A new semester a new module, a new theme: animal.
“A creative practice is your creative process documented.”
So where to start? I raided my son’s bookshelf…
We have identified about 2 million species. There are an estimated 8.7 million species on Earth. There is an over-whelming diversity that makes my brain ache tying to contemplate it all.
Animal – typically characterized by:
- a multicellular body
- specialized sense organs
- voluntary movement
- responses to factors in the environment
- the ability to acquire and digest food
Some ways to categorise animals:
Tardigrade/Water Bear. My group took the name R(etrograde) T(ardigrades)‘s. The tardigrade is fascinating, able to shut down its metabolism, and then revive. It can survive in really extreme conditions of heat and cold.
Anima/Animus: I dipped my toe into Jungian Psychology but felt it was an all-consuming tangent that would just be a diversion.
Our second week is an onslaught of stimulation.
Dragonfly of the dead.
Peter and the Wolf – Sergei Prokofiev (1936)
Animals – Talking Heads (Fear of Music)
Elephant talk – King Crimson (Discipline)
I wanna be your dog – Iggy Pop & the Stooges (The Stooges)
Echidna’s Arf (Of You) – Frank Zappa (Roxy & Elsewhere)
Love cats – The Cure (Japanese Whispers)
Véritables Préludes Flasques (Pour un chien) – Eric Satie (1912)
Blackbird – Jeff Beck (You had it coming)
Coyote – Joni Mitchell (Hejira)
Miranda talked to me about finding my voice with the online notebook. She also encouraged me to find my ideas through practice and less so through philosophical exploration. It is obvious to both of us that music and sound will/must play an important part in the work I do.
Lost & Found workshop. We opened the envelopes that Miranda sent to us.
Research: I spent some time looking into Eadweard Muybridge (1830–1904) and his Animal Locomotion photographs & films.
Muybridge: The Man Who Made Pictures Move. https://www.npr.org/2010/04/13/125899013/muybridge-the-man-who-made-pictures-move?t=1612538147086 (Review of exhibition at Corcoran Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. April 2010 by Neda Ulaby.)
“In 1982, Philip Glass premiered an opera about the tragedy called The Photographer. The opera mimicked themes — including musical repetition and incremental changes that carry great meaning — running throughout Muybridge’s work, says exhibition curator, Philip Brookman. He says Muybridge has influenced countless artists, from Degas to Sol Lewitt. The bands U2 and the Crystal Method have based music videos on Muybridge’s work. Even contemporary filmmakers using the latest technologies still crib from his textbook.“
“The breaking down of motion that you see in The Matrix comes directly from the animal locomotion project, where you see one moment in time depicted from all these different angles,” Brookman says.“
“Even if we can’t read Muybridge’s Victorian mind, something about his work feels very contemporary. Maybe it’s the strong graphic appeal, the contrast between organic animal and grid. Maybe it’s because his photos are from a moment, not unlike ours, when conceptions of time are in flux. Suddenly, now you can send snapshots by cell phone in seconds across the world.“
“There’s a common story here, one about human animals making their way through rigid modern structures that restrict and define their flow of movement. In a sped-up world, perhaps the work of the man who stopped time and then put it back in motion makes some kind of sense.“
In searching for an answer to the question: do a horse and a cat run the same way? I found this interesting article: The Flesh of Physics: https://www.nationalgeographic.com/science/phenomena/2009/01/26/the-flesh-of-physics/
I found this research fascinating and rewarding. Muybridge’s story contains many twists and turns, he began his working life in the book trade, he traveled around America photographing a wide range of territories, he murdered his wife’s lover but was acquitted on the grounds of justifiable homicide, he invented the zoopraxiscope and is most famous for his photographs and films of animals, including humans, in motion. I also found a lot of information which enabled me to prepare my list of details relating to my imagined animal.
I prepared a PowerPoint presentation to introduce my chosen animal to the group: buz fox (Vulpes Abstronicalis).
I enjoyed researching information to use for my newly discovered species. A fox is part of the dog family (Canidae) although it shares many feline traits due to convergent evolution. I find it really strange that a foxes’ eyes are slit, like a cat, despite it being part of the dog family.This new species lacks some of the features of “normal” foxes, primarily being an inorganic being made of energy that can exist in two worlds at the same time; the material realm and the energetic realm. It can pass into these realms at will, using this ability to capture prey or to avoid capture. Being a newly discovered species, knowledge of its’ characteristics are a little sketchy, for instance, it is suspected that their lifespan could extend to several hundred years, unlike other fox species that live for between two & five years.
I made a field recording of some of the sounds this species makes: barking, screaming, gekkering & sleeping.
I also composed an elegy which featured the buz fox effects pedal I was given before Christmas and which I reviewed at the end of Semester 1.
“Elegy for the buz fox”
We presented our proposals for the group project. There were some really interesting ideas and good work in thinking through and presenting the ideas. I particularly liked Dan’s proposal for “animal jousting” and Kay’s idea for “music of the spheres”. Natasha had a similar idea to me and when Miranda locked us all in a Zoom room together last week, we had discussed the basic concept. Unfortunately, my project proposal was chosen.
My project is a workshop based on cross-species conversation, using audio recordings made by the participants which represent the vocabulary of each of their imagined animals.The workshop would culminate in an online gallery displaying the recorded conversations along with the phials, labels, lists of characteristics and pictorial representations that each participant had curated for their animal.
As ever, Miranda’s questioning resulted in my ideas becoming clearer with structure and form solidified.
I spent time developing my ideas and preparing a presentation on “Foley & Sound Design in Star Wars”. This is a fascinating subject and I planned to use the opportunity to present useful and inspiring information that would inform the group’s preparation for my “Conversation Pieces” workshop. Did you know that over 200 animals have been created for the Star Wars films & spin-offs? A lot of those animals require sounds and language and I used video and audio clips to explore the making of vocabulary (which was my research project word).
On the day of our presentations, in a moment of synchronicity, Natasha told us that she had a lecture which featured a Foley artist, that morning. Ah, a hot topic!
I really enjoyed researching for this presentation. I chose the word “Vocabulary” as a basis for my research project, feeling that I could include lots of threads… looking at imaginary animal sounds is completely appropriate to the module theme, initial workshops and my group project. I felt I could tie in all of the ideas to have a conceptual continuity and development. A tall mountain to climb… but I am “en route”.
The moment of truth… my audio animal group workshop: Conversation Pieces.
I tried to create a project that would deliver a number of objectives, for me & for the participants.
Firstly, I wanted to encourage the group to explore the world of sound and create a unique voice and vocabulary for their imagined animal. This revolved around having “conversations” with each animal via their sounds.
Second on my list was to discuss communication. I picked speech patterns, rhythms and emotionality as the three main aspects that could be used to create an effective animal vocabulary.
Documentation seems to be popular in the arts, so my next objective was to look at notation, audio storyboards and graphical scores. These are ways to notate sound pieces (and music). I planned to get the participants to engage in creating a graphical score to use in my third objective.
This was to create sound art pieces, made with the voices of the animals, based on the graphical score. I asked the participants to download “Audacity” software to facilitate multi-track recording and mixing. I realised that a simple 5-minute tutorial would probably help to achieve the third objective.
I finished my plan with an idea to compile the animal conversations into a sound art piece and make a video compilation of animals & creators to accompany it.
For a better experience, the conversation pieces could be played through speakers in the project room along with a display of the other animal artifacts that have been created for this module. I picture an imaginarium with glass shelves full of labelled vials and lists of qualities and attributes for the animals we have given life to.
I was impressed by the participants’ preparation for the workshop. They had recorded fantastic sounds which were each exactly appropriate for their own animal. I fully appreciated the thought and effort they had used in their preparations. They were also helpful and showed great problem solving skills when things went awry. I feel that each participant gained something from the workshop, whether it was enjoyment of the graphical scoring or creating a piece of sound art or just engaging in conversations. Despite an overly-critical personal review I consider the workshop to have been a great success.
I was relieved to be told that I didn’t have to prepare my Project Proposal form for Monday… this pandemic has really played havoc with my sense of time… is it Thursday again? So soon?
I was really pleased with the positive feedback Miranda gave me about the workshop. We discussed my intention of continuing the Conversation Pieces idea for my personal project, to be submitted for consideration for the (renamed) Spring Show… in Spring! I had hoped to include a collaborative element to my project, however, being ignored is no impediment to success!
We also discussed the validity of an audio-only piece. Will an audience just listen if they have nothing to look at? Our ‘visio-centric’ predominance is a difficult bond to relinquish.
Week 9 – Spring Show proposal
My mind was made up and I was ready to present my project for the Spring Show. After my tutorial discussion with Miranda I thought about how to present my audio… I didn’t want to bolt on some visual representation of the animals involved, or explain the story behind the piece. I decided that using a video of television static would be a way to flood the viewer’s visual attention with something random and ever-changing, and that would force their attention to focus on the the audible, therefore putting listening to the foreground and relegating the visual.
My work was accepted by the jury. However, my negotiating skills were no match for Miranda’s “kung fu” and I ended up with lots more work to do. “Let’s have an extra two audio pieces and you can do a short workshop, too.” she said.
Below is my project submission – Conversation Pieces.
Week 10 – Winter Show preparation
The project is an audio composition in three parts where imaginary animals hold imaginary conversations in imaginary landscapes heard by imaginary people.
Week 11 – The Winter Show
It was decided that with the amount of work accepted the show would be divided into three episodes. My three audio conversations would appear, one in each episode. My mini audio animal workshop was scheduled to appear in the third episode. Deep breath… and we’re off!
This was my second online exhibition and I felt fairly confident that it would be as good as the last, if not better. The arrangements for show reel compilations worked well for me. Seeing some of the work for the first time was really enjoyable. What a bunch of crazy, gifted, talented, brave, thought provoking, wonderful artists, I thought.
I was nervous concerning my audio animal workshop, with no opportunity to have the participants pre-prepared, I had to be quick on my toes. I think people had fun… possibly an imaginary fun to go with the imaginary animals. I definitely feel that the whole Conversation Pieces project could grow to take on a life of its own.
I felt proud to have a part of it all and despite my own self criticism, I consider it another success for us all.
And in the afterglow of the online exhibition, the stress levels mount as I work through a small mountain of tasks to complete my module submission. I consider myself a reluctant writer and it takes me some time to get up to “splurge-speed”. I can enjoy the act, once I’m in the flow. We’ll see how works out once somebody else’s hard work is done and the marks are in.
Nature is the theme, is the question, is the destination.
Human nature, one’s own predilection. When nature takes over… compulsion, decision. Look at what you do and then NOT do those things… a struggle of freedom vs constraint. A broken mirror and a step forward.
I reacquainted myself with “Against Nature” by J.K.Huysmans, then followed my nose through Wiki links. Focus eludes me.
- watch something with no sound
- listen to something with no sight
- touch something with no fingers
- taste something with no sense of smell
- say something without making noise
- make a sound without saying anything
- feel something without understanding
- understand something without feeling
How does the earth see itself? I didn’t like that question. I preferred the sounds of the industry of bees and the melting of ice. A blend of the natural and un-natural. Dualities, you can’t escape them!
I’ve been reading “Escher on Escher – Exploring the infinite”. A collection of texts by M.C.Escher about M.C.Escher. It fills my thoughts with dualities, oppositions and perceptual conundrums which permeate my exploration of the project theme.
Foraging and farming. An acorn hunt and a broken promise. With unbending intent anything is possible. Tiny acorns to giant oaks, given a few hundred years.
A long strip of paper and suggestive commands. I will keep my feet covered and I will remain upright.
My concept begins with the notion that trees are static, rooted in one spot from which they are aware of their peripheral surroundings, a sphere of influence. Humans are in motion and their awareness moves from one thing to another as they move from one place to another.
Trees have a slow frequency, a human has a moderate frequency, a fly has a fast frequency. Sound is frequency, waves that modulate and impact on the receptors in us all.
“If a tree falls in a forest, and there’s no one to hear it, does it make a sound?” (Zen cliché #729)
How can this pairing of mobility and stationary-ness develop into a work of art? More to the point, how can this seed of an idea satisfy the overseer?
dreading the challenge
I’ll go back to bed.
I thought of asking collaborators to film two 10-30 second clips using two approaches:
- film a static thing from a moving position
- film a moving thing from a static position
I would compile the footage and score a soundscape that reflects the static and moving nature of the received footage to create a thought-provoking piece on the nature of being static & being in motion. Mindfulness & mindlessness. I began to make a selection of recordings as a first stepping stone, then filmed a few short videos using the “static/motion” rubric to see how things may develop.
Miranda’s response to my idea saw too much involvement in “post-production”… it seems that there is a need for “audience participation” or some performance and activity for the “user”. A transferable experience, via a practice
I looked into the work of Duncan Speakman and Nicolas Collins, both sound artists who engage their audience in activity.
A Hollow Body (walk with guidance app)
A Folded Path / Of Sleeping Birds (walk with speaker)
Songs For A Thousand Duets (Audio walk and choreography)
I was very taken with the idea of his walks and the way noise can contribute to changing atmosphere, even changing the way we respond to the familiar.
Inventor of the backwards guitar – the pickups resonate the strings with live radio signals
Hardware hacker (“Handmade Electronic Music: The Art Of Hardware Hacking” (3rd edition 2020)
A certified genius, according to a friend of mine, who is pretty genius-level himself.
Their work is almost offering a way forward…
I thought to explore the nature of misplaced sounds, the opposition of static and mobile imagery and audio, the wrong sound for the wrong picture. Cognitive dissonance. What is our reaction when faced with something that doesn’t add up? This could be the year of “bad maths” TM.
I approached the session with a half-formulated idea for a group project… nil points. This is a desirable result. The chosen project – leaves for printing. I chose Scots Pine from the list, began initial experimentation, only to find a practical incompatibility with the aim of the chosen project.
Re-thunk time… I think I’ll try this, instead:
I got the lowdown from Bob Meyrick. The plant (Cordyline Australis) was planted in 1993 when the School of Art moved into the Edward Davies building. Twenty seven years later… and here we are.
Research for group project.
My first thought was related to a track from “Before & After Science” by Brian Eno, called “Energy fools the magician.” As a backdrop to my research, this music sets a tranquil, but perhaps, sombre mood.
Next, I remembered Kirlian Photography. This is a method of producing “aura” photographs. using photographic techniques to capture the phenomenon of electrical coronal discharges. It is named after Semyon Kirlian, who, in 1939, accidentally discovered that if an object on a photographic plate is connected to a high-voltage source, an image is produced on the photographic plate.
In the 1970’s there was some interest in this… I found a video of David Bowie discussing it:
(This idea has since been debunked and explained as a representation of water in and around the photographed object.)
I found some more useful information on this site:
This site discusses how trees have been shown to respond to intention and how the mycorrhizal fungal network is used to communicate and provide support between trees. Truly fascinating stuff.
I was reminded of a scene from Luc Besson’s film “Lucy” ( with Scarlett Johansson & Morgan Freeman) where the main character sees data from people’s mobile phones moving up in the air to satellites and the energy of trees moving up and down… a truly beautiful and thought provoking sight.
Next, my journey moved onto Nicola Tesla (1856-1943), inventor par excellence. He developed Alternating Current electricity and invented wireless energy transmission, the brushless AC motor, wireless lighting and the radio controlled boat, amongst other things. I remember seeing a photograph of him sitting next to one of his inventions:
His designs for the Wardenclyffe Tower promised free energy for everyone, but his investors pulled the plug on the funding as they saw they couldn’t make a profit from the technology.
My chosen tree leaf: Cordyline australis – Cabbage Palm, native to New Zealand with a stout trunk, sword-like leaves.
It can recover from fire – It can renew its trunk from buds on the protected rhizomes under the ground.
In traditional times, Māori had a rich knowledge of the “cabbage tree”, including spiritual, ecological and many practical aspects of its use, including medicine, food, fibre for clothing, baskets, ropes, etc.
“When man dies he dies completely; no suckers or shoots spring from his decaying body, as they do from the stump of a tī kōuka”
After my second tutorial with Miranda, I am refining and defining my ideas.
Ceaseless movement / Ceaseless stillness
Remember – There is no rush in nature. A tree is not in a hurry.
Our group project, courtesy of Weronika. I had left my chosen cabbage palm leaves under some heavy photographic equipment in an attempt to have flat leaves to work with… good idea, in theory… not so good, in practice…. but I was committed and so we began. I found my leaves to be difficult to work with using the natural pigments that were graciously supplied by Weronika and Sally and I felt that my results were a lot less successful than the other participants. However, the overall effect was quite beautiful and the workshop was enjoyable.
My project – static/dynamic – the flora & fauna of perception.
– Imagine a tree, rooted, static, aware but fixed. Imagine a person, mobile, unfixed, fluid in motion. This project aims to promote a conversation on awareness, mindfulness and mindlessness, being still and being in motion, being a witness or being a participant and how these reflect different aspects of our nature in its many forms and interpretations. The video will present the viewer with a range of visual and audio stimuli to encourage one to think about how a tree or plant (flora) might perceive things in comparison to how a person or animal (fauna) might. A static/dynamic conundrum of experience.
I added screenshots of the video made in iMovie, supplied lists of assets including: iPhone footage, audio files, text, a breakdown of the sequence and a hand drawn storyboard. Overall duration 4 minutes & 28 seconds.
David Lynch – American film maker. (born January 20, 1946)
Seeing Lynch’s first film, “Eraserhead” in the early 1980’s had a deep influence on me. I loved the surreal story, black & white cinematography and the wildly original soundtrack featuring elements of Musique concrète, vaudeville and industrial noise. The juxtaposition of disparate elements in the film had an enduring effect on my musical and artistic development. Subsequently I have enjoyed many of his other films – Blue Velvet. The Elephant Man, The Straight Story and the TV drama Twin Peaks.
Without presuming to follow in Lynch’s footsteps as a storyteller, I have used his influence to present various novel views of perceptual realities from static and dynamic perspectives. I have done this in the hope that the viewer can engage in a modification of their habitual ways of looking and still be entertained.
György Ligeti – Hungarian composer. (28 May 1923 – 12 June 2006)
Ligeti was a Hungarian-Austrian composer of contemporary classical music, described as “one of the most important avant-garde composers in the latter half of the twentieth century”
I have long been a fan of Ligeti, having tuned into a Radio 3 programme in the early 1980’s to hear a most wonderful piece called “Poème symphonique – music for 100 metronomes”. I was enthralled by the unique soundscape, an inexplicable cacophony of beautiful noise that changed over time as the mechanical metronomes slowed down, eventually to finish with the last metronome coming to a halt.
The most appropriate influence comes from the use of his music in the soundtrack to 2001: A Space Odyssey by Stanley Kubrick, which includes excerpts from four of his pieces: Atmosphères, Lux Aeterna, Requiem and Aventures. The dense clusters of chords in Lux Aeterna, sung by a choir and the micropolyphony of the orchestra in Atmosphères directly influenced my approach to the soundscape for the “Static” and “Dynamic” themes in my soundtrack.
Music, Structure and Metaphor in Stanley Kubrick’s “2001: A Space Odyssey”
David W. Patterson
American Music Vol. 22, No. 3 (Autumn, 2004), pp. 444-474 (31 pages)
Published by: University of Illinois Press
This book contains much information about the music used in the film, from Richard Strauss’ Also sprach Zarathustra and Johann Strauss II’s The Blue Danube to Ligeti’s deeply unsettling avant-garde pieces. An interesting read that provides much insight into Kubrick’s methodology and exploratory use of music in his film.
Some minutes later my presentation was over. I overran on the allocated time, but wasn’t crucified for my audacity.
During my online tutorial #3 with Miranda, she gave me some very useful (and mildly disheartening) feedback. As this is my first video presentation, I was helped to realise some of the shortcomings I will have to overcome, but I was encouraged by M’s mainly positive response and appropriate suggestions.
We began with a “ritual”. I faced my “benign neglect” style of parenting in relation to my slowly growing acorn. I trusted that an agreeable outcome would be the result and wished my acorn a safe and charmed life in a community of like-minded beings.
There was another chance to present my project, see other student’s work and be (mostly) a group in a room (for the last time). I was pleased with the feedback I received and it encouraged me to work more on my video. In the following days I added finishing touches, changed some text and worked on consistent formatting, re-imported a revised “splatch” sound, improved the timings and added a copyright notice, re. Miranda’s suggestion.
I had made a second video to compliment the first, but it was considered superfluous by the group. I subsequently made a reverse version of the video, which I do like very much as a compliment to the first. We shall see if it passes the judgement of the committee.
I find it interesting that my concept has taken weeks and weeks to solidify and only now am I able to begin understanding what it means to me. “Why is it going backwards?” It’s a metaphor for memory! I should gather my comprehension in readiness for the rigours of the Winter Show.
My double contribution to the Winter Show is accepted. I’m asked to provide some artist profile text and pictures.
Tim Beckham is a 2nd year Fine Arts student. His recurring obsessions include music & sound, digital photography & manipulation, painting & not-painting, serendipity & process.
This is his 2nd appearance in the Winter Show, having exhibited his work: musicalandscape, last year.
This year his project is called: static/dynamic – the flora & fauna of perception. It is a video-based journey into a double-sided mirror… mindful or mindless, being at rest or being in motion, being witness or participant… a static/dynamic conundrum of perception.
The Winter Show 2020.
Our moment of glory. I “book-ended” the show with my two video pieces. There was rather a lot of good stuff in between.
Audio/visual input/output system.
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