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  1. In his book the ‘The weird and the eerie’, Mark Fisher discusses what constitutes the ‘weird’ and the ‘eerie’ by analysing a number of novels, movies and records. I think it is a great book, no doubt partly as I enjoy a good sci-fi or fantasy tale.

    As I was re-reading it recently, it struck me that there are overlaps with what Fisher identifies as key aspects of both the weird and the eerie, and key aspects of our experiences of sound and the sonic. This piece is a short outline of a few of those overlaps.

     

    The Weird

    “ It involves a sense of wrongness; a weird entity or object is so strange that it makes us feel that it should not exist , or at least it should not exist here.”

    (Fisher, p 15)

    Fisher defines the weird and ‘that which does not belong’ - something which elicits the sense of ‘wrongness’ in the quote above. To illustrate this, he discusses the fiction of America author H. P Lovecraft. Lovecraft’s fiction sits somewhere between horror and sci-fi, where what is thought of as the ‘outside’ – ancient and extra-terrestrial beings, other words – breaks through into our world in various ways – through both time and space.  “… there is an interplay, a confrontation, and indeed a conflict between this world and others.” (Fisher p 19)

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    Photo by Julia Kadel on Unsplash

    Sound shares some qualities of this ‘other-worldly’ quality, especially when it’s source is un-know or hidden. Think of a horror move, where there is a strange sound in the dark, or a sound you hear late at night, without knowing its source. You cannot be sure, but there is a possibility, a feeling, that this could be something that should not exist, not here and not now. The Weird.  

    In his book 'Sinister resonance - The mediumship of the listener’ David Toop remarks that hearing and listening “…allows us access to a less stable world, omni-directional, always in a state of becoming and receding, known and unknown.” (Toop, 2011, p. 38) Sound opens up the possibility of different worlds, overlaying and existing alongside ours.

    In his 2010 sound installation in Kew Gardens Palm House, sound artist Chris Watson brought the sound of the Amazon to the UK. The sounds of wildlife recorded in the Amazon, when played in the Palm House at Kew Garden, managed to suggest a different world, overlaying and interplaying with our own. This is of course not the weird and frightening worlds imagined by Lovecraft, but still illustrates how sound has the ability to suggest and open up ‘portals’ to other worlds, other experiences – in and out of time, in and out of space - “becoming and receding, known and unknown.” .” (Toop, 2011, p. 38)

     

     

    The Eerie

     

    “The eerie, by contrast, is constituted by a failure of absence or a failure of presence.”

    (Fisher, p 61)

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    Photo by El Mehdi Rezkellah on Unsplash

    Fisher distinguishes the eerie from the weird, where the weird is the “presence of that which does not belong” (Fisher p 61) while the eerie is “something present where there sound be nothing, or nothing present where there should be something.”  (Fisher p 61)

    One of the examples Fisher uses to discuss the eerie and the ‘presence where there should be nothing’ is a television series written by Nigel Kneale, called ‘The Stone Tapes’. In it, a group of scientists take residence in a new research facility, working on finding a new, more durable recording medium. It quickly becomes clear that the space is haunted, and that a female scientist in particular is sensitive to the ‘ghost energies.’ It is suggested that the haunting is ‘recorded’ by the place, the stone itself (hence ‘The Stone Tapes’) and that humans becomes the ‘player’ for this recording. The story takes a darker turn when something else, something ancient and dark, stirs beneath the ‘recording’ of the ghost (a servant girl from the 19th century), causing the female scientist to fall to her death, just like the servant girl ghost once did.

    Other than the idea of hauntings can be thought of as ‘recordings’ this might, at first glance, not seem to have much of a connection to sound.

    What I find interesting is how, in imagining the human as a ‘player’ there is a connection to how sound refuses to respect boundaries and barriers – among them our barrier of ‘self’. Famously, the ‘ear has no earlids’ - we can’t shut our ears like we shut our eyes, therefore sound can be very hard to keep on the ‘outside’.

    In 'Sinister resonance - the mediumship of the listener' David Toop writes of sound that the “relative lack of form creates perplexing relationships between the properties of states: inside and outside, material and immaterial, the way thoughts become sound through speech, and external sounds become sensory impressions that may be thoughts as they pass through the ears and outer membranes and into awareness.” (Toop, 2011, p. 36)

    Sound has the ability to haunt us by transgressing what we think of as ‘inner’ and ‘outer’ - sounds pass between these to states effortlessly, and outside our control. The eeriness of the haunting and the eeriness of sound overlap as they both effortlessly penetrates into our inner selves - ‘something where there should be nothing’.

     

    These examples highlight two aspects of sound I find particularly fascinating - its ability to conjure other/different worlds within or perhaps overlaying our own. And its ability to transgress and cross boundaries, existing entirely outside our control.

    As I am writing this, I keep thinking of other interesting avenues to explore where the weird, eerie and sound intersect, so no doubt this is an area of enquiry I will return to in the future.  

  2. It has been a year (and a bit) now since the UK went into its first COVID lockdown. If you would have told me then we would still be Zoom-ing and ‘going on walks’ a year later…..I wouldn’t have believed you! But here we are. Although with the vaccination programme in full speed and spring in the air, it does feel a bit more hopeful this month.

    "However, artists would not be artists if they where not resourceful and creative, so almost immediately ‘remote’ or virtual art started to pop up."

    As an artist whose work has been mainly focused on performance over the last couple of years, I really was not sure what on earth to do – I have written about that previously here. And I am sure lots of other artists and creatives felt the same. However, artists would not be artists if they where not resourceful and creative, so almost immediately ‘remote’ or virtual art started to pop up.

    This is a list of five of my favourite ‘pandemic-friendly’ art works or projects I have come across this last year.  I’m fairly sure not all of them were made as a response to the pandemic (in fact, most of them where not, it turns out) , but they all to some extent make art accessible in a world where we all need to stay at home, in an interesting and creative way.

    So, in no particular order… 

    The quite wonderful podcast After The Tone is made by artist Scottee. It might not have been a lockdown project, but it feels perfect for a world where we can’t go out and meet, so it made the list. The format is straightforward, but ingenious – each week, anyone can phone in and leave a voice message for the podcast, which then gets played and reacted to/responded to by Scottee. It might sound simple, but it is funny, warm and insightful - a great listen. Besides, anything which states that ‘You don’t have to be queer and weird to join in- but it helps’ has my vote!

     

    I am very sad I could not actually experience Thirst Trap (I live too far away, sadly) but it just sound amazing. It is an immersive sound/theatre experience, which gets delivered to your home BY BIKE (yes, really!). You purchase a ticket, and then get a ‘pack’ delivered to your address by bike, along with a download code for the sound/performance. It is designed to be experienced in your bath (I mean, could it get any better..?) The website states that: THIRST TRAP delves into our fear surrounding the possible outcomes of rising temperatures and our feelings of powerlessness against a capitalist government that continually fail to act quickly enough on matters concerning the climate.

    Thirst trap is written and created by award winning artist Rachael Young. I first came across her work when she performed her show Nightclubbing at Edinburgh Fringe, and has been excited to follow her work since. Developed by Fuel Theatre, it is an inventive and creative way to bring theatre into our homes in lockdown, and perhaps beyond.

    thirsttrap 

    Dear you is a project by Museum of Modern Art of Bologna, curated by Caterina Molteni. It explores, in this time of possible isolation, the intimacy of actual, physical letters. You sign up, and six artists (Hamja Ahsan, Giulia Crispiani, Dora García, Allison Grimaldi Donahue, Ingo Niermann and David Horvitz), whose work is all in some way linked to poetry, writing and performance, send you letters for 3 months. How amazing does that sound? Such a great project for this strange time when we are all made to stay apart. I like how it proves there really is no point in re-inventing the wheel or come up with new, digital solutions. People have communicated over large distances and in difficult circumstances for decades, and there is something nice about an actual physical thing, when so much else is done through a screen.    

     

    Online Performance Art Festival is another project which where not created for lockdown, but which I came across in March of last year (2020). It is an online space, dedicated to live online performance work, set up in 2016 by Sandra Bozic. On it, she runs quarterly online performance events, and to date over 500 artists has had the opportunity to perform live online, streamed on her site. I took part last year, and I found it to be a lovely experience- friendly and efficiently run, and a life line when physical proximity and performance work became impossible. I always keep an eye on their socials now, looking out for an impromptu live performance event, streamed to my living room.

    onlineperformance 

    Miss going to museums? In that case The Museum of Portable Sound is for you! This one definitely is not a lockdown project, but still deserves to make the list. The Museum of Portable Sounds is a museum of sound, which exists within one single iPhone. In more normal times, you would have to make an appointment with its director, John Kannenberg, who would give you an exclusive tour of the museum. As we all went into lockdown though, the Museum of Portable Sounds went digital – now you can book a virtual appointment instead and visit the museum via video call. I of course just love the idea of a museum of sound, period. But the fact that you can now visit from anywhere in the world, well that just makes it so much better! Go book a visit.

     

    This is just a few of the projects I came across in lockdown, which used inventive and creative ways to reach out to people and audiences. Of course, I can’t wait until we can go out and meet each other again, go to the theatre, visit museums and make art out in the real world. But I also can’t help but hoping that a few of these new, inventive ways of making art stays around, too.

     

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