Saturday, September 25, 2010

art works - it's only natural

The piece Art works on Jen Craig's micro-story blog Absurd Enticements draws attention to assumptions about nature and the 'natural' - a presumed (desired?) absence of artifice or human intervention in 'The Bush', called into question in this case by the presence of an artist residency. Which is exactly where Jen and I find ourselves, working together on the first stages of an audio-textual collaboration.

But what is natural? In Bundanon walk-by, my audio response to Jen's text, I went for a rather literal sonic analogy.

The piece is a brief 60 seconds of apparently 'natural' (i.e. human-free) bushland field recording. But to begin with, hearing these sounds in my recording rather than by being in the bushland yourself is already an artifice. In spite of the potential to get lost in the apparently human-free sounds of bushland birdsong, the presence of humans is already implicit in the fact of the recording - with its attendant decisions about the choice and placement of recording gear, of the place, the time of day, and decisions about where the recording begins and ends, to name a few types of 'intervention'. Even the presence of a sound recordist in the landscape is already an intervention into this idyll.

But then, what's so unnatural about humans doing what humans have always done - responding to our surroundings and experiences with art and artifice must surely be included in any larger concept of 'nature' or the natural. But just in case there's any doubt of human intervention, I proceed to ram the point home with lashings of gratuitous artifice.

This begins with my staged bush-track walk-by, my boots on the path fore-grounding the presence of humans in the bushland setting. The selected piece of field recording places this event right at the centre of its brief 60-second sonic narrative.

Added to this is the insertion into the 'verité' field recording of two rather colourful whipbird utterances recorded in a different time and place.

The pair of whipbird utterances are further manipulated by being presented as if two halves of the one phrase, and then being repeated a total of six times before the piece ends, becoming louder and less subtley embedded in the surrounding soundscape each time.

The final utterances are brutally altered by artificial reverb, chorus effects and panning before giving way to rhythmic reiterations of the sounds of my boots hitting the leaves and twigs of the path as they pass the microphone. No escaping this 'artifice' thing. But then, it's only natural for humans to play with the materials of their environment.

But of course, my approach by its very nature as a recording to be experienced away from the environment, is different to the ambiguous 'art works' of Jen Craig's micro-story. In contrast to my audio piece, the leaves and twigs she refers to are in situ in the bushland itself. Her uncertainty as to their 'untouched-ness' (or at least the lack or presence of human will and aesthetics in their arrangement) is a more radical destabilising of our experience of 'nature' than the experience of my  recording can ever be.

How to communicate such an experience in sound...

Perhaps I should just record a telling of the story?

Or perhaps the key is a subtler approach? How to raise the question of artifice for a listener without answering it one way or the other...

[Bundanon walk-by is the first of a series of small scale audio responses to Jen Craig's micro-story blog as part of the first stage of a longer-term collaborative audio-textual project, kicked off by a Bundanon artist residency this month.]

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