Interference Journal Issue 6

Graham Gussin; I Love It, In Space there Are No Limits, I Love It; 2001 (Photo courtesy of the artist).

The project for A Sonic Geography began with a recognition of  the vibrancy and increasing significance of various bodies of work on auditory space. Practices such as aural architecture, soundscaping, spatial music and sonic sculpture now find a non-specialist public and an institutional legitimacy that fosters future development. Moreover, theoretical research tracing sonic phenomena as cartography, site-specific signifier, or spatial strategy has acquired a new maturity in recent years. Interference wishes to progress this interaction between theoretical reflection from different domains of research and sustained practical experimentation as it generates new possibilities for auditory spatial awareness.

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Amongst the ways in which it maps out the geographical imagination of place, music plays a unique role in the formation and reformation of spatial memories, connecting to and reviving alternative times and places latent within a particular environment. Post-rock epitomises this: understood as a kind of negative space, the genre acts as an elegy for and symbolic reconstruction of the spatial erasures of late capitalism. After outlining how post-rock’s accommodation of urban atmosphere into its sonic textures enables an ‘auditory drift’ that orients listeners to the city’s fragments, the article’s first case study considers how formative Canadian post-rock acts develop this concrete practice into the musical staging of urban ruin. Turning to Sigur Rós, the article challenges the assumption that this Icelandic quartet’s music simply evokes the untouched natural beauty of their homeland, through a critical reading of the 2007 tour documentary Heima. A closer reading of the band’s audiovisual practice reveals a counter-geography of Iceland, in which the country’s decaying industrial past is excavated and its more recent ecological failures are accounted for. As with post-rock more generally, this proposes a more complex relationship between music, place and memory than that offered by notions of reflection and nostalgia, which instead emerges as a melancholic mourning for spatial pasts.

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Distinct from the tendency for field recording to be understood as a veridical act of documentation—faithfully recording the sonic specificities of a given place—there exists a complementary tendency towards abstraction, emerging from the ‘schizophonic’ dislocation implicated within phonographic practices. This tendency emphasises the mutability of space in general rather than the identifiable specifics of place. This ‘lack’ of specificity is understood to expose an underlying productivity or generative capacity only accounted for in a more abstract notion of space. This paper focuses on the extent to which field recording practices are heard to occupy a point of tension between the identifiable fixity of the site-specific and the generative mutability of space in general, a point of tension that is audibly manifest in the work of artists such as Francisco López and Asher Thal-Nir.

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This paper considers the importance of underwater sound. Making this inaudible environment audible to limited human hearing capabilities demands technical, imaginative and interpretative approaches to sound. Transdisciplinary approaches that treat sound as sonic evidence, suggests a shifted role for the composer and sonic ecologist. My analysis joins three seminal works on whale sound: Payne and McVay’s ‘Songs of Humpback Whales’, André and Kamminga’s ‘Rythmic Dimension in the Echolocation of Click Trains of Sperm Whales’ and Alvin Lucier’s Quasimodo: The Great Lover. Through a critical comparison of the scientists’ use of musical ideas of song and rhythm with the composer’s interest in processes of sound transmission over long distances, the necessity of exploring the contextual nature of sound in the environment becomes apparent. To this end I propose the physiological experience of sound in order to understand the sonic contexts of remote environments, exemplified by artworks from my Scorescapes project.

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In this article we present an experimental work focused on the sonic geographies of shifting bodies. The purpose of this engagement is to push the boundaries of empirical work in non-representational geography as well as to theorise the role of sound in the creation of social space.  Methodologically, we employ principles of Henri Lefebvre’s rhythmanalysis to an audio recording of moments in time at a student café. In our analysis, habit, rhythm, and movement form the amplifier through which we think through the ways in which sound constitutes place.

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Two large sound installations, developed by transdisciplinary sound art and research group Urban Sound Institute, created a meeting place for one year of artistic and pedagogic activity in a Swedish regional museum. The project involved a historic sound archive, a string quartet, a local radio station, pedagogic workshops, several schools, children’s groups and musical education programs. The installations created a complexity of interior spaces, and acted as huge musical instruments to be ‘played’ by professional musicians, dancers and visitors. Through advanced computer programming and careful composition, modeling and distribution of sounds as words, narratives, music, space, bodily experiences and memory, the Sound Labyrinth allowed for great variations, durability over time, and different forms of interaction. The article describes the project, and discusses the exhibition as a platform for collective, multiple interaction; as an expanded musical-architectonic composition; and as a contribution to artistic research methodologies relevant for sound spaces within so-called making disciplines.

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