Authors: David Chapman and David Cottridge
Format: Video documenting Site Specific AV installation
The whole of Hark is available at: http://www.st-andrews.ac.uk/~soundanth/work/chapman/
Hark is a site-specific audio-visual installation, comprising a series of three combined audio compositions and animated photographic image sequences. The material for Hark was gathered primarily in Gunpowder Park, in the Lee Valley near Waltham Abbey, during the period of its transformation from abandoned munitions testing site to reclaimed and managed parkland. It was first exhibited in the Field Station Gallery at Gunpowder Park in November 2005, being installed in a darkened space with a single projected image and 5:1 surround sound speaker array. The work is a result of a durational engagement with the site, which marks and responds to seasonal shifts, such as weather patterns, migratory movements and breeding behaviours and the physical development of the park and its surroundings.
Hark is the first work to come out of my collaboration with natural history photographer David Cottridge. The initial issue for the project was how our individual audio and visual practices might be integrated in a collaborative piece of work. This involved finding both a practical methodology and a conceptual framework, so the exercise was not just an arbitrary linkage between discrete sounds and images. I was initially struck by the graphic quality of David Cottridge’s images and saw this as a possible point of engagement. I have been interested in the use of ‘graphic scores’, in terms of both their function to direct musical / sound events but also as interesting visual works in their own right. The graphic score has been a significant feature of the post-war musical avant-garde, most notably perhaps in the work of John Cage, helping to facilitate a new, less deterministic, relationship between composer, performer and text.
The visual aspect of the work is a series of composite macro photographs that explore the texture, colour and form of tree bark, lichens and mosses growing in Gunpowder Park. These images were then animated, creating a steady movement across the image, to allow them to be explored more intently and to suggest a form of narrative or journey through the images. The resulting images intending to suggest new landscapes and an ambivalent sense of spatial relationships for the viewer. David Cottridge’s photographic work for Hark has developed from a long established career as a natural history photographer, specialising in birdlife. He has also had a long-term interest in questions of visual abstraction, developed during his fine art training, and the creation of images that featured birds as an element in a wider natural setting, as opposed to being central to the image. Subsequently, the surrounding habitats gradually became more prominent in the frame to the point where a series of works were produced, including those used for Hark, which fore-grounded these elements exclusively. Images that explored the abstract visual qualities of natural surfaces of rocks and trees and the transitions between light and shadow.
My interaction with the images as ‘score’, involved a personal response to the textures, tones and forms within the original image and the subsequent transformations and animation. The images act as both a subjective trigger and a structuring device. If the image and sound elements could operate separately their combination intends to create something additional to both. I see this in relation to what Michel Chion terms ‘synchresis’, “the spontaneous and irresistible weld produced between a particular auditory phenomenon and visual phenomenon when they occur at the same time” (1994:63). Although Chion is writing primarily about narrative film he acknowledges that the phenomenon goes beyond this and is more universally applicable. In more abstract work synchresis also occurs, “with images and sounds that strictly speaking have nothing to do with each other, forming monstrous yet inevitable and irresistible agglomerations in our perception” (1994:63). Hark while inviting an audience to consider the relationship between the sound and image, also intends to foreground the mechanisms by which we might make connections between what we see and what we hear in audio-visual work.
The audio element of this project was based on extensive field recordings made over a number of years in Gunpowder Park and surrounding areas. This involved the recording of bio-acoustic and environmental sounds as well as recordings of our physical interactions with the environment. Hark references histories and trajectories of sound production based on environmental recordings form the contrasting approaches of musique concrète of the 1950’s to the environmental soundscape work and notions of acoustic ecology derived from the writings and practice of R. Murray Schafer (1994). These field recordings are used in Hark as both ‘sonorous objects’, (digitally reworked to destabilise their linkage with an identifiable source) and distinctive markers of origin and place. The use of ‘surround sound’ for the exhibition engages with both contemporary installation work and entertainment-orientated systems that seek to create more ‘immersive’ media experiences. I was interested with this project to consider how these particular audio technologies alter the perceptual responses to moving image media, using them to control the spatial arrangement of sound and therefore viewer/listener’s experience of the piece as they moved around the installation. It also worked on the audience on a more directly visceral level through the use of low-frequency speakers. Although the viewer loses a certain physicality of experience when only watching a screen-based presentation of the project, I consider, based on informal audience feedback, that sound and image still have an affective life beyond the installation.
Hark is the latest development in my recent body of sound and installation work, which attempts to map and investigate the complex histories, functions and resonances of particular environments and public spaces. With Hark the intention was to find ways to interact with this ‘green-space’ without reducing the work to a straightforward documentary record or a comfortable ruralism – engaging audiences with the complexity of the site by emphasising the intriguing and often unsettling sounds latent within this specific environment.
Hark was commissioned and funded by Gunpowder Park with additional financial support from Arts Council England. As well as the initial exhibition the work has been presented at: March 2006 ‘Hearing Things: art and hearing’, seminar, UCL, Ear Institute: centre for auditory research June 2006 ‘Sound and Anthropology’ conference, University of St Andrews Feb. 2007 ‘Sound:Space’ (Sound art symposium), South Hill Park Arts Centre, Bracknell.
Chion, M. (1994) Audio-vision: sound on screen, Columbia University Press, New York
Schafer, R. M. (1994) The Soundscape: our sonic environment and the tuning of the world, Destiny Books, Rochester: Vermont
All reviews refer to original research statements which have been edited in response to what follows
Review 1: Accept subject to rewrite of statement
A 15 minute video, documenting an installation of the same title, originally exhibited at Gunpowder Park, Waltham Abbey in November 2005. With either a stereo or surround sound soundtrack, Hark consists of a series of very slow pans left to right across high resolution photographs (‘macro-photographic images’) of extreme close-ups of the surface texture and fauna of various trees’ bark, taken by natural history photographer David Cottridge. Comprising of a series of three combined audio compositions by David Chapman, three image sequences of dissolves between the panned photographs have been constructed seeking to ‘explore the texture, colour and form of tree bark, lichens and mosses growing in Gunpowder Park’. It is the artists’ intention for the visual element of the work to suggest new landscapes, an ambivalent sense of spatial relationship for the viewer, and a suggested form of narrative or journey by means of the animated movement over and through the image sequence.
The soundtrack draws on extensive field recordings made over a number of years in the Park and surrounding areas, including bio-acoustic and environmental sounds. The resulting composition was informed by ideas around the ‘graphic score’ using the graphic composition of the images as one influencing factor. The work also references music concrete, the work of R. Murray Schafer on acoustic ecology, and Michel Chion’s writing about ‘synchresis’.
Hark becomes one part of a body of work seeking to ‘map and investigate the complex histories, functions and resonances of particular environments and public spaces’, in this instance the transformation from abandoned munitions testing site to reclaimed and managed parkland of Gunpowder Park; the original installation being presented in a darkened space of the Field Station Gallery at the Park, with single projected image and 5.1 surround sound.
Notes on Supporting Statement
The supporting statement is written by David Chapman, the composer of the sound work, and subsequently predominantly refers to his own motivations from the sound compositional side of the project. It would be useful and interesting to hear in more detail about the visual elements of the work from the photographer, and about the process, choices and decisions in animating and presenting the visual images and the research background to this element of the work.
Research Question: David Chapman states clearly how the work comprises part of a body of sound and installation work ‘which attempts to map and investigate the complex histories, functions and resonances of particular environments’ and with this piece of work to specifically interact with ‘this “green space” without reducing the work to a straightforward documentary record or a comfortable ruralism’.
Contexts: The contextualising references in his statement point the work’s ‘research–ness’ towards the ‘Aesthetic Research’ and ‘Process-Based Research’ fields of work, with particular reference to sound/music composition.
As stated above there is little quarter given to research questions raised by or engaged in through the visual elements of the work – photographic, video, installation.
Outcomes: There have been a number of outcomes for this work clearly evidenced in the artist’s statement
Quality: The original commissioning and funding process evidence some quality indicators for the work, as do the subsequent outcomes in terms of selection of the work for presentation at seminars, conferences and galleries.
Review 2: Accept subject to minor rewrite of statement
Recommendation: These pieces look and sound evocative and gorgeous, and do almost exactly what it says in the accompanying text – which also follows the ScreenWork guidelines pretty closely. So my recommendation would be that we accept both the screen work and the statement, with the minor amendments suggested below.
Provisos: There are 3 sections to the piece, each about 5 minutes long. Including all 15 minutes wouldn’t be a problem for me, but I think there may be a case for publishing just one of the sections. Firstly, there will be limited space on the DVD, which I guess we’ll want to be as varied as possible. Secondly it is a ‘site specific installation’, so DVD is not its designated distribution medium. So maybe David would not be unhappy to choose just one section that best illustrates his ‘research intentions’ with the installation. Having said that, I think I would also ask him to add a short paragraph to his text that describes what he thinks might be lost (from the installation experience) by viewing on DVD. Also my impression is that the text he submitted may be more than 1000 words: if so he should be asked to edit it down to the required length.
The Screenwork: I feel at some disadvantage having viewed the work on my computer screen with relatively small, cheap speakers. The experience of seeing it, as intended by the artist, projected in a darkened space with 5:1 surround sound would I imagine be immensely richer. Nevertheless the DVD viewing experience gives strong hints of what this would be like. The images are beautiful – clear, high resolution, close up ‘landscapes’ that move from near abstraction to readily identifiable details of the ‘natural’ worlds being depicted – and the constant, slow tracking movements across them are very arresting. These movements – as I understand it form the text, achieved by electronic animation – have a measured, cool regularity that couldn’t be achieved by a live pan or track, and lend the pieces an extraordinary atmosphere, again both abstract and concrete: an atmosphere of course enhanced by the accompanying, richly layered and textured soundscapes, which do indeed, with the images, produce instances of Chion’s ‘synchresis’, cited in the text.
The Supporting Statement
My guess is that the artist intended his work to sit within category 3 (Aesthetic research) of ScreenWork’s ‘initial, non exhaustive, non prescriptive, suggestions’. Certainly that’s where it seems to me to place itself. The text provides useful information to locate it in this way, as an experiment in interacting audio visually with a ‘green-space’. I was struck by the stated aim of avoiding ‘comfortable ruralism’, because the pieces do this so successfully with both sound and picture. The text also provides useful information about the site the work was designed for, the work ‘biography’ of the artist’s concerns leading to this work, and the broader context of sound work referencing Chion and Schafer. It could perhaps have provided more detail of the context of video installation in general (though this is not my area of expertise).