Listening and Sound
The second week covered the idea of sound art, and using sounds to convey a message rather than relying on visuals, like most art does. This was a brand new concept to me, as I hadn’t explored using sound during my art before, and so it was quite intimidating at first.
Considering the newness of the concept, we started with a partnered activity. I worked alongside Janos to do a deep listening task outside in which we walked with our eyes closed down a street, spotting for one another as we did to be safe. We went both forwards and backwards – with varying results. For me, it felt freeing as an activity, as it made me realise just how much we rely on our sense of sight in day-to-day life. It felt strange, and unnatural, to hone so deeply in on my sense of listening in order to observe the world around me, and I felt I could hear more as a result of this exercise – focusing in on every little sound around me, from the sound of a distant car to the sound of leaves hitting one another in the wind. It also felt quite calming – despite the stress of not quite understanding where you are. This helped me gain an understanding of just how vastly sound and emotions could be linked, as I’d never taken that into consideration either.
Personally, I don’t find my initial ideas to be ones that would ever include sound as a primary OR secondary feature, so it was a challenge to think about how I could implement it into my own work. We looked at a range of different sources of sound artists, such as John Cage – who created a piece of work called 4’33”, a completely silent piece of music, and it had me think of just how empowering, or loud, that silence can really be. This had me think about other sounds that you don’t quite notice unless it is silent, like the subtle humming of a light, or the spinning of a fan inside of a laptop. These aren’t ever things you ever pay attention to unless there’s nothing else to hear – and with that I saw potential for my work.
As I am focusing on mental health, there is a lot of stigma around the area, and there have been times where I have not felt heard enough. This idea of implementing a sound that you only find when it’s silent, like an ambience, could be exactly what I’m looking for when doing my piece – and it had me think about potentially framing an installation around that idea, perhaps in a quiet room, where you’re left alone to think with the piece itself. I also looked at Oliveros Pauline’s “Deep Listening”, which detailed a lot of activities regarding enhancing your focus on sound, hoping to find inspiration in one of their techniques. As a second activity however, we took our focus more towards creating sound from the world around us – so I went outside once more. When doing my listening activity with Janos, I took a liking to the sound of some of the floors I walked across. One of these was garden pebbles, and the crunching of branches beneath me. They felt very natural – very gritty, and not something I really focus on when I’m just getting on with my day-to-day life.
Reflecting on my sounds, I think I really liked the natural sounds more than the sound of the metal bars. Whilst it created an interesting sound, it felt rougher in a way – despite being a softer sound than the ones I had made, and the reverberating noise just wasn’t something I was interested in. Despite all of my sounds being loud, I think I want to try a lot more subtlety next time I try this, as I don’t think rougher sounds will work for my project unless I use breaking sounds – but that comes with the risk of my piece sounding potentially violent, which is NOT something I want to convey. Whilst mental health can be violent, and it can be unpredictably cruel, I want to focus on fragility that comes after or before breaking
For our final activity, we were tasked with creating a 2 minute piece of sound art. For mine, I chose to tell a narrative. For this, I want to create an activity..
Listen to the piece below, identify what sounds you can, and try to identify the theme.
When you’re done listening, click the button below to open my idea for it.
Click here to reveal the actual theme – did you get it right? Or something completely different? I aimed to have identifiable sounds.
For this piece, I tried to convey a stressed artist. This is a position I have been in many times before, and I wanted to add erratic sounds that really help convey this idea of stress, and having to get things done before a deadline. I used felt tips, markers, pencils, books and paper in order to create the various sound effects – scribbling on pieces, ripping others, the sigh after holding your breath to keep your lines steady, and the sound of anxiously trying to put a lid on a pen when your hands are shaking – because I feel like I’m not alone in missing the pen with the lid many times! It happens, and this, in a good way, is hopefully relatable for listeners of an artistic or creative background.
I personally think that piece was successful, and helped convey a strong message, and has opened my eyes to the art of listening. Using this, I will take it forwards to site specific art in order to try and merge the two whilst keeping my original concept as close as I can, as I want to make that idea work.
Artist Research and Next Steps
For a while, I felt completely lost on what to do in order to have my work relate to sound art. I did not have any ideas at all other than this idea of using subtlety – but Caitlin brought up a great idea to me based off of something she explored in one of her projects, to do with inviting people to listen to something by placing on a pair of headphones and listening to someone’s account. This idea of potentially bringing something almost biographical into my work really spoke to me, especially considering my subject matter of mental health.
Despite not being a sound artist, this idea really reminded me of an artist I looked at briefly in sixth form – called Geloy Concepcion, a photographer who also works with text overlays and blocking out figures distinctly. Focusing on his project, “Things You Wanted To Say But Never Did”, I used the sensitive, intimate nature of his works in order to forge my own idea of what I wanted for my sound piece. I thought to create anonymous accounts, either told by myself or with an altered voice to hide identities completely including my own, which I would gather with a survey – asking those around me and those in the University who were willing to send an intimate, anonymised account of their experience with mental health disorders, potentially more specifically personality disorders.
Geloy Concepcion is a Filipino artist who works with old photos, usually cutting the person out of the frame by silhouetting them with white. They are oftentimes incredibly personal, intimate, and are exactly as the title of his project states – things that you maybe thought in your head but never said out loud. I find his work incredibly powerful especially in conveying mental health or emotions, as the words and phrases he uses are incredibly raw, unfiltered, and depending on who you are and what you’ve been through, undeniably relatable. His work covers a lot of fear, a lot of guilt, regret – and I feel like this is definitely something relatable for those struggling with a personality disorder as regulating these feelings aren’t easy. Truthfully, I find myself relating to quite a few of his works – which is why I want to use him as inspiration. Despite being a photography based artist, I think I can take this similar idea and turn it into a powerful sound piece, where I can tell people’s stories and invite people to interact with my work by listening to them.
Below – images of Geloy Concepcion’s work from his “Things You Wanted To Say But Never Did” project, not my own images.
I tested what this might sound like with my own voice and whether or not I was comfortable reading from someone’s past experiences and having myself be heard doing so by recording a quick recount of my own struggles. I find it incredibly empowered speaking about my own issues and what I struggle with in my life, it is something so freeing and I love allowing myself to be vulnerable – but I of course have to make sure first of all that this is something I am comfortable with.
Re-listening to the recordings and reflecting on this, it was tough. Despite being open about my mental health conditions, there’s still something in my head that means it feels so weird when I listen to myself speak so openly about it. However, understanding my project, I feel safe and comfortable with letting this information be public – because I know someone out there, whether this reaches my target audience now, or later – will understand me, and relate to my struggles.
This was a chance to practice and see what an end result might look like for my sound installation, except I’d be reading from potential other people’s experiences rather than my own – and I’d definitely have a bit more of a script to fill up the empty space. But at the same time – this provided another question. Do I read from a script or do I freely speak about these difficult life experiences? Both authentic in their words, but I feel as if one would have more of a realistic touch to it. This would be something to think about in later weeks.
Content warning for the next two audio files:
Discussion of high and low mood, struggle in health, experience with numbness and feeling overwhelmed. Listen at your own discretion, as I understand the content can be quite heavy-weighted.