In November, the Sonic Art Research Unit in Oxford are hosting Significant Landscapes, a series exploring sound, silence, and writing, including a realisation of Michael Pisaro’s July Mountain, Stefan Thut’s Givens 1-16 and accompanying installation, and eight hours of new performance works featuring The Set Ensemble and James Saunders‘ ensemble Material at Holywell Music Room. Thee is also a symposium, ‘Writing Sound’, which I will be contributing to along with Salome Voegelin from CRISAP, artist and writer David Stent, composer Michael Pisarro (CalArts), writer Daniella Cascella, and artist Patrick Farmer. It’s on the 7th November and is free to anyone – see details.
I’ll be giving a talk called ”Sung through the forest mirror’: the forest echo and non-singular language’, so I’ve been reading recently a little bit about Murray Schafer’s idea of ‘schizophonia’ (in The Soundscape: Our Sonic Environment and the Tuning of Our World, p. 273), as well as histories of the echo-device as a pastoral topos (in John Hollander’s The Figure of Echo, Joseph Loewenstein’s Responsive Readings, etc.) I’ll be looking at the trope of the returned voice from the forest as it is handled in twentieth century theory and poetry, and its various modellings of reverberation, amplification, transmission, and distortion. From Thoreau’s Aeolian echo in the woods of Maine, to Benjamin’s translator’s voice returning from the Bergwalde der Sprache, every signifying act in the forest emits a kind of problematic static, or a repeat (what Jed Rasula in Shadow Mouth calls ‘a tautology that challenges’). I’ll explore the forest echo as a form of Irish bi-lingual politics and a metaphor for auditory surveillance in Ciaran Carson’s For All We Know, as a pantheistic transformation in Eric Mottram’s A Book of Herne, and as an iterative device in Caroline Bergvall’s Via. The paper will make comparison to other kinds of sound-work in the forest – from radio installations to ecological monitoring – and give examples of a number of sound settings (including Heiner Goebbels’s and Boubaker Djebate’s Or The Hapless Landing and John Kenny’s setting of Eric Mottram’s A Book of Herne). Drawing on Schubert, Dante, and other sources, the texts under discussion are full of unfamiliar transmissions, ‘distort(ing) the I song in the green wood’ (Mottram) and making impossible any exclusionary communication or absolute language in the forest.
The poster for the event series is below. For those interested in these issues, there are some other coming events which may be of interest. The Hearing Landscape Critically cross-disciplinary network has just issued a call for papers here for its second meeting. Voxlab is also running a free symposium and evening performance at the Science Museum in November on The Voice (programme here), which will include papers on “sumbisori” and oceanography, deer voices and vocal biodiversity, auditory worlds, and technologies of communication.
I also caught the London Film Festival screening of Silence - which I went to with Andrew Ray, aka Some Landscapes, who reviews it here - and am now thinking about developments for a Passengerfilms screening around this film. The main character is a sound recordist who we see collecting and listening to sounds around Galway, Inishbofin, Kerry, and the west of Ireland, which are themselves repeated later in the soundtrack – so it has this sonic self-referential quality, as well as playing with diegetic and anti-diegetic sound. It also investigates ideas of sound as haunting (the director has explicitly referred to David Toop’s book Sinister Resonance: The Mediumship of the Listener). Through half-improvised discussions with local people encountered along the way, the film investigates themes of sound and memory – Irish folk songs, old cassette tapes, the sound of the shore, birdsong which still mimics agricultural machinery from fifty years ago.
For more information on the Significant Landscapes series please contact Paul Whitty at pwhitty(at)brookes.ac.uk.