Stew gallery preparations and anxieties

The Stew exhibition is looming. Here are my problems:

1. It is too cold to record. The idea of it seems straight-out unattractive at the moment, of sitting late at night in a single spot in the rain on a rooftop car park. This is a necessity, however, because of the second problem:

2. Isolation – of sound. While the last sound map was successful for the room it was in, I want this one to span the entire studio in a way that seems exploratory rather than confining. In my experience, there is a disconnect between what the listener regards as natural recording and objective recording. The human ear is capable of concentrating on a single sound – or, rather, the cerebral processing of aural information contains within it a type of semi-cognitive filtering that we take for granted. Background noises are placed in the background both in terms of volume and importance, and information that may have been vital to us on an instinctive or primitive level is highlighted.

3. While modern microphones and recording devices are reasonably intelligent, they are not subjective or instinctive. If a background noise is picked up and pushed through a speaker, we tend to notice this, and it seems unnatural. Therefore, the most natural way to experience sound is as single, isolated objects. My rationalisation for this is the comparatively simplistic language we use when hearing unsubjugated amplified sound (rather than processed sound) compared with our heavily trained and complex language for decoding the same amount (or type) of visual information. We have reached the point where our brains compute perspective in films as second nature – this was not the case when, 100 years ago, the Lumiere brothers would show a film of a train pulling into a station and the audiences would scream or duck out of the way of the incoming locomotive. Our capacity for unadulterated field recordings lacks this same ability to configure aural perspective.

If I am aware of this unintended alienation of listener from natural sound then, at this point, is it not in my interest and the interest of the viewer/listener to do all I can to make it seem more natural? This is a difficult question. I will say that I will never alter the recordings themselves with post-processing techniques apart from crossfades and volume.

With these points in mind, and while making and listening to the raw tapes from this section of recording (the process of listening back to a lived-experience several hours later has something uncanny about it), I thought it would be a good idea to make three seperate maps of varying lengths, and to play them at the same time in different sections of the gallery. They will, of course, overlap, as the gallery is open and not so big – this is intended. By making them slightly different in length, I’m hoping there will be a very shallow chance of constant repetition, and that there may even be some absolutely unique and serendipitous collision of sound that I could not have organised or forseen. I will also split the recordings into themes:

– Speech, voices, words;
– Industrial/abstract sound;
– The ghost of music.

Each map will concentrate on one theme, to hopefully orientate the listener while not focusing on the false-positive of isolated sound. Ideally, I’d like each map to have four speakers each, in pairs, facing each other…and then perhaps a final room where each map has a speaker each. I just thought of that last bit – it may sound too cacophonous and detract from the photos. We shall have to see.

The basic layout of the gallery is as follows:

And this is where I’m roughly thinking about putting the speakers and the different maps, where green is voices, yellow is abstract/industrial, and red is music. Blue is all three together, with one speaker each.

In that final blue room, Angus is also going to project two slightly overlapping double-exposed images from 35mm slide projectors. We have talked about the possibility of the sound (of the speakers and that beautiful projector whirr-hum) overcrowding the images, but it seems that we had the same idea about what we wanted that room to be – not a resolved ending, but something almost overwhelming, where the previously separate elements of the exhibition all come at you at once. I often feel that there is a great pressure on the final clause of an exhibition: does it answer its posited question, or does it step back to ambiguity? In life it seems we are taught to do the former, and then the latter, and then we make a choice about whether we want to continue asking questions or start getting some answers. I like to think that the final room does both: it gives you everything, every bit of information that you have registered in the previous rooms, right there. Perhaps there is an answer here, but it’s too fucking loud and colourful to think about it.


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