Installation and Participatory Performance Descriptions

Installations in Silver Center

Sound Masses for Dark Times, Caroline L. Miller (University of California, San Diego)
Room 319
Sound Masses for Dark Times was originally created for a 2016 show at the Che Cafe, a historically significant co-operative social center and live music venue. I chose an industrial water closet for the first iteration. This installation asks: Does precarity have a sound? Can a “signal” or common affect of precarious experiences through time be more clearly sensed through the noise if precarious sounds are layered? The audience is invited to improvise fluidly between 38 mixtapes, which layer 9 different tracks in various combinations, using a simple controller made from salvaged parts. The tracks are songs, samples, and field recordings, both by myself and others, that either deal directly with themes of precarity (socioeconomic stress, the gulf war, mortality, weapons held by the state, heartbreak) or have unstable sounds. The samples and/or pieces used date from the mid-19th century to today. A few “easter egg” samples, if found, provide points of repose and reflection. The installation is multimedia and combines high-end consumer products such as speakers, a computer, and Max with cheap and bedazzled trinkets, found objects, rubble, newspaper clippings, and abandoned things, highlighting tensions between the institutionally accessible and the cheaply DIY. The audience is invited to graffiti objects with paint markers, embedding traces of their experience in the mashup aesthetic of this work, and contributing to the accumulation of detritus for future iterations.

attackSUSTAINrelease, Ted Moore (University of Chicago)
Room 365
A number of speaker cones filled with water hang in a dark room. Each has a spotlight focused on it so that the light reflects off the water onto a wall and/or the ceiling. The speakers are playing slowly swelling brown noise so that the water is agitated and we see the light reflections dance in the room caused by/in sync with the brown noise we hear filtered by the water in the speakers. It’s designed to be a slow and meditative experience, really focused on the physicality of the sound (via speakers) transferring its information to the physicality of water, and then transferring the information again into light reflections. The work invites us to really think about sound as motion by visualizing the (often not considered) micro-vibrations produced by a speaker cone.

attackSUSTAINrelease explores the precarity of sound by highlighting the details and physical phenomena of the multifaceted process of sound production that we often take for granted. The heavy speakers hang precariously in the space playing sound that becomes distorted and transformed as the water seeps into and slowly destroys the speakers we hear. The sonic artifacts this creates are reminders of the precarity of technology that is never acknowledged until the technology breaks down rendering our listening experience distorted or silent. The patterns of light reflection bring out the often forgotten mechanical motions that a speaker must produce for sound to travel to our ears. As all of these elements–mechanical speakers, water, light, sound–are carefully arranged to produce the experience that the installation creates, if one piece breaks formation or the water has it’s toll on the speakers, the installation ceases to be effective, realizing the precarity of the sonic experience. I hope that a listener/viewer of the installation will perceive this precarity.

Songs of Northern California, Nick Virzi (Stanford University)
Silver 220, 2-2:20pm on Friday, February 16
It is sunrise in the vast, epic valley of Yosemite National Park, brisk, with the nascent chill of early October. Under the shadow of Half Dome, which reaches 8,839 feet into the sky, twenty Black American Ducks awaken to feed in the tranquil Tenaya Creek of Mirror Lake. Each dip of a duck’s bill into the water overlaps to create a rich, complex polyrhythm woven with momentary squawks, wing flaps, and dramatic leaps of flight, giving the auditory illusion of a vibrant, living stream. Overhead, an airplane looms, bringing with it the sounds of humanity and technological industry. Sensing this ominous presence, the paddling of ducks begins to panic for its survival, infusing the lush polyrhythm with sound of helpless fear, until the deep, terrifying sound passes on.

In this natural soundscape, it may seem as if the airplane’s effect on the ducks is a notable event. However, in a world where technological advancements and the “manifest destiny” approach to societal expansion dominate, it is moments of undisturbed nature that have become truly rare, even in preserves like Yosemite National Park. To experience the beauty of untouched nature, one must often travel far abound in search of the few places which still remain to us, and even these are fast disappearing.

In order to understand humanity’s impact on the environment, visual means are simply not enough. Sound often tells us more about how ecological systems are impacted than sight alone, allowing us the ability to perceive the differences in the behavior of species caused by human intervention even when visually it might appear as if nothing has changed at all.

During the Spring of 2017, I traveled to nature preserves throughout Northern California, hiking through valleys, mountains, forests, beaches, ridges, streams, ponds, and lakes in search of magical moments in the wild when the complex sounds of the earth fall into sync and become music. Among these locations are El Corte de Madera Creek, Thornewood, Big Basin, Windy Hill, Pescadero Marsh, Bedwell Bayfront, Skyline Ridge, Loch Lomond, and Yosemite National Park.

This presentation features four ambisonic natural soundscape recordings from Windy Hill, Skyline Ridge, and Yosemite. As part of my upcoming series, Songs of Northern California, these soundscapes illustrate the ecological significance of both scenes of undisturbed nature and those in which species have reacted and adapted to an evermore invasive human presence.

Installations in Avery Fisher Center

LUCID, Jennifer Grossman
Immersion room
LUCID is a 12 channel, immersive work that explores sound as a simultaneous trigger of conscious and subconscious states. Combining a modular sound sculpture that preserves and embodies a collection of personal sonic memories emitted through physical objects, backed by a soundscape designed to bring the listener into a meditative state, the piece becomes a psycho-spatial interplay between a visceral depiction of memory and a present sonic reality, the real and the surreal, the literal and the abstracted, the recognizable and the indiscernible. The work engages both the themes of precarity and sanctuary, as the objects and technology become extended perceptual amplifiers, vibrating a collective past in the present sound space, while listening bodies become vulnerable vessels of reception.

“Memory is not a matter of past, but recreates the past each time it is invoked.” -Karen Barad

Year In Review, George Cloke
A/V room
In 2016, I listened to the evening radio news everyday; chronicling and recording each time a reporter used the word ‘killed’. I sampled each instance within a small extract of its original context before combining them to create an audio feed detailing each usage across the calendar year. The result is a stark and affecting sonic commentary on our gradual desensitisation to the atrocities we hear about everyday. Year In Review encourages the listener to contemplate the semiotic value of the word ‘killed’ (does it retain the power to shock, sadden and be ‘precarious’ without full context? Is it more traumatic when isolated and repeated?), the responsibilities of the media and the reaction of the listener.

Furthermore, these snippets of context intimate that the word ‘killed’ is in itself an active political statement. Whilst a tourist family was ‘killed’ in an avalanche and homeowners ‘killed’ by tornadoes; hundreds of migrants drowned in the Mediterranean are not provided with the same wording. Meanwhile, whilst police are ‘killed’, Black Americans who died at the hands of officers are not reported on with the same verb. Therefore, it is as significant to contemplate the tragic topics which aren’t heard in Year In Review, as much as those which are. In this regard, the project examines how sound and language are mobilised and modified according to the speaker and the subject.

During the past few years, we have witnessed unceasing levels of trauma and adversity.Year In Review looks to provide the audience with a challenging but cathartic aural experience, in which we can not only acknowledge our current state of ‘hypernormalization’, but actively seek to combat and change this precarity as a result.

The Bonanza of Oblivion, Nicolas Aguia (NYU Steinhardt)
A/V room
The idea behind The Bonanza of Oblivion comes from the researches and historical memory activities by sociologist and filmmaker Luis Fernando Gomez with the research group CESYCME (Centro de Estudios Sociales y Culturales de la Memoria), in the department of Guaviare, Colombia. In virtue of a documentary film that Gomez made entitled El Retorno de Las Gaviotas, I became aware with the history of the inhabitants of a small town called Gaviotas in the region of Calamar (located in Guaviare). A lot of its residents are part of the Afro-Colombian community of the Choco region—located in the Pacific Coast of Colombia—that migrated searching new job opportunities; leaving behind a land devastated by exploitation of mine labor and unemployment. At the end of the 70’s, these families started to populate Calamar, region that was before inhabited by Colombian natives like the Carioca and Witoto. Around this time, cocaine made its unwelcome entry into the Colombian economy. A lot of them started to harvest coca on their small parcels of land, as well as the customary rice, yucca and cacao. As years went by, the Calamarenses found themselves in the middle of a conflict that has taken the life of 220 000 Colombian lives. In this piece for video and electronics (fixed media), two narrators tell the stories of some of the people remaining in Calamar and, more importantly, how they managed to survive as a community in the midst of a terrible and long civil war. The two narrators tell the stories that Luis Fernando Gomez has collected by interviewing the people that still leave there, and the video comprises the images that the filmmaker has taken in Gaviotas during the last 5 years

Blued Trees, Aviva Rahmani and Maile Colbert
A/V room
What might public good sound like? During the 2016 American Election, artist Aviva Rahmani wrote the libretto and score for a coda to her project, The Blued Trees Symphony, a work based on legal premises that challenge the right of natural gas corporations to take private property by eminent domain condemnation to expand pipelines in the name of public good. This work asks if we can assert sanctuary from extractive fossil fuel industries? The Blued Trees Symphony, has since expanded in 1/3 mile measures across North America, conflating synesthetic transpositions of terrain and contamination, and containing those ideas in five classical symphonic movements across time and space. In 2017, lyric sopranos Rahmani, Debra Vanderlinde and actor Dean Temple recorded the vocal portion of the libretto. That libretto was subsequently integrated with Maile Colbert’s audio composition as a song to the trees whose lives, as our own, the Anthropocene era has rendered precarious.

Participatory Performances

Shape-Note Singing School: The Subsuming Wail, Seth Wenger (Yale University)
Saturday 4:30–5pm
Silver 220
Daily we confront environments where a paradoxical relationship becomes inherent between our lived experience and our implicit intentions for that moment. When this experience is outside our locus of control, these moments are embodied as unresolved tension and trauma manifesting corporeally, spiritually, and emotionally. In this world of nearly inescapable paradox we find specific forms of ritual for shaping space so our bodies can process and untangle these tensions and traumas. This untangling is evidence of the sacred at work in the world, the corporeally intelligible and rhetorically untranslatable. Being vulnerable and safe to create among other people cannot be replaced by any amount of consumer motivated art.

This participatory singing event consists of a brief singing school interspersed with group song. In the tradition of shape-note singing events anyone who desires to lead a song comes to the center of the “Hollow Square,” and calls the number. All participants will be provided with sheet music, and aurally supported by the attending singers familiarized with the practice. In an effort to greater flesh out the nature of the shape-note singing community, various song leaders will speak on how the practice has offered them a sanctuary in the face of precarity.

Nu-Tarab Soundscapes, Jillian Fulton (York University) and Islem Ben Fraj
Saturday 9:30–11pm
Silver 220
Tarab is an Arabic traditional music genre, affectual concept, and culture that thrived in the 1940s to 1990s. Living in a post-tarab era, musicians from the Arab world are incorporating elements from tarab culture into their nu-music performances and interacting with the concept in new and unique ways, creating nu-tarab. Nu-tarab can fuse electronic sounds and rhythms with tarab in different ways: it can sample old tarab songs directly, it can feature traditional instruments from the Arab world, or it can utilize the musical elements of tarab such as long songs, repetition, detemporalization and retemporalization. In Toronto and Montréal, musicians from the Arab world are using the nu-tarab music scene to evoke memories of “Home” and (re)create what it means to be “Arab” and “Muslim” in the diaspora.

Situating this performance within theories of “performative space” (Skinner 2014) and “worlds of sense” (Classen 1993), we explore the music’s performative elements in an aim to display the way that “Arab” identities are understood, articulated, reinforced, and emerging. Complementing my academic work on nu-tarab identities, this performance is a collaboration between anthropologist and interlocutor that showcases community-based field methods within performance studies and sensory anthropology (Mienczakowski 2001, Pink 2009). To showcase “becoming Arab” within Canadian diasporas, we will generate a sense of belonging, vulnerability, exclusion, and precarity through the use of experimental music and noise, and underground dance music (UDM). Using tarab as our starting point, we will take the audience on a journey of what it means to be “Arab” through the use of nu-tarab: ambient electronic music that features samples from tarab songs and old Arabic films, new interpretations of folk songs, detemporalization and retemporalization, as well as Arab-influenced UDM genres featuring Canadian and international producers. The music played will be a combination of our own original work with productions by artists who are frequently played within the nu-tarab scenes of Toronto and Montréal. The combination of these genres with specific gestures and elements such as repetition, tempo, and sonic expression will be used intentionally to evoke certain emotions such as nostalgia and pain, and affectual experiences such as trance and ecstasy (Becker 2004). These musical idioms will perform the different emotions and affectual experiences occurring in individuals living in the Arab diaspora communities of Toronto and Montréal. Through this sensory engagement we present how nu-tarab (re)creates particular socio-political, religious, and cultural landscapes, and pasts, presents, and futures with a view to understanding how it shapes conceptions of home, foreigner, and belonging (Hirsch and O’Hanlon 1995, Alajaji 2015).