Our brains create sonic hierarchies unconsciously. R. Murray Schafer, who coined the word ‘soundscape,’ reminds us we have no earlids. We tend to ignore sounds that have no practical use.
“Whatever trick it takes for us to listen with intention empowers us to have a dialog with the soundscape and not be simply passive participants,” acknowledges Kevin Allen, creator of Bridge.
He sees his work as a way to urge people to actively take off the ear-buds and plug in to their daily soundscapes. Walk across a bridge and listen. Or wait. Media artist Tessie Word says she stumbled upon a tiny sound that created resonance for an enactment in The Pillars in the Mist: it echoes duration and memory. Maile Colbert's reworking of a beloved sound score tumbles into emergent musical spaces. In Ice Thaw Chorus, she gestures towards these spaces with other sonic elements: ice cracking on a lake and VLF (Very Low Frequency) recordings from the magnetosphere of storms and weather—the same sort of phenomena that create the Northern Lights.
We look. We wait. We inch along or zoom past. Best if we listen, deeply. Tessie Word says there are stories in all kinds of sound.
“Listening to the place as well as the history seems important. I grew up near Hug Point. As Charity walks out you can see it on the left, a place where wagon trains ground wheel tracks into the stone.”
It's also full of evolutions where old growth forests become the ruins of the timber industry and regional violences are emblematic. Word says her story is submerged in sound and those changes.
There may be, seemingly, more ways to articulate the visual or kinetic experiences these artists are exploring, even the things we see and feel around us. Once you open the ears, there are less immutable divisions, more and vaster opportunities to express tiny nuances in and around the soundscape.
Artist/writer Salome Voegelin suggests the complexity of sound: it narrates, outlines and fills, but it is always ephemeral and doubtful. “Sounds are like ghosts,” she says. “They slink around the visual object.”
Three artistic forays coalesce on this ghostly sense of time and place, looking and listening. While Kevin Allen, Maile Colbert and Tessie Word each dance uniquely around this synergy, there's a criss-crossing that emerges.
This intersection invites conversations among sounds and images, movement and stillness, waiting and watching.
It seems fitting then to borrow a lovely contradiction from musician David Toop: Sound must be trusted, cannot be trusted, so has power.
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