Sounds we ignore

This is a follow-on from the post about jade’s story. And other women’s stories: my friend’s stories and my own.

Last week, as I was walking home from an amazing evening working on a friend’s solo dance work, I was accosted by a young guy in my local neighbourhood.

He was a charming young man, menacingly telling me how sexy i looked (‘babes’), did i want it?, ‘you know you want it’, delightful displays of his ‘big dick’ and threatening to give me one, even if i didn’t want it. Rapist-in-training type shit.

The whole thing pissed me off. The system in which that interchange exists is a common one and I’m sick of it.

After going through a particularly intense session of identification at the police station, I rang a friend, a trans* woman, who was incredibly supportive. And it occurred to me that she, thankfully, hadn’t spent her whole life rejecting the unwanted advances of men.

I can’t even imagine it.

Most women, since the age of 10 (or younger), spend the rest of our lives in some act of ignoring the unnecessary sexual words and actions of men:

in the street, from cars, right up in our ear whilst our hair is being pulled, in our faces, from across the room, behind us, towards us, sideways, from scaffolding, under their breath, on the tv, on twitter, in memes, passing on the footpath, on the bus, on the train, in the office hallway, in a pub, outside a pub, at a gig, outside a gig, on the dancefloor, outside the club, at night, early morning, whilst walking, whilst jogging, with kids, without kids, in a group, on our own etc, etc, etc, etc, etc, etc, etc.


We develop a reaction early – the paying attention of those words and sounds, the instant assessment of them on our character and varying levels of disregarding them, depending on our character and our self-esteem.

It’s fucking boring and surely a waste of our energy.

I’m sick of hearing it. I’m sick of ignoring it.

hey you, you, hello, hello? hey slut, dyke, freak, nice hair cut, show us your tits, whistle, kiss noises, heyy, sexy, nice tattoo, nice legs, hey sexy, hey, hello?, oi!, slut! nice hair, nice tatts!, show us your tatts, tits, car horns, oi, ladies, hey lady, miss, hey miss, excuse me, you right? can i get your number, heyyyy, shamood, shamout, butana, yo ho’, belle femme, kissy kissy, check this one aaaart…

Give us a break.

word. sound. power: an exhibition review

A few weeks ago, on a gloriously sunny day in London, my fellow smart-lady, Zana, and I covered ourselves in wordiness along the southern bank of the Thames.

We sandwiched the BFI’s screening of Right On! between visits to the Tate Modern Project Space for their brilliant exhibition Word. Sound. Power.

Right On!

The Herbert Danska film is of the (original) Last Poets –  late-60s poets, performers, griots-if-you-will, from New York City. And crucial influences on the development of rap and hip-hop.

It was an amazing film, consisting of an 80-minute flow through eight pieces by the trio, backed by drums, costume changes and amazing black male power on a hot summer afternoon/evening.

The series of spoken word performances –  poems, matras, incantations –  were performed, spat and hand-delivered from the rooftop of a hot Harlem block on a sunny afternoon in 1970, to a dark soporific theatre in London.

As the sun tripped from east to west across the sky, the trio: Felipe Luciano, Gylan Kain and David Nelson, interchanged between lead performer. The different forms for each poets flow, their particular voice and rhythm were mesmerising and supported by a powerful drums, occasional dance and the uhs, ahas and energy of the other two artists.

Works like Poetry is Black, Jazz and James Brown were not so much choreographed, but embodied. As crucial element of the relationship between words and the body, between the themes of race, sexuality, white power and poverty, as they came spilling out.



Word. Sound. Power

Whenever I think about this show, lyrics from the Sub Swara ft Dead Prez song Speak My Language (Machinedrum Mix) comes flooding into my mind:

“This is word sound power, this is rebel soul.

This phenomenal exhibition is rebel soul, curated by two amazing women in conjunction with the fantastic KHOJ artists collective from India. It features 6 artists making work about sound, the voice, the word and power (not that you needed my help in making that leap).

Lawrence Abu Hamdan has two works in the show. His work with Janna Ullrich, Conflicted Phenomes (pictured, pinched from the Tate website) is visual research and data map of Somali spoken language tests enforced to ascertain cultural original, to satisfy criteria for refugee status. As a data excercise on its own, it’s quite beautiful – with its graphic keys to each person’s relationships and language connections

As a reflection of official policy on the business of people’s asylum and freedom implemented by outsourced agents, without checks or balances, it’s creepy.

I was originally suprised to see that Australia uses this for their immigration processes. Then I really remembered Australia’s immigration processes and was unsurprised again.

His other work in the show, The Whole Truth, shines a light on the relationship between the place in which the voice and power intersect: the Lie Detector; When the voice is used to support incarceration, the place in which a person’s (political) voice is removed – according to Foucault.

Caroline Bergvall‘s word drawing and spoken piece was quiet, but striking. A poem, with all of the letter o-s taken out, and placed on the opposite wall, creating a spacial relationship to the word and the sentiment, supported by the surround sound work. It was simple, but I felt things.

Zana and I went back twice to see Mithu Sen perform I am a Poet and both times we missed her – she cancelled one performance, as it was too much to do too many in the day, and then she must have finished the reading early, because it was already over by the time we arrived after the movie. We were both super disappointed because we wanted to hear her.

But her work in the gallery is interesting and engaging nonetheless. I loved her underlying premise of nonsense as resistence. The language is crucially human and that defying the technology of language, there is a core resistance of all that is human.

Nikolaj Bendix Skyum and his videos Arise and Keep Evans Safe Tonight were seemingly a major focus for the exhibition. Although, to be honest, I didn’t feel like they were as crucial to the themes of the show as some of the other works, or the exhibition as a whole. Just my opinion.

The interviews in KEST were quite lovely, giving young men a voice and ability to speak out. I especially enjoyed the KEST boys speaking of the common diasporic experience of going back to the land of one’s parents and suddenly feeling the ease of a culture that is deep within.

Added to the work in the gallery, the essays in the catalogue were amazing.

Both women speak about the relationship between sound, power, culture in different, but equally engaging, ways. They provided second and third angles on the underlying themes of the show, providing a solid triumvirate, reflecting the title itself.

Hansi Momodu-Gorden from Tate Modern writes about the experience of sound, referencing Brandon La Belle and speaking about it as a means of creating an ‘aesthetic space’ and the apparatus of the vocal, quoting Louis Chude-Sokei.

Asmita Rangari – Andi from Khoj speaks about the privilege of using the voice (and other sound means) to speak out – the ability and agency to articulate and the place of silence in this privilege.

The place of words, sound and power in contemporary aesthetics, culture and politics are particularly present at this time and the exhibition is a must-see for anyone remotely interested in any of these things, as well as the ways in which political ideas can be presented aesthetically not didactically.

The exhibition is on until November 2013.

Death: Mike Nelson and Susan Hiller

I have the great fortune of living around the corner from Matt’s Gallery. 

This is especially fortunate when the day is wet and cold and the gallery’s private view is so full that people are queuing down the street in the rain to get into a Mike Nelson installation.

Which is what it was like a few weeks’ ago when I went.

The Mike Nelson and Susan Hiller shows are an excellent combination of contemporary British Art. I like both artists for different reasons, so it felt like a two-for-one deal – great bang for your buck.

Mike Nelson

The insane passage of human bodies that preceeded More things (To the memory of Honoré de Balzac)  is mostly due to the fact that there is so much sculpture – fairly delicate sculpture – jammed into the gallery, requiring a 6-person limit. It also has the added bonus of generating a fair amount of hype and, if I’m generous, perhaps is the real Mike Nelson at work.

Especially because the work inside the gallery is kooky but not what I have come to know from his work.

Yes, there’s his wild-west aesthetic that we all know and love, a few dramatic and poignant pieces – especially an intense assemblage work featuring an Israeli produce box, Arabic signage, American Op.Desertstorm badge and an ‘enter at own risk’ sign – but not the usual installation and spatial influence that thrills me.

The element of surprise or unexpectedness in his work is not obvious, apart from the casual ‘oh, it’s a skull’ and a little more of  ‘oh, this isn’t like his usual work’ reaction, which isn’t satsifactory. It probably means I didn’t try hard enough.

Susan Hiller
On the day of intense queuing, Channels, the Susan Hiller room, was as much a physical respite from the crowds as an aesthetic balance for the Nelson work.

A largely-empty room, with the entire back wall filled with TV sets and screens of various sizes, colours and content. Mostly graphic (not uncomfortable, I mean, plain colours, lines, like graphic design), the screen sculpture conveyed the rhythm of conversations played out – a series of interviews on people’s near-death experiences.

Green oscillators, static, black screens, blue screens and the occasional flicker give an appropriate ‘backdrop’ for listening to sound works: documentary and fractured, you can dip in and out of these stories in the way that radio functions at its best. Or you can sit and stare mesmerised as your eyes wander over the faint rhythm of slowly changing screens as you listen to the whole narrative of these people’s deaths.

The place of light in the space is great, as the audience are bathed in this pale blue light, ghostly and slightly horrific (especially if you’ve ever watched either version of The Ring).

These two works together, opposed creates a beautiful and uncanny death theme running across the gallery, which I loved. The movement from this mortal coil from two different perspectives: hers from direct but calm curiosity in the active dying moments of people’s lives, to his deserted, Death Valley, departed graveyard of symbols that allude to it.

The exhibitons are on until the 14th April, so head to Mile End and check it out and feel free to pop over for a cup of tea afterwards.

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Beats X Mog X HTC

This was an interesting link I came across on Monday night, thanks to digital twink Elliot Bledsoe.

Yes. Beats (by Dre) is now moving and shaking. OK, so really it’s HTC purchasing music infrastructure, but still, the power is coming from a headphones company.

Headphones have previously been subordinate to the tech and the music, especially if they’re part of a company that has investments/arms in all three, like Sony. Headphones have always been ‘peripheral’, or ‘accessory’, not market-leading, or game-changing.

Say what you will about the actual quality of the cans, what Beats by Dre have done for the image of headphones (not to mention their 25% market share, sheesh!), fashion and the flip between music and listening – I’m a massive fan.

Mog’s service will continue under the same name and operate as a separate company, according to Monday’s announcement. “Both Mog and Beats share a common goal of creating a more premium sound experience and emotional connection with music in the digital era,” David Hyman, Mog’s founder and chief executive, wrote in a note to subscribers.”

Looking forward to seeing how this pans out.

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for those of you who were following my cone of silence antics, you might also wanna check out this show at conical which opens whilst i’m down the coast on friday (d’oh!)

i’ve pinched all of this from the conical site and i’m hoping to update with a link to Cara-Ann’s own site shortly.

oh, and by the way, my thesis on sound in the public space (who could resist the invitation of those dainty headphones) is online. it’s only 60MB so feel free to download it 🙂

‘The Act of Things That Aren’t There’

The work of Cara-Ann Simpson is about constructing environments where the ephemeral nature of experience is explored. This exploration forms a seminal material within the reading of the work ‘Noise Cancellation: disrupting audio perception’ as this installation questions the relationship between public and private space as an architectural metaphor for spatial collage. This is done by creating objects that have a physical and sonic construction.

The validity of Simpson’s work is to question its own existence within a site-specific context creating a composition that isn’t about sound as music but about sound as object. The work is suspended within a particular time and space where an interruption between various elements meets and overlaps, leading to a transformation of the object into an observational landscape. This landscape is constructed through the audio which creates a spatial collage that juxtaposes and knits together disparate aural elements from inaudible whispers, the clatter of the site and the viewer’s physical presence within the space. This form of sonic collage transforms the actual physical reality of the object sitting in the gallery space. The object now must be read as not only just a Post-minimalist form but also as an object transmitting a signal which creates an assemblage of readings and meanings within the installation. It is from this point that the work creates a stage that is set up to rebuild the understanding of the object from its concrete and aural realities.

What Simpson’s work achieves, is to shift the roles of interior and exterior space in relation to the viewer. In this context the anticipated boundaries between object, gallery and viewer are shifted within the exhibition space. Thus there is a fluctuation between concrete reality (that of the object as a Post-minimalist sculpture) and the audio (as an elevation of ordinary sound to form a mapping of experience). The work thus acts as a temporal vessel inhabiting the gallery space but also the physical space of the viewer as the work is to be experienced through a duality of reading. This duality is created through the viewing of the audio speaker both as an object and as audio sound that creates an ephemeral collage.

Simpson’s ‘Noise Cancellation: disrupting audio perception’ is an evolving installation that is constantly being repositioned within an immediacy of collaged space, where a highly structured object meets with the uncontrolled experience of the viewer. In this context the work can be seen as an ‘act’ carried out through the positioning of one object and its relationship to the abstract behaviour of the viewers’ patterns of movement and dialogue. This ‘act’ becomes an ongoing transient process of imbedding conceptual intention within the randomness of an individual’s viewing and listening experience. It is within this frame that the work acts to form indistinguishable ways of experiencing the duality between an object and its ephemeral construction of spatial dialectics.

Kyle Jenkins Toowoomba, 2009

When I first approached engineer, Eva Cheng, to help me with this project I wanted to investigate a field of emerging technology – almost as an analytical and creative experiment. While the technological outcomes are exciting, it seems that the most interesting outcome is more to do with perception of sound within society.

The question is not so much about how sound is produced within our society, but rather how we interpret sound and respond to it. For example, I am currently sitting at my computer with a blanket over my head and computer and with earmuffs for working with loud machines on. I am trying to isolate myself from the sound that exists in the same room – in this case my partner playing a great slow psychedelic Melbourne-based band loudly from his desk. My earmuffs are working to muffle the noise to a certain point – just enough for me to ignore the music and attempt concentration on another subject. I am unable to dislocate myself from the noise of my surroundings, which is perhaps why my practice investigates the very nature of sound and its cultural implications.

Noise Cancellation: disrupting audio perception explores sound as a form of creativity, a product of engineering and science, and as a cultural experiment. There has been much discussion on modes of listening within cultural theory and modern philosophy, but it has often been the case of separating listening from hearing. This installation questions the validity of separating listening and hearing, instead suggesting an equality that leads towards sameness. Roland Barthes proposed a formal separation of hearing and listening by separating the physiological from psychological. However, as portable music players become increasingly accessible and ‘essential’, theories on hearing and listening must change accordingly. Michael Bull describes the effects of the iPod as “the creation of a personalised soundworld” that “creates a form of accompanied solitude for its users in which they feel empowered, in control and self-sufficient”. Bull’s ideas imply that perhaps we can reach a state of listening where we are also hearing – accepting the additional environmental noises around us as part of our ‘soundtrack’. Perhaps it is possible for the ‘modern listener’ to merge Barthes’ notion of hearing as to do with the body in space and awareness of surroundings with his notion of listening as an act of concentration and decisiveness to analyse sounds. In many ways we are doing this already – accepting traffic noise on public transport while listening to music, or those few moments at the end of a song where nothing is playing but the environmental sounds allow that moment to merge with the next song – a constant fusion of sound and music through physiological and psychological listening/hearing. But my query lies more within the realm of removing music from this equation and asking the participant to give that same level of attention to the environmental sounds.

Noise Cancellation: disrupting audio perception forces audience participation by recording the sounds of any person entering the space – but it also asks for interaction by physiologically and psychologically hearing and listening. The installation spits out the sounds we make straight back at us, changing and altering signals – asking us to pay attention and find the difference. These alterations are disquieting – they are not loud and vicious, but blend back into the surroundings, subtly altering our cognition of the space both as a physical and psychological manifestation. Where Barthes suggests that listening is about psychologically deciding on what to ignore, this installation asks us to consider accepting all. To be as aware of the output from the speakers as of our own sounds, those sounds around us, and those sounds beyond the room.

B LaBelle, Background Noise: Perspectives on Sound Art, The Continuum International Publishing Group Inc, New York, London, 2006.
M Bull, ‘No Dead Air! The iPod and the Culture of Mobile Listening’, from Leisure Studies, Vol. 24, No. 4, October 2005, p. 353.

Cara Ann Simpson, 2009

Cara-Ann Simpson is a multidisciplinary artist with a focus on the tension between visuality and aurality. In 2007, Simpson graduated from the University of Southern Queensland with a Bachelor of Visual Arts with Distinction, and in 2008, she completed her Bachelor of Visual Arts First Class Honours (USQ). Simpson was the recipient of the Hobday and Hingston Bursary from the Queensland Art Gallery in 2007, the Asia-Pacific Golden Key International Honours Society Visual & Performing Arts Sculpture Award (2008) and was awarded the University of Southern Queensland Faculty of Art – Visual Arts medal (2007). Simpson has recently been included in numerous emerging artist awards including the Wilson HTM National Art Prize 2009, Agendo 2009 and the Port Jackson Press Graduate Printmaking Award 2009.

Simpson has had a number of solo shows, sounds releases and been involved in numerous performances and group shows within Australia, New Zealand and the United Arab Emirates. In 2008 she installed a work at the Australasian Computer Music Conference (sound:space), Sydney Conservatorium of Music, and curated and performed a sound art collaboration, Audio Aware, with Lawrence English (Brisbane) at the Brisbane Powerhouse as part of the University of Southern Queensland’s tradeshow. She moved to Melbourne in early 2009.

Noise Cancellation was sponsored by the Janet Holmes à Court Artists’ Grant Scheme, supported through a donation by Mrs Janet Holmes à Court, financial assistance from the Visual Arts Board of the Australia Council and administered through NAVA, the National Association for the Visual Arts.

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sound on demand

the other night i went to the MSO performance, to the new world. it was a freebie through the test-drive the arts program (ace program, by the way).

and whilst i was being swept away by dvorák, i was thinking about the experience of music and composed sound. that all-encompasing, performative artistic expression which is seen ‘out’ – in public. i don’t know a lot about the history of music, but i can imagine that prior to, say the 17th Century, music was not an altogether “accessible” experience. at least not in a dedicated space. you would probably hear chamber music during the dances and (depending on your station in life) perhaps an orchestra once every 6 months, or a year. maybe not even as much as that.


fast track 400 years (not all that long really, in the history of ‘civilisation’) and now, we’re all walking around with own private soundtracks all the time. even if we’re not rockin’ the latest 32G iPod touch, we’ve got car stereos, walkmans, mp3 players, turntables, ghetto blasters, transistor radios, etc. all ‘dedicated spaces’ for hearing an all-encompassing sound. my friend from apple calls it ‘on-demand’.

perhaps it is just me, with a slightly warped focus on sound in public at the moment, but i think this is amazing.
given that i’m now listening to a nick cave and the bad seeds slam their way through ‘i’m on fire’ at about 8, it’s pretty incredible to imagine that my 17th century compatriot might only ever listen to music that loud once a year. no wonder symphonies had such a profound effect on people. and that the cultural significance of a song lasted so long (see faris’ interesting article on latency with regards to that)

MMOP Headphones

i’m about to start some research on threshold shifts, but given what we hear now, given that we carry 100 db around in our pockets on a daily basis, plus we have to deal with cars, HVAC systems, trains, buses and much larger populations, it’s pretty astounding how quickly we have adapted to that level of sound (or noise, depending on which side of the fence you sit on).

unsurprising really, that our ‘dedicated spaces’ for listening to (electronically) amplified music have become an architectural/design category in their own rights: up there with the MRC, the sydney opera house and carnegie hall.

expect more in this in the future…

images: turntable by josh sandler
mso by tengtan

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