be on my own. This began to form the start of the working process for me. By the time I got to Tuesday I was in need of retreat and passéd out on going to the 2nd of the tours, instead choosing to stay at the Casa and work/walk/wander. Two others stayed and did their own version of retreat. It was also the day I really felt I was missing my daughter and began to muse on what and how do we keep connected when far away. In the situation of working with the group I also began to reflect on relationship dynamics. How we work alongside each other, what each other’s personalities were. Some of this internal dialogue began being reflected in the stories of the area Manola & Juri had told us of the people in the region. The conflict and the understanding of those who lived in the Alpine regions alongside those who lived at a lower level nearer the Lake.

During all of these days I was picking up snippets of sound recordings. Of general village atmospheres, of water in the lake, of yachts, of church bells (which chimed every hour), of mountain sheep & goats, of local dogs, of conversations, of night time acoustics in the stone walls and tunnels. It was this inter connectedness of sound and form which formed the basis of the installation I chose to do for the final show day.

In the garden I’d found many larger stones, some of which I’d used to hold down the cyanotypes earlier. They seemed perfect to use for their symbol of stability and for the fact that everywhere are stone patterns and the entire village is in itself a homage to building in stone. Everywhere I walked was on a myriad of stone patterns, all the walls were made using stone formations. So I chose to begin painting these stones with symbolic forms representing connection and relationship. Alongside this I began drawing out sections of the stone walls and the ‘spaces in-between’ as a metaphor for our interconnectedness. I was going through a kind of stripping back, of deconstruction, of simplifying thoughts to their most purest form.

Ever action felt very intention and not wasted. The rubbings of white chalk on grey paper over the stones was in itself a small meditation on the animals who walked into the lower part of the house to feed. The hung cowbells on the wall was a symbolic gesture to the co-existing relationship between human and animal. The painted stones left exhibited on stone stairs against a white wall were intended to be a symbolic gesture of how we move through & around our own human relationships. The water in a bowl from Lake Tenno was a reminder of how we rely on water for our survival. The sounds playing directly from the recorder were a way of sonically tying these relational aspects together.

What struck me most about all of the time I spent here was that for the first time I have brought an emotional content into my work. I think it is what I have wanted to do for some time but never felt at ease doing so. It was in essence only by going away, by leaving home that I found some kind of voice to be able to do that. Posting this content out and even having to talk about it to the exhibition guests felt like an extremely vulnerable place to be yet almost a necessary place.

Now back home I am hoping I can tune into that voice I found to continue to weave it through my future work in Studio Practice and indeed through the remaining MA and beyond.

TBC….

 

Sound Women Network

I ventured down to the Yorkshire Sound Women networking event on Sat 4th March at Heritage Quay at the University of Huddersfield. The group were celebrating International Women’s Day (a week early!) by showcasing the work of their members and to celebrate women working in technology and sound.

What a diverse array of talent! It was a great afternoon and a very accessible environment to walk in. I chatted to several women there: Sara Brannan who showed coding and performance and who’d made a visualisation of sound installation, Amy Beeston who was researching at Sheffield University into how we respond to sound, Zoe Blade and Nina Richards who had total command and knowledge to build circuits and manipulate modular synths.

There were other demonstrations there. I had a ‘play’ with some technology using both Max msp and an old xbox to generate sound on body movement, and with a vibrating plate which formed sand patterns at differing frequencies. There were musicians there playing with electronic amplified flutes and another woman building circuit boards which generated different sounds.

It was inspiring. And impressive. And intriguing. In terms of my own research I connected the most with Amy’s work and we decided after a longish conversation to swap details in the event we could explore the potential of a future collaboration together. She’s based in Sheffield and comes to Huddersfield for monthly sound women network meetings and was suggesting I set up a Leeds network as there had been interest from women in Leeds! So I’ll give that some thought..

 

 

Deep Listening

Recently I came across the work of Pauline Oliveros and her work with the Deep Listening Band. I watched her TEDex Talk entitled ‘The difference between hearing and listening’ which resonated a lot with the way I perceive sound and space. She talked of discovering the effects of acoustic properties in spaces and the impact it has on both audience and player. Her band improvised playing music within a cistern they entered (14ft underground space) which had a great impact on how she was perceiving sound. And I think the notion of perception is certainly an interesting one as people would perceive sound differently within a shared space.

I need to read of more of her work as she has developed a system called the Expanded Instrument System an electrical signal processing system  which she used in performance and recordings. From her foundation she developed Deep Listening retreats with the premise to highlight the benefits of greater sonic awareness.

One to follow up on….

 

Speaking at the Cornmill

About a month ago I was invited to speak at the Cornmill Arts Space in Ilkley as part of their Polikana evening events. It’s an idea based on the Petchakucha format whereby each speaker has the same format to talk about a theme, their work or something of interest. The format is 20 slides, 20 seconds per slide for approx 6 minutes. The original Petchakucha format is slides only yet at Polikana the boundaries are a little broader so that video and audio can be added to the presentation.

I was very nervous. Some of the people there were fully immersed in their practices and had been for several  years. It is curated by Gary Winters (Lone Twin Theatre Company) and Simon East (Sonolope) and a diverse and broad set of 6 speakers were asked to present including Joe who runs the Cornmill Arts Space, Lorna Jewitt, who has just completed this MA Creative Practice,  Alice Fox textile artist and Jez, local filmmaker.

Yet I thought it would be a good idea for my practice to test out some ideas, gain valuable feedback and introduce sound as a part of my practice. It was a great evening. After my talk I met with Tom Beardsley, sculptor and Simon East both who have recently heard Susan Philipz speak at Leeds University and it was great to share sound related ideas with both of them.

They both curate a new weekly night called the ‘All Ears Listening Club’ at a local venue in Ilkley and after the talk they invited me to submit some of my sound experiments to their  night. (very chuffed)….so all in all good to build confidence in speaking and good to network with like minded people.

Performance & Uncertainty

Today I attended the Performance & Uncertainty Symposium held at The Tetley in Leeds which heralded the opening of the Dora Garcia exhibition, ‘These books were alive; they spoke to me!’.

The speakers/performers included photographer Casey Orr, performer/videographer Harold Offeh, film/installation artist Corin Sworn, visual & performance artist Rana Hamadeh, artist & researcher Dora Garcia and artist/writer/lecturer Kiff Bamford of Leeds Beckett University.

The day was a combination of performances and speaker events. I caught both Rana Hamadeh’s sound-play and heard Dora Garcia speak. So my reflections are on both of these events.

I knew nothing of Rana Hamadeh’s previous work until now so I entered this performance with no previous experience of her work or preconceptions. It was an interesting set up and predominantly a sound piece, although she was clear to state that she specifically referred to the work as a ‘sound-play’ as it was intended to be a promenade performance where the audience moved around the space and there were  no areas to sit or ‘view’.

The set up from an audio/sound perspective was interesting. I counted 7 large speakers on stands all connected to amps, two vocal mic’s in different positions, one mic near the floor with a stack of metal chains next to it, one speaker facing the wall for a separate vocal channel and a laptop running Logic Pro on a mixing desk.

To be honest I found the whole performance really quite disturbing. The initial soundscape was deep, intense and loud. (earplugs were given out and I wore mine). Then Rana came into one of the vocal mice and began speaking although there was such a big level of intentional reverb effect on her vocals that the words were difficult to define and the delivery was gloomy and foreboding.

Intermittently the vocals stopped and and another soundscape brought in, then Kiff Bamford spoke a part on a different vocal mic, then it flipped back to more from Rana. I moved around the room often to get a sense of what was playing out. I noticed they also had a Zoom H4 on one speaker at the back recording the whole thing.

It was 50 minutes long and deeply intense. What was more interesting was watching how the audience responded to the space and the sound. I sensed a great uncomfortableness, a dislocation, people didn’t know really where to put themselves. Some had faces of bewilderment, others of intense concentration, some of misunderstanding, some of intellectual enquiry. Some found a spot and stayed there, others moved around often. I found myself wishing it was finished sooner because it was so so intense and foreboding but was hoping I’d discover at the end more about the work.

There was a short discussion after where Rana explained that she was in part re-enacting a Shi’ite ritual of a ceremony, Ashura, from the Sunni Muslims in Lebanon which involved ritual chanting and self flagellation.

I took the opportunity afterwards to speak with her briefly. I asked her what it was like for her to perform such a piece and more about the rituals and how they take place in Lebanon. She said for her it wasn’t too much to perform such a big piece, she was so used to it and that she wanted it to feel uncomfortable and disorientating. It was. It was made so much more disorientating given the multi channel use of speakers. She mentioned that previous performances had been done in rooms of much smaller proportions than the larger room we were in. I can only imagine the intense immersive-ness of that experience.

Dora Garcia spoke next. She was really interesting and spoke a lot about her work with performance and literature. She spoke of her alternative practices of performance, of combining audiences who have ‘inside’ information of the performance coupled with those who are not privy to such information. She spoke of exploring Argentinian art ‘happenings’ which were reported in the press but which never actually ‘happened’. And she spoke of her recent work drawn from theories by psychoanalysts Freud and Lacan and the relationships between repetition and memory.

It was an incredibly diverse afternoon. My thoughts are quite dense about the whole experience. Initially I want to document that I feel I have an issue with ‘accessibility’ in relation to sound used in an art sense. What I refer to is that to receive as an audience something which is quite deeply intense and disturbing such as Rana’s work is more difficult to relate to. On further reading of her concepts and themes (which I have done subsequently through her work with the Liverpool Biennale) I can ‘understand’ the work and it has context, relevance and meaning. Yet it was a difficult piece.

Through Dora’s talk I really had my eyes opened to the divergent practice in the contemporary art world. How so many artists are working in ways way beyond the ‘traditional’ and conventional worlds of both visual and performance traditions. It was refreshing and intriguing. I need to research further.

Microphone Placement

This week has been an exercise in finding the optimum area for placing the contact mic I bought a few weeks ago. So what I wanted to record was an old Tibetan singing bowl I’ve had for years which sounds incredible and multi tonal. I wondered what levels of sound vibration a contact mic would pick up?

I initially attached the mic to the side of the bowl just under the rim and immediately discovered it deadened the sound and there was no vibration at all. I moved it in different places all around the bowl and thought I’d been defeated in that quest until I tried attaching the mic to the underneath part. This seemed to work if I used the wooden baton to make the sound on the rim of the bowl. I almost had to hold the bowl at a slight angle to prevent the mic from stopping the sound waves again, but it worked and I recorded a couple of minutes of sound to build upon.

What I wanted to know was the difference in sound quality between recording a singing bowl with a contact mic and then using a surround sound mic function on my Zoom recorder. So both tests have now been recorded and I’m aiming to transfer them into Cubase and listen/edit…

Lightbulb Moment

It has just occurred to me that most of my interest does lie in VOICE. What it means to have one and how we use it or indeed how we don’t use it. What does it mean to ‘use one’s voice’?

I think most likely this lightbulb moment has manifested due to having watched (again) The Kings Speech. A brilliant film on the psychological elements constraining the voice of King George VI. It is such a brilliantly sensitive and painful look into his world of feeling and his inability to safely express himself.

There are parts of this film which resonate a lot. The work I am leaning towards in sound will I hope endeavour to capture the use of voice as well as found and recorded sounds and musical notes.

As an experiment I’m thinking to develop ‘secret’ mic spots whereby i invite passers by to speak into the mic anything they wish. They use their voice in whichever way they choose without feeling the presence of another person listening.

This lightbulb moment has filled me with ideas…but its midnight and I should sleep..