Beautiful, uncomfortable, informative and humorous

With just over two weeks to go until Hydrosapien is unleashed on the public, everyone involved is busy, busy, busy rehearsing for what will be a unique and memorable performance. The Silent Choir grows daily, with 5 schools now running lunch club rehearsals, and about 40 adults attending weekly signing workshops at the Duke of Cornwall Hotel. Their focus and commitment is awe inspiring, and the results are mesmerising. Meanwhile, deep in the labyrinths of Goldsmiths University, Joseph Kohlmaier and Iris Garrelfs work through ideas, bounce sounds around and have me in rapture with their astonishing playfulness and range.

The domino effects are beginning to surface too, with the Harvest Festival at Plymouth Methodist Central Hall presenting the signed poem as part of their service on October 28th, and with a teacher at Eggbuckland Vale Primary School sending this message:

The rehearsal this week was very enjoyable, and I am beginning to understand how the performance may look. Yesterday I taught two of my profoundly deaf 7 year old children (BSL signers) the first verse after a discussion  about what a poem is (words which describe an idea and a feeling but not a story!) And in very simple terms we began to discuss climate issues. In response to this they each drew a picture which I have attached  for you to see. I was truly moved by the power of your poem, translated into sign to teach these children about the environment. Thank you for enabling this learning experience for these children.

Meanwhile, Astrida Neimanis, the author of the text – Hydrofeminism – that triggered the project, is watching the project develop via Twitter and encouraging us as we work to perfect our shared endeavour to find creative ways of putting research into the public domain. Astrida’s support is the icing on the cake!

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Hydroscore for a Silent Choir

Mark-making, through monoprinting and drawing, allows me to think through ideas and processes in ways that release me from the tyranny of ‘the list’. Having already produced a workbook for my collaborations with Iris Garrelfs and Joseph Kohlmaier, this week I started producing one for my work with members of the Silent Choir. These workbooks are simple sheaves of blank paper, interspersed with the monoprints and drawings I’ve been doing.

Earlier this week I went to Goldsmiths University for the first of four sessions with Iris and Joseph. This introductory session was a wide ranging ramble through ideas, triggers, and methods, and was important for establishing a shared sense of the project going forward. Also this week, I applied to attend a workshop with Astrida Neimanis (at Goldsmiths also) around ‘Weathering’ – a practice or tactic for understanding our inter-implicatedness, for interrupting existing patterns and notions of resilience and vulnerability, of thinking about the weather as more-than-meteorological.

And last but not least! After much hair-pulling over the years, I am finally (finally!) the recipient of an Arts Council grant, for Hydrosapiens. The entire project is ambitious, and therefore the funding application felt immense. Clearly this strategy has paid off, and now Hydrosapiens can embrace its full potential. Many thanks to Arts Council England, and especially to the individuals who guided me through the process, and particularly to the individuals participating in Hydrosapiens.

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Hydroscores

Hydrosapien for Plymouth Art Weekender – a live Silent Choir performance adaptation of the essay Hydrofeminism (@AstridaNeimanis), accompanied by a duo of experimental voice artists who will use the same text as the basis for their non-linguistic contribution. It even has its own website now.

Half of the project involves me workshopping at Goldsmiths, with Iris Garrelfs and Joseph Kohlmaier, to develop  a ‘score’ for their contribution to the performances.

Influenced by (amongst many others) Hanna Tuulikki – Spinning in Stereo, Liz K Miller and Kim Macari – Circular Score: Round Two, and the scores used in the live performance of Jim Finers’ Long Player at St. Martins Church as part of Art Week Exeter, I am starting with visual experiments before heading to London for the workshops. Using drawing and monoprinting to develop an abstracted yet structured relationship between the essay Hydofeminism, water, and imagined sounds, I am finding that I’m mapping, and re-finding the relationship between mark,  sound and gesture.

Joseph Kohlmaier’s practice crosses a broad spectrum of disciplines, bringing together writing, design, teaching, performance, editorial and curatorial work, and composition. He founded Musarc, one of the UK’s most progressive choral collectives, in 2008, and acts as the ensemble’s creative director. He is a principal lecturer and head of Critical and Contextual Studies at The Cass, London Metropolitan University, and one of the founding directors of graphic design practice Polimekanos and its associated imprint Cours de Poétique.

IRIS GARRELFS works on the cusp of music, art and sociology. Investigating sites through listening she creates responses that often combine field recordings with voice and are not just explorations of geographical, historical or sociological aspects, but also poetical evocations of presence. As one of the pioneers of digitally augmented vocal performance, her vocal work has has been described by ATTN:Magazine as follows: “Garrelfs’ gymnastic flexibility is remarkable. Her falsetto has this incredible pinball elasticity, zipping suddenly upward in playful excitement or sudden shock, reaching pitches that seem to shrink her into miniature.”

Her work has been presented internationally, for example National Gallery, Royal Academy of Arts London, Visiones Sonores Mexico, Onassis Cultural Centre Athens, Palazzo delle Esposizioni Rome, MC Gallery New York. Residencies have included Grizedale Art, Institute of Modern Art Celje (Slovenia), Tate Britain. Recordings were released on
Linear Obsessional (UK), Pan Y Rosas Discos (US), Audition Records (Germany), Gruenrekorder (Germany),  Baskaru Records (France) and more.

Elsewhere Garrelfs is lecturer in Sonic Art at Goldsmiths, University of London and editor of the open access journal Reflections on Process in Sound.

Transgression and Ephemerality

Marine Transgressions was an environmental humanities conference that took place on June 7-8th 2018 at the Create Centre, located on the banks of the river Avon by the entrance to the historic floating harbour in Bristol, UK. I presented a short film entitled ‘Detention Centre’ which explored my emotive response to marine aquariums. There were many wonderful presentations, and memorable work  included presentations by Mirjami Lantto (Rivering), Kelly P Bushell (The First Captive Whale in Britain), Sarah Hymas (Bookworks) and Lisa Blackmore ((De) Colonising Flow). Marine Transgressions was  a collaboration between the Environmental Humanities Research Centres of the University of Bristol and Bath Spa University.

24 hours later I began a 10 day immersive residency called Ephemeral River. This extraordinary experience included workshops across a range of disciplines, trips to Wistman’s Wood (Dartmoor) and the galleries of Newlyn, Penzance and St. Ives, hours and hours spent in and around the River Dart, and creative experiments alongside an international range of inspirational artists. The provocation was to make work in response to our lived experience with the ephemerality of the River Dart. We all made wildly different works, and across the course of the ten days made wide ranging collaborations and relationships. Alix Rothnie’s blog tells the story beautifully.

We surfaced from this unforgettable experience as participants in Liquidscapes, a three-day international gathering bringing together creative thinkers and doers to explore physically and figuratively our watery worlds and fluid states. Tristram Gooley (How to Read Water) and Amy Sharrocks (Against Dryness) opened the event, and many wonderful presentations, performances and interventions followed, including a performative photo-essay called Bank by Carolyn Black and Carol Laidler, Jess Allen: Drop in the Ocean, Sylvia Crawley: Writing the Mudscape: Lives at the Fringe of the Sea, Charlotte Price: Falling Tide, Rona Lee: Truthing Gap – artistic encounters with the scientific deep, and Hanien Conradie: The Voice of Water: Re-sounding a silenced River.

And all this wet wonderment was made doubly exquisite by a night paddle in a canoe in silence down the Dart, followed by a night sat in silence through till dawn on Summer Solstice Night as part of a group.  Lost for words, I sincerely thank those listed below for these life-changing experiences, but most of all I want to thank Richard Povall, again and again. And again.

 

Deep Time, Shallow Water.

Collecting submersive testimonies.

To walk on land below sea level,
As if…ankle deep (another manual for nomads?)
Minor trespass may be necessary.

 

 

 

The second walk in the #ethnohydro series will take place on June 24th. We will be walking through Andersea and Othery, mostly below sea level (and roughly 10 miles). If you would like to get involved, email me on lauradenning2@gmail.com.

In the meantime you can catch two short sound works I have recently created at Canteen (part of Art Week Exeter) and at Murmuration (part of Fringe Arts Bath).  My work is also screened at Green Park Brasserie as part of Bath Fringe Festival (see page 35) – A one hour loop of silent films exploring watery worlds – from rivers to rhynes, from puddles to pools, from oceans to altogether other worlds. This installation uses moving image to present a provisional glossary of sites of special wetness.

And behind the scenes I am busy preparing for a research trip exploring the St. Lawrence River in Canada, a month long teaching studio, at Srishti Institute of Art, Design and Technology, Bangalore, and a major commission for Plymouth Art Weekender 2018. Busy times!

Performative Ethnographies

What does it mean? Well, I hope to find out – by doing. With many thanks for the kind support from The Harbutt Fund, a fully funded #ethnohydro walkshop will bring artists, ecologists and others together for a days perambulation on the Somerset Levels.  My idea is a simple one – strolling the Marshes, getting to know each other. My loose strategy is to openly but subtly record our conversations, and to ask participants to (occasionally) talk with each other around various terms and topics. Not only will I learn a lot from these conversations, but I hope to develop some sound work out of it, sonic rhynes, if you will.

It seems that the term ‘performative ethnography’ has been around for about 10 years at least, and to quote from The Blackwell Encyclopedia of Sociology can be understood thus: Performance ethnography takes as its working premise that a theatrical representation of what one discovers through participant-observation fieldwork provides a vibrant and textured rendering of cultural others. Performance for the performance ethnographer is typically understood as an aesthetic act within a theatrical tradition. In western cultures this artistic endeavour calls upon actors through their use of presentational skills to evoke others for the consideration of audiences.

This #ethnohydro walkshop is a micro-research activity intended to harvest material for a future work, provisionally entitled Sonic Rhynes.

Rhyne and Huish – a work in progress

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A rhyne (pronounced reen) is a ditch or canal used to transform areas of wetland into pasture. Huish is a habitational name that may refer to small areas of woodland. Through the winter months the Somerset Levels are often shrouded in thick fog and mist. Fog is low-lying, the moisture being generated locally. The only difference between mist and fog is visibility. The area is also subject to severe flooding, both from internal waterways and from coastal flooding. It is unique in the UK for this reason, being, essentially a delta which barely rises above sea-level. During December 2013 and January 2014 heavy rainfall led to extensive flooding with over 600 houses and 17,000 acres (6,900 ha) of agricultural land. The village of Thorney was abandoned and Muchelney cut off.

Rhyne and Huish is a new body of work which uses the Somerset levels and the Avalon Marshes as its focus, to explore water in this very specific landscape. It is a trans-disciplinary project which proposes that climate change is changing this landscape irrevocably, and that wetness as a way of being provides a starting point for negotiating life in a changing landscape. The intention is consider water as vapour, beyond liquidity, as a significant aspect of wetlands ecosystems, and as a sensuous yet disorienting phenomenon.

I am taking a number of approaches to this work – a preliminary sketchbook has already been exhibited – but significantly the approach sits within experimental geography, and focuses upon filmic and sonic field notes, walkshops and meandering conversations. I am interested in exploring the possibilities of developing sonic rhynes, and have started to create  very short filmic field notes. I am mapping the convergences with this work and with Astrida Neimanis’ work on Bodies of Water.20180130_090051

I can’t and won’t pre-empt the outcomes, but am punctuating the research with opportunities to share work in progress with a broader public. The next (and imminent!) iteration of this is a sonic walk at Newton Park campus (Bath Spa University) at Seeing Sound symposium.

Venice Biennale Reflections

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Visiting the Venice Biennale for the very first time, in the final week of Arte Viva Arte, during November last year, was an exceptional experience. Though rather late in the day, this brief backward glance takes a highly selective look at just 3 of the artists and artworks from the 120 in the Arsenale, and the many pavillions at the Giardini. Ignoring the lacklustre acres of ethnographic textiles that dominated the Arsenale, I noted instead the frequent focus upon migration, diaspora and environmental crisis that was highlighted in so much of the work, in the main stadiums and in the many independent pavillions dotted across the city.

Pierre Huyghe’s large screen-based work upstairs in the Louis Vuitton shop; A Journey that Wasn’t (2005) retraces the artists’ expedition to Antarctica searching for a new island formed by melting polar ice caps inhabited by an albino penguin. This curious, well-paced work fused incongruous elements to foreground a sense of dis-ease.

Hew Locke presented work within the true highlight of the entire Biennale – The Diaspora Pavilion, and his work was no exception within this fine, provocative and topical exhibition. Locke’s work ‘On the Tethys Sea’ consisted of a number of small (toy-sized) boats suspended from the ceiling at eye-height, loaded with intended and unintended cargoes, and loaded too with a myriad of meanings. As the catalogue entry states: ‘A ship is a symbolic object, a vessel of the soul, a means of escape of both safety and danger. All seas are physically linked with each other. People have flowed like water across the globe, seeking a better life or fleeing an intolerable one’.

Hajra Waheed, a Canadian who grew up in the guarded areas of the Saudi national oil company, presented exquisite multiples of photographic images, sometimes added to with drawing, sometimes not. These quiet specimens echoed feelings about archives and about surveillance, whilst referencing the disappearance of 166 presumed pilgrims from Kolkata on the Hajj route in 2011. Part of a multidisciplinary corpus; Sea Change, she describes her work as ‘a visual novel that stitches together a story about the missing and the missed’.

Overall, the many video works that used watery motifs to examine environmental crisis and forced migration were powerful and apposite, and demonstrated that artists’ concerns were of the now whilst curators concerns were….not. I’m so glad I finally made it to the Biennale, and look forward to 2019.

 

Soundtrack of the Sea

 

The invited contributors to Benthic Caress are Chris Watson, Leah Barclay, and Jez Riley French. Chris Watson provided 10 minutes of sound captured in the thriving corals of the South China Seas, Leah Barclay provided 10 minutes of sounds selected from her work with the Biosphere Soundscapes, an interdisciplinary research project working in collaboration with multiple organisations and institutions across the USA, South America, Australia, Europe, India, Indonesia and Cambodia. Jez Riley French provided 10 minutes of sound taken from a recording in Iceland of minerals from the sea bed dissolving in a solution that relates to the corrosive levels of pollution at that location.

Chris Watson is one of the world’s leading recorders of wildlife and natural phenomena, and for Touch he edits his field recordings into a filmic narrative. For example. the unearthly groaning of ice in an Icelandic glacier is a classic example of, in Watson’s words, putting a microphone where you can’t put your ears. In 1971 he was a founding member of the influential Sheffield-based experimental music group Cabaret Voltaire. His sound recording career began in 1981 when he joined Tyne Tees Television. Since then he has developed a particular and passionate interest in recording the wildlife sounds of animals, habitats and atmospheres from around the world. As a freelance recordist for film, tv & radio, Chris Watson specialises in natural history and documentary location sound together with track assembly and sound design in post production.

​Jez riley French (b. 1965)
Using intuitive composition, field recording, improvisation and photography, Jez has
been exploring his enjoyment of and interest in detail, simplicity and his emotive
response to places and situations for over 3 decades. Alongside performances, exhibitions, installations, JrF lectures and runs workshops around the world and his range of specialist microphones are widely used by recordists,  sound artists, musicians, sound designers and cultural organisations. He also works as a curator of live events, a record label, of sound installations and an arts zine ‘verdure engraved’. In recent years he has been working extensively on recordings of surfaces, spaces and situations and developing the concept of photographic scores and ‘scores for listening’, which have featured widely in publications and exhibitions. His work has been exhibited in shows and installations alongside that of Yoko Ono,David Bowie, Pauline Oliveros, Chris Watson, Alvin Lucier, Annea Lockwood, Ryuchi Sakamoto, Stars of the Lid, Jeremy Deller, Sarah Lucas, Brian Eno, Signe Liden, Sally Ann McIntyre etc, at galleries including The Whitworth Gallery (Manchester), Tate Modern and Tate Britain, MOT – Museum of Contemporary Art, Tokyo (Japan), Artisphere (USA). For the Hull, Capital of Culture year 2017 year in the UK, Jez has created a number of works including the installation of Icelandic recordings ‘the sound of the world turning’ for John Grant’s North Atlantic Flux festival, and also collaborated with Jan Bang, Arve Henriksen, Eivind Aarset & Opera North on ‘The Height of the Reeds’, an installation based sound walk in the Humber Bridge. He has been described, in an interview with the British Library, as one of the most influential sound artists of his generation, not only for his own creative work but also for his expansion of extended field recording techniques and modes of listening into key elements of the sonic arts, film, tv, radio, architecture & the games industry.

Dr Leah Barclay is an Australian sound artist, composer and researcher working at the intersection of art, science and technology. She specialises in electroacoustic music, acoustic ecology and emerging fields of biology exploring environmental patterns and changes through sound. Her work has been commissioned, performed and exhibited to wide acclaim across Australia, New Zealand, Canada, USA, Peru, Colombia, Europe, India, South Africa, China and Korea by organisations including UNESCOEar to the EarthStreaming Museum, Al Gore’s Climate Reality and the IUCN. She has been the recipient of numerous awards and has directed and curated interdisciplinary projects across the Asia-Pacific and USA. Leah composes complex sonic environments that draw attention to changing climates and fragile ecosystems. These works are realised through live performances, interactive installations and site-specific interventions drawing on environmental field recordings, data sonification, live streams and immersive sound diffusion. Recent examples include augmented reality sound walksexploring the cultural and biological diversity of river systems and Rainforest Listening, a virtual canopy that transforms iconic urban locations into the Amazon Rainforest. Rainforest Listening launched in Times Square for Climate Week NYC 2015 and was a featured cultural event for COP21 in Paris where each observatory platform of the Eiffel Tower was transformed into the four distinct layers of tropical rainforest vegetation through immersive soundscapes accessed through mobile phones. Leah’s work is multi-platform in nature and involves long-term engagement with communities across the globe ranging from remote river systems in South India to pacific island communities in Vanuatu. She leads several large-scale research projects including Biosphere Soundscapes, an interdisciplinary venture exploring the changing soundscapes of UNESCO Biosphere Reserves across the world and River Listening, which examines the creative possibilities of aquatic bioacoustics in collaboration with the Australian Rivers Institute. Leah’s diverse creative practice has resulted in a career where she works as a researcher, artist, consultant and educator with various organisations and institutions. These include designing immersive education programs for UNESCO, directing large-scale interdisciplinary research projects for major universities across Australia and the USA and facilitating partnerships between communities, NGOs and government to explore creative approaches to climate action. She regularly guest lectures for international universities including NYUBrown University and The Art Institute of Chicago. Leah is the president of the Australian Forum for Acoustic Ecology, the vice-president of the World Forum of Acoustic Ecology and serves on the board of a range of arts and environmental organisations. She is currently a postdoctoral research fellow at the Queensland Conservatorium Research Centre where she is leading a portfolio of research exploring the value of acoustic ecology as a socially engaged, accessible, interdisciplinary field that can inspire communities across the world to listen to the environment.

The invited contributors were Chris Watson, Leah Barclay, and Jez Riley French whose broad profiles have been outlined above. Chris Watson provided 10 minutes of sound captured in the thriving corals of the South China Seas, Leah Barclay provided 10 minutes of sounds selected from her work with the Biosphere Soundscapes, an interdisciplinary research project working in collaboration with multiple organisations and institutions across the USA, South America, Australia, Europe, India, Indonesia and Cambodia. Jez Riley French provided 10 minutes of sound taken from a recording in Iceland of minerals from the sea bed dissolving in a solution that relates to the corrosive levels of pollution at that location. These three contributions offered a global perspective and a highly professional standard and context for subsequent submissions by emergent sound artists.

Artists selected by submission include
Ivon Oates: UNDER AN UPTURNED BOAT’ recordings made under an upturned boat lying in a stream on Eype beach, Dorset. The remote sounds of waves, passers by, and dogs on shingle echo within the contained space, while the rippling stream is amplified. Ivon oates’s multi-disciplinary approach incorporates soundwork and digital media with fine arts and architectural/environmental design. She enjoys collaborative projects that engage a deep exploration of consciousness in nature, especially our relationship with the wild. She has exhibited and installed work widely in Europe and UK, and participated in festivals, (B-side Dorset, Whitstable Biennale).

David Rogers: Dungeness Tower Shoreline. Recorded using Shotgun Mics (above the surf), Hydro Mics (under the surf) Contact Mics (on the tower). His creative practice includes installation, combining 3D construction, performance and screen based work, single screen, projections, multiple screen works and audio, ranging from soundscapes to compositional sound. Work exhibited in both gallery and non gallery situations.

Rachael Allain: Sternidae Altum Is a subaquatic sound recording capturing the Terns feeding on the turning tide at sunset on a remote South Devon beach at the end of the summer. Sternidae or Terns, sometimes referred to as sea swallows, are migratory sea birds that return to warmer climes in the autumn. Most Tern species are declining in numbers due to the loss or disturbance of breeding habitat, pollution and increased predation. Found throughout the world, they are summer visitors to Europe, spending the winter off the coast of Africa. The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, RSPB, considers Terns to have an Amber conservation status category.

Andrea V Wright: Dissolve, Cease was written and recorded at a small fishing village in Cornwall for the 2015 Porthleven Prize. Her practice explores the relationships between the formal and indexical employing both geometric and organic structural references. She works both intuitively and systematically through the use of natural and manmade materials and found objects.

Moore & Parker have 3 short pieces included – Very recent hydrophone recording of marine life in a rock pool near Devil’s Point, French students enjoying an idyllic evening on Falmouth’s Gyllyngvase Beach, and Night Sounding Sound composition of a trawler fleet protesting in Plymouth Sound against fishing restrictions.

Lee Berwick: Dwr (Welsh for ‘water’) was created on retreat in North Wales and uses sonification to explore the potential of enchantment.

Finally, a playful contribution from the SW Trio Wildlife Discotheque who often work with museums and other cultural institutions sharing their vinyl wildlife recordings. These recordings had been gathered over many years from the overgrown, neglected and wilder corners of local charity shops, record fairs, and car boot sales. The discs plot a crackly history of nature sound and the pioneers who spent hours in the field with cumbersome gear and an ear for sound and song.