Monday, September 27, 2010

text, sound and sentiment

Over the River, my second 'essay' (attempt) in responding sonically to Jen Craig's Absurd Enticements  blog began with a simple association of time and place.

We stood on the banks of the Shoalhaven River at dusk. I made a recording of the cries of an enraged spur-winged plover, complete with natural echoes from the cliffs opposite. The effect of these sounds as the very last of daylight faded from the sky was haunting indeed and also, like the songs of many of the birds of this location on the Shoalhaven River and in the bush above, intensely musical.

Jen was absorbed with her own responses to the site. She photographed the cliffs and water. Afterwards she wrote a micro-story, Furred Water, focusing on the visual atmospheric resonances of the work of Arthur Boyd in the water, cliffs and bushland he painted so often in the last decades of his life.

Putting text and field recording together was on the face of it a crude juxtaposition of disparate materials which just happen to be derived from the same location. But here the mysteries of place and association kick in.

Jen's text comes to a head around the image of the river's 'silent, maniacal fury'. The performance and juxtaposition of the text with the field recording opens up the possibility that the plover's voice is the articulate embodiment of this fury. The river's inarticulacy further feeds on the technical limits of my recording, the river's 'furred water' seemingly emphasised by the wash of air and intermittent background traffic sounds.

And if anything, the obvious sentiment in the resulting audio piece is heightened by the apparent obliqueness of a text that focuses on water, and a field recording that focuses on birdsong.  

It seems to me that the very uncertainty (open-ness?) of its referential content is key to sound's capacity to embody presence - the simultaneity and fusion of multiple divergent and convergent strands of experience. This capacity is what music is built on.

But enough flights of speculation. In this case, the obviously 'poetic' diction of my reading brings into play sentimental expectations, suggesting some reverential contemplation of the sounds of both the words and the field recording.

How would the sound and text be experienced if the text were simply read silently in the mind of a person while listening to the raw field recording? (Or even the doctored version I've offered up in cobbling together the most usable bits and boosting elements that underpin the delivery of the text.) Would any of the above associations be carried by this juxtaposition without the text itself being embodied and placed in a performative relationship to the river sounds and the plover's cries?

And how would the result change if the placement of the words was altered? Or if their delivery was more prosaic, even conversational?

All of which suggests that working by association rather than analogy or parody risks making texts less open, not more. Or did you hear my piece quite differently?

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