--------- Blog 3.1: surveying: seedlings and paths
16/07/16 afternoon, Sunny, top 12C.
Went to the Botanical Gardens, walked around twice, decided that the seedlings planted, enclosed by plastic and stakes to shelter them, were an interesting pattern and site. A few days previous I watched a council person planting them. His footsteps were still evident in amongst the soil in the area. Walking in the indents of the footprints, I traced out a new path. There were traces of practice - the action of planting the seedlings was left in the footprints.
Then, using a folding ruler, I tried to survey and measure the footsteps and new paths, aligning to previous traces of activity, and the seedlings’ new structures and positions.
Interview & words by Megan Spencer
'I have no idea where this will lead us, but I have a definite feeling it will be a place both wonderful and strange.' – Agent Dale Cooper, Twin Peaks*
The World of Hidden Sounds is the inaugural Seedpod Amplified presented by Punctum Inc.
It brings together former collaborators, sound artists Simon Whetham (UK) and Eamon Sprod (AU), who in 2012 worked closely with local sound practitioners Jacques Soddell and Lizzie Pogson to produce Seedpod Project, Active Crossover.
Staged in Punctum’s underground ICU performance space, it was a deeply engaging, “graceful and kinetic” site-specific sound installation, revealing accomplished artists with a deep love for exploring active listening through live performance.
Similarly The World of Hidden Sounds aims to transform an entire building into a sound system, this time Old Castlemaine Gaol. Harnessing the talents and support of Grade 5 & 6 students from Castlemaine Primary School (alongside teachers and parents), it is a community collaboration of epic proportions, with weeks of planning, preparation and creative collaboration involved – including field recordings in locations as diverse as the local landfill (tip), Hanging Rock, Deborah Goldmine and Forest Creek.
Two weeks out from their concert, Simon Whetham and Eamon Sprod have kindly taken some time to answer a few questions about The Hidden World Of Sounds, and their collaborative process in Castlemaine.
What do you love about working with sound?
SIMON WHETHAM: I find the whole process of working with sound exciting: from the discovery of an interesting or unexpected sound to capturing it, from editing and composing to performing and activating a space in an intangible but physical way.
I also enjoy that there are (or should not be) any rules governing this area of creation. I have my own tastes and preferences of course, but why shouldn't I try and use sound sources as diverse as crickets, electromagnetic hum, radio waves, fire, guitar or struck metal rods to create work if they have a place within it?
EAMON SPROD: I suppose I have always had an equal interest in contemporary ‘visual’ art and music, so at some point it just seemed logical to somehow bring them together. Or perhaps more accurately, I stumbled upon the idea that you could bring them together which seemed to make perfect sense to me.
I like the texture of it, the tactility. Sound is quite a physical and sensual thing, both to make and to listen to. I like that it makes you feel things
Sound retains a sense of mystery. I can record a sound and then by simply removing it from its location of origin, its source, it is abstracted to the point where a listener does not know where it comes from or what it is. All they know is that it comes from the ‘real world’ - an idea I personally reject as there is no ‘real world’ - and will place their own story or meaning upon it.
Increasingly through my work I have become aware of how much you can learn about your surrounds from sound, how it shapes your experience of the every day and how sound can be manipulated to effect your experience or behaviour, both for good and for ill.
How would you describe your approach to working with sound – and the kinds of works you make?
SW: It's always about exploration for me and I still tend to work with field recording techniques and various types of microphones to investigate a location, combining recorded sounds with physical actions.
I have previously worked with installations, but for me the direct exchange found in concerts, lectures and workshops is much more preferable. Over the last few years my work has become more concerned with exchange rather than the impersonal presentation of a result.
This carries through to my desire to collaborate with different artists. There is always an exchange, always some compromise, always something to be learnt.
In regards to performance improvisation, even within a structure, it is essential. I don't want to perform the same work over and over again. I want to present something unique and responsive each time I perform.
ES: At its core I have always thought of my work more or less as collage. I take the sound of one location and combine it with another and make a third space altogether. Like William Burroughs and Brion Gysin's ‘Third Mind’.
I personally have no interest in ‘field recording’ as documentation; rather I gather various sounds, objects and actions and somehow combine these to create a response to my experience and/or thoughts about a location or situation.
Essentially my work is process driven, so I tend to look at the ‘finished’ works - be it a CD, performance or an installation - as a by-product of that process, rather than the point in itself. That is not to say that the end product is not important; it is, it is just not the sole or even major point of the process.
Art is most interesting to me personally as an activity, not as something to sit back and observe. Hence doing things like workshops where people get to actually have some input into creating their own experience. It is interesting that while most people aren't really that interested in noise music, they are more than happy to make it themselves!!
The best compliment I had regarding a performance, which was here in Castlemaine at the ICU, was being sent an email afterwards saying that while the person in question had enjoyed the performance, he and his girlfriend’s bicycle ride home in the dark afterwards had been their best ever, as they really heard the ride and their surrounds in a new way. I can't ask for more than that!
What is the value of site-specific works?
SW: Working with sound, it becomes clear very quickly that every space has a different sonic quality. To explore the space and the objects within it is one thing that keeps me excited about what I do.
Personally speaking, the value of site-specific work is (as I mentioned above), it makes a work unique, even in some small way. It is always a challenge to work with new spaces and places, and people, which test your methods, approaches and ideas, creating a certain tension.
And there is always the risk of a project failing - which can't fail to contribute to that tension!
ES: I don't know about value, but I find site-specific works particularly interesting for myself because they open up a whole new world of possibilities for sound exploration.
Sound very much operates within space, so an exploration of sound often becomes an exploration of space. I guess this is the core of site-specific sound works. Again it comes back to showing people a different perspective on an awareness of things.
So for many of these works, sound and the physical space become equal participants in the work, one being shaped by the other. In fact the space makes many of the decisions for you; what sort of sounds can be found in the space - and how sound is shaped by the location - dictates what sounds you can use; how the building is physically laid out affects not only the sound, but also where you physically place an audience and yourself in relations to the sounds, and so on.
To make a slightly clumsy musical analogy, the space becomes an instrument. In some ways you are working with space as much as with sound, and personally I find these explorations endlessly fascinating.
Could you give us a brief a snapshot of your process behind The Hidden World of Sounds?
SW: The original idea behind the project was to work closely with Eamon and a group of young people in Castlemaine to explore the town for those sounds normally unheard, either because they are drowned out by traffic and everyday human activity or because they can't be heard without, for example, putting your ear against an object.
It was based on a much larger project I participated in in Colombia last year where I worked with seven groups of youths across the city of Medellín.
The project in Castlemaine has more focus on our methods and the reasons behind what we do, giving the students of Castlemaine Primary School the tools to listen more actively, notice these often neglected sounds and record them.
We go on to demonstrate how this approach leads to the exploration of a space – in this case the gaol – and how we then apply this exploration to a concert setting. It is an extension of the process in that the participants will be demonstrating to an audience what we have been demonstrating to them throughout the project.
ES: We started with an idea based on a series of workshops Simon had given in various locations around the world, working more recently with kids - showing them a little about how sound works, how various microphones work and what you can do with these sounds etc.
We have adapted this as we have gone along, as various situations have altered the possibilities of what we can do. For example, working with large groups and limited time within a school caused us to drop many of the things we would have liked to explore, in an attempt to get to what is perhaps more essential.
We have then had to adapt some of the things we are dealing with in the school to fit into a performance within the Old Gaol, so we have been looking how the Gaol is physically and sonically set out, how we can compose a piece for various groups of kids to explore and exploit these aspects.
Hopefully the kids will be able to contribute to this as much as we can. I am much more interested in getting them to help shape our response to the Gaol, than the reverse.
Simon, this is your second trip back to work with sound in The Goldfields; what draws you to it? How would you describe the types of sounds you find here, and makes it unique and enjoyable for you, as a sound artist?
SW: This second trip allows me to continue a working relationship that was started over 2 years ago with Mr. [Eamon] Sprod, an amazing artist and now good friend. And also to reconnect with a few other friends I made when here last time.
During my last trip [for the ‘Active Crossover’ Seedpod], Lizzie Pogson, Eamon and I took a trip to the dredge and to Maldon. I think this was the only time I actually got to explore outside of the ICU – the space on which we all concentrated our efforts (Jacques Soddell included).
I still remember that trip; our travelling there together, clambering across the rope to get access, investigating the dredge's sonic qualities. I enjoy shared experiences such as this and the Goldfields seem to have a certain freedom that allows one to do this more easily than say the UK.
I also felt I did not get to know Castlemaine, the town and the people, at all last time I was here, so wanted a chance to do so.
Simon, what do you like about working with Eamon? Have you learned in particular anything from him?
SW: I am a big fan of Eamon's work and also count him as one of my good friends, but working with him has been interesting. Although we have very similar approaches to our work, we come from different viewpoints and backgrounds, artistically.
I feel we also have similar ideas when it comes to producing work, but end up in very different places.
He is creative and resourceful, grounded, and decisive without being overbearing, which has made him an excellent collaborator. Often I get swept along in the flow of a project and can lose track of the reason behind things, which he has been mindful of keeping us aware of.
And Eamon, this is your second time collaborating with Simon too; what do you value about this collaboration?
ES: Collaboration is a central aspect to a lot of sound practise. While Simon and I think fairly differently about a number of things we do seem to work well together.
This difference of view is what actually makes collaboration interesting; it allows you to step outside of your usual response to a situation and get pushed or pulled into new areas. You have to give up (some of) your own personal prejudices to the benefit of the final project. Which is - when it works - an interesting and enjoyable learning experience.
Simon is very much a ‘do-er’; he is up for stuff. I have a tendency to overthink things (although I am making no claim about the depth of these thoughts!), which can bring me to a stand still. So working with him helps me to actually leave the house and do something!!
There is a great benefit to simply barrelling into a situation and then having to figure out what the hell you are doing there and what to do next. Something I too often forget…
How are the children from the primary school involved in this collaboration – and their reactions to the project? Have they embraced the task and activities?
SW: The initial idea for the project to involve the children was to explore the town with them much earlier on in the project.
However we only had one hour each week with the groups and we felt it was essential that they have a fundamental understanding of what it is we do before dashing around town with recording devices and contact microphones.
The children were going to show us the town, exploring its obscured sounds and at the same time helping us engage with the townsfolk in the street or in their stores.
Although this has occurred much later in the project than anticipated, all of this did happen during the first of our two three-hour holiday sessions. We had some children who had not attended the class sessions come to the holiday sessions, but the ones who had explained the whole process and all the activities, including the thought behind them, perfectly.
These participants who have been more deeply involved - and their incredibly active parents - will be participants in the concert presentations we will be holding at the gaol.
Eamon - what has the experience been like for you working with the children at the primary school? What do you think they have brought to the process?
ES: Working with the kids has been great; they are so much more up for things than we adults, and their enthusiasm and curiosity is great to be around.
It has been difficult within the class time to be as expansive as we had planned, and difficult to get as much input as we would have liked, unfortunately. But I think the kids enjoyed our activities and hopefully we have left them with a few the seeds of a few useful ideas.
Our first holiday workshop was great; kids discover so many things we miss.
Our second workshop is coming up and will be in the Gaol, so this is where we will hopefully get some more direct input from the kids into how the performance will take shape. And hopefully give them much more opportunity to put some of their own thoughts and experiences of into practise.
And who else have you both worked with and received support from, with here, in Castlemaine?
SW: We have collaborated closely with Joseph Bromley and Thais Sansom, the teachers whose classes we have been teaching at the school, and of course the children.
For me personally, I have been strongly supported in many various ways by (in no particular order!) Rex Hardjadibrata and Caty Christofakis, Tony Falla and Michelle Grobie, Klare Lanson, Dani Powell, Anthony Salpietro, Lizzie Pogson, Wayne O'Toole, Carmela Leone, Georg and Klaire at the Central Deborah Mine.
And I'd really like to mention here, not only have I been lent a very nice mountain bike by a complete stranger (thanks Anthony Salpietro!), but friend and fellow sound artist Lizzie Pogson has lent us her car for the remaining 2 weeks of the project, which gives us a huge amount of freedom to explore further in this short time.
And the ever-increasing number of people who want to know more about the project and invite me/us to dinner is incredible. Thank you people of Castlemaine and beyond!
ES: Castlemaine Primary have been really keen and supportive, in particular the performance teachers Thais Sanson and Joseph Bromely have been wonderful and without whose support we would have struggled greatly.
For our first holiday workshops, two parents Sam and Joel joined us and apart from their assistance with the children, they seemed to really enjoy the experience and ended up as equal-part participants. They would guide the children, taking them into shops and finding the points of the creek to stick their microphones into etc.
It was really great to have them along. Many of their thoughts, observations and questions were of great benefit to us.
Simon – any parting words from you about working on this Seedpod Amplified project?
SW: I did mention that this project is still very much a process, although the expectation was to present something more 'finished'.
The way the work is being constructed relies completely on what is possible here in Castlemaine, regarding:
- The results of sonic exploration of locations both with and without the children,
- Including whether we could gain access to sites or not;
- Whether we had transport or not; if we could borrow items such as tools;
- How many children wanted or were able to participate in the final events;
- The venue for the events;
- How much time we had to devote to administration of aspects of the project.
All of these factors - and more - have meant that the project is already very different from the one proposed. This is not a negative statement - the result is totally defined by it's taking place in Castlemaine – a response to the town.
And I can assure you, it will still be challenging and ambitious, and fun for both us the performers and the audience!
ES: Our work is really very process-driven, so despite all our scheming and planning we won’t really know what is going to happen until it has happened.
Which is what makes it both anxiety-inducing and fun!
* Thanks to Simon Whetham for supplying this quote!
The World of Hidden Sounds is at Castlemaine Gaol on Saturday July 20, 2014
The World of Hidden Sounds is the inaugural Seedpod Amplified project presented by Punctum Inc. More about Seedpod Amplified here