aural thoughts

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  1. I am often told that sound art is just to ‘niche’ and specialised. No one understands it – not other artists, not the general public. The only people who would be interested in sound art are other sound artists.

    And yes, it is true, sometimes when I tell people what my PhD is about or what I do as an artist, I get a confused look. But fundamentally, I do not think this is really true. Sound, sound art and listening are not something that is only accessible to those ‘in the know’. You do not need to be able to read music, or understand the ins and outs of a speaker, or have a degree to be able to enjoy and appreciate sound art or listening practices.  

    "Art – especially modern art – is often thought of as exclusive, difficult, and inaccessible."

    This idea of exclusivity is not just common for sound art - it also extends to the rest of the art world. Art – especially modern art – is often thought of as exclusive, difficult, and inaccessible. In the article What the Art World Can Do to Make Art Accessible to More People” Stefan Heidenreich and Magnus Resch remarks that:

    “The art world is at a dead end. Consumers and artists alike have remained passively in the service of the market, leaving a small circle of collectors, gallerists, and museum directors to set the agenda. Everyone else—most gallerists, curators, and artists themselves—play supporting roles, forming the lower part of a pyramid whose peak is largely inaccessible. Artists hoping for success are doomed if they don’t conform to the rules of the game, and those who do succeed are rare. Most art is still bound up in ideas of exclusivity, both in the individual nature of each work and the elitism associated with its ownership—a concept that side-lines the essential communicative purpose of art, sacrificing it to private ownership and economic value.”

    It is certainly true that there are people who benefit from the idea of art as something that can only be enjoyed by the knowledgeable and privileged few, as this quote highlights. But I fundamentally believe that art should, and can, be accessible to everyone who wants to enjoy it.

    The title of this blog post- ‘bread and roses’ – was originally coined by American suffrage activist Helen Todd in 1910. It then became a slogan for several Women Union movements and strikes in the USA in the early 1900. The full quote from Helen Todd:

    “Not at once; but woman is the mothering element in the world and her vote will go toward helping forward the time when life's Bread, which is home, shelter and security, and the Roses of life, music, education, nature and books, shall be the heritage of every child that is born in the country, in the government of which she has a voice.”

    — Helen Todd, 1910

    It became popular with striking workers soon after, as it highlights the right of everyone to have both their basic rights of food, housing, a living wage fulfilled, but also the right to a life that includes music, nature education and books – all the things that makes life worth living. I agree with these striking women - art and creativity is something we all need and deserve to be able to access and enjoy. It is not just for experts, critics, or collectors – it can, and should be for everyone.

    Chicago_garment_workers_strike

     Chicago Garment Workers Strike, 1910

    "Art and creativity is something we all need and deserve to be able to access and enjoy."

    So, back to sound art.

    Sure, not everyone might be interested in sitting through John Cage’s 4’33 (4 minutes and 33 seconds of ‘silence’ performed in a concert hall) or listen to the sound generated by the human inner ear. BUT – most people listen, every day. Most people have sounds they like, and sounds they hate. Most people have a favourite music.  And, as brilliant sound artist Christine Sun Kim demonstrates in her work, even if you are deaf, sound affects you in your daily life, all the time.  It seems pretty clear to me, following on from this, that sound art and listening practises is something which has relevance in all of our lives, and  that sound art is smething that anyone can appreciate and enjoy.

    And if sound art is thought of as inaccessible and difficult, maybe its time us sound artist have a think about how to change that.

  2. In March 2020 London, along with the rest of the UK, went into its first lockdown, to try and stop the COVID-19 pandemic from spreading. My work at the time was mainly focused on live art/performance, an important component being the physical presence/body of both the performer and the audience member within the performance space… not ideal for a pandemic, where social distancing is a key to daily life.  

    Even though I have the basic knowledge to edit my website (just about!) and appreciate digital art, I always felt this was an area I knew very little about, and so never thought digital art, or online art, was something I would consider creating.  

    I could, of course, used the time of the pandemic to work on and plan for future work alongside working and finishing my PhD thesis. But I felt like I wanted to react to what was happening and being able to adapt to new circumstances as an artist (and human) is always a good skill to develop.

     "I wanted to react to what was happening and being able to adapt to new circumstances as an artist (and human) is always a good skill to develop."

    To some extent I think the situation also took away the fear of the work being crap – technically and/or otherwise. Suddenly, the digital space where all there was, so it felt ok I knew nothing about how to make work for it - I had no other choice but to try and learn. Over the course of 2020 and the first few months of 2021, I created several small projects, all to some extent for the ‘digital space’. I will discuss them all briefly below.

     

    Aural conjuring

    auralconjuring1victoriakarlsson

    ‘Aural Conjuring’ was the first ‘lockdown’ project I created. Contained in my house, I thought of listening as a way of reaching out – towards what I missed, what I hoped for, what I feared. I created 3 performance pieces, taking the form of a short ritual, which I filmed myself performing. In it, I use a tarot deck, where I draw 3 random cards. I am blindfolded during the performance and listening to each card. I then use automatic writing to record what goes through my mind after listening to each card. At the end I document the cards drawn and provide short descriptions of how to interpret them within the context of the Tarot deck. I find the idea of listening as something which is us reaching out as much as sound ‘reaching in’ really interesting, and this work gave me the chance to explore this idea in quite a playful context. I had though of this before, as In listening being a reaching out towards people or the environment. The setting of this performance as being a ritual introduced the idea of listening as a reaching out towards more abstract things, like the future. This is something I would love to explore further. I also like how the ritual/performance is quite flexible and easy to perform pretty much anywhere, and how I am able to adapt it to different topics. I came up with the idea and realised it quite quick – I didn’t think too much about it - it reminded me o the value of just testing out your ideas, even if they are not entirely clear to you yet. It might not be perfect, but something interesting will probably come out of it.

     " I thought of listening as a way of reaching out – towards what I missed, what I hoped for, what I feared."

    Auralia Hum

    This piece was based on my 121 performance piece ‘Sonic Confessions’. In it, I embody a character called the Auralia Hum, the Sound Doctor. The audience comes to see her/me to get help with their (dangerous?) inner sound experiences.  Physical presence and proximity are important in this piece, so to create something online for this performance is really difficult.

    But what would all the people in need of the Sound Doctor do in lockdown? They would, of course, go online for their sessions! With this in mind, I wanted to try and create an online ‘session’ from the sound doctor, which would still retain some of the awkwardness of an actual visit to her. I also wanted to try and incorporate the ‘prescription’ all participants would be given at the end of their visit, which I did by making it downloadable. I still think the original performance works best ‘in the flesh’ – however, trying to create an online version has made me think a lot about how to work on making these kind of 121 performance ideas accessible through a digital medium – be that on a website or through a video calling app – this is something I am excited to explore in the future.  

     

    Murmur

    This is, technically, not a lockdown project. It is something that had been at the back of my mind for some time, but which I never really got working on properly. For a while I had been doing these ‘inner listening’ exercises which I had really enjoyed. I had thought for a while that I should find a way to formalise and share them. Lockdown gave me the final inspiration to get on with it. I created an instruction/score for this particular inner listening exercise, which you are now able to download on my website. I also created a composition inspired by the inner sounds I had experienced the last time I completed it. I have not had the chance to compose much lately, so I found it really enjoyable to have a reason to do that!   

    "For a while I had been doing these ‘inner listening’ exercises which I had really enjoyed. "

    Telesonic transmission

    OPA1

    This was a project created for the Online Performance Festival (lovely experience to be involve in, as a side note). The inspiration came from a Zoom workshop (where else!)  - the facilitator was the only person with the mic on, and apart from her speaking, I also heard some lovely bird song come through. This made me think about how not only where we in the presenter’s home – at least in the small part of it she let us see – but she, and the sound of birdsong, where in OUR home as well – and there was much less control over the sound- both from the presenter’s side and ours. ‘Telesonic transmission’ was partly about inner listening, and partly inspired by the idea of television as a occult medium, which was believed by some during the early age of television. In this project, I built on ideas I have explored earlier, of a collective inner listening experience, and of how sound can cross the border between inside and outside, self and other, with ease. I extended this idea to imagine how sound can use the digital networks to travel between you and me, into homes and private spheres. This project I found very interesting – unlike the previous projects, which had dealt with the digital aspect as a restriction or necessity more than anything else – this particular project actually was about sound in the digital world. it started to scratch the surface of what sound could do in a digital world, and our new relationship to video calls and digital tools. It will be really intrsting to explore this further in the future.

     

    Quarantine score

    This idea was thinking about our confined existence in our homes, and how I could create small moment of listening within this environment. I wrote a score anyone could use throughout the day, to find different spaces and sounds to listen to. I was very excited when it got published in Délicate Rebellions (un)influenced issue – which is why I cannot reproduce it here.

     

    Enclosed listening

    MapDownstairs3

    'Enclosed listening' follows along the same lines as the ‘Quarantine score’. I wanted to find a way to integrate listening into my days - even though I have now been in the same place for what feels like forever… I decided to spend a couple of minutes once or twice a day listening in different parts of the house. I had made a basic hand drawn map, and each day put tracing paper over it, coloured in where I had been listening and wrote down a very short description of what was heard. The sounds where both ‘outer’ and ‘inner’ sounds – I did not distinguish on my maps. Over the week, the tracing paper created a multi-layered listening map of the house. I photographed the maps and added the photographs to my website. I like the look of the different layers and will experiment some more in how to best display them. I also wanted to use them as starting points for other ideas.

    "Having been put in this weird situation though, I was forced to step outside of my comfort zone, and there are some positives I can take from that." 

    Of course, I wish the pandemic never happened – or that our government handled it better (don’t get me started on that topic…!). Having been put in this weird situation though, I was forced to step outside of my comfort zone, and there are some positives I can take from that. Being restricted to the online/digital sphere and creating small low-key projects has thrown up a lot of interesting ideas I want to explore further. What does this digital 'new normal' mean? How does sound fit in? Can a new, digital way of connecting be more inclusive and generate interesting ideas for new performances?

     

    I wanted to add a note here on expectations and productivity. It is very easy, with being furloughed, having extra time or being stuck at home, to feel the pressure to produce. Our value, however, is not tied to our productivity. We all deal with things differently, and in no way do I want to suggest that creating art is the best way to deal with this pandemic. It was helpful TO ME, but that does not mean other ways of coping/surviving is less legitimate.  

    Look after yourself! Things can, and will, change.