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Incredibly Soft Sounds


Incredibly Soft Sounds was a curatorial project at Gallery 101, an artist-run centre in Ottawa, Canada. It took the form of a group exhibition of audio art projects solicited from an open call for submissions. The theme of "incredibly soft sounds" suggests audio art and music exploring the barely audible, the very small, the minute detail, the distant, the private, the personal, the fragile, the secret, the interior. The project was proposed as a means to offer visitors the opportunity to listen more closely to otherwise ignored elements of the sound environment. "Listening" in our culture is constructed primarily as an accompaniment to other activities: one might turn on the radio to cook, clean house, do the dishes; one may play a tape while driving to work; a CD might accompany the reading of a book. Incredibly Soft Sounds presented sound environments that are so quiet as to necessitate that the listener stop everything else they are doing in order to hear anything at all. The gallery space was an ideal venue for the project in that it offered a controlled listening environment and an accessible exhibition space.

Artists responded to the call for works in a number of different ways, interpreting the theme of the show by creating spaces which were either very distant, very intimate, or situated within the body itself. Brandon Labelle's aroseisaroseisarose muses on what the sound of his voice might sound like if heard from the inside rather than the outside: the result is a voice whose characteristics emphasize the tactile and visceral rather than the linguistic. Works such as Cracker by Christof Migone and Ear to ear to hear by Terence Dick also expose sounds that are rarely shared because they occur within the listener's own body, and are thus private and interior. Hearing and feeling are inseparable in sensations such as these. Still deeper within the body, Sandra Szasz's Belief explores the double nature of thought as a silent, but nevertheless essentially aural experience.

The preoccupation with the body is taken up from a different angle by Carl Stewart, whose Promise demonstrates that the distinction between private and public is blurred by technologies and practices which mediate, re-interpret, and re-define sexual relations.

Many of the exterior spaces portrayed in Incredibly Soft Sounds explore the artist's immediate sound space. For Ian Cauthery and Noreen Battaglia, this is the domestic space. Battaglia's Remaking Stitches is highly suggestive of an emotional ambivalence, while Cauthery's contemplation on the elements of water and air (Domestic Elements) uses a sparsity of means to yield an expressionistic and evocative result. Terry Piercey's expression of immediacy is achieved through the recontextualisation of an acoustic cliché in Duet for Eastern Standard Time.

For Claude and Jeannine Schryer, Michael Drew Campbell, and Eric la Casa, the exhibition is about populating the gallery space with a selection of soundscapes which were originally distant from each other, as well as from the listening environment which receives them. Thus, into this intimate listening environment, which for Campbell could be the listener's back pocket or handbag, is introduced a faint reminder from far away (pause). Claude Schryer's meditation on trees is a prolific and constantly shifting juxtaposition of fragile, intimate spaces which, like Jeannine Schryer's accompanying paintings, evoke the distant while preserving the minutely detailed in sensations d'arbre . Eric la Casa explores distance and memory as well in Clepsydre , a dialogue between a precise and fleeting sound from here and now and the distant and ambient echoes of sounds from elsewhere.

In addition to the installation which ran from January 8 until February 7 1998, the Gallery presented two concerts in conjunction with this event: Minimum volume 1 on January 16, and Minimum volume 2 on January 30.

It was after I got to Boston that I went into the anechoic chamber at Harvard University. Anybody who knows me knows this story; I am constantly telling it. Anyway, in that silent room I heard two sounds: one high, and one low. Afterward I asked the engineer in charge why, if the room was so silent, I had heard two sounds. He said, describe them. I did. He said, the high one was your nervous system in operation. The low one was your blood in circulation.

John Cage
from Indeterminacy, 1959

Noreen Battaglia - Remaking Stitches

When the day is done and everything is safely put to rest, the most amazing sound is absolute silence. But even in that stillness the mind and body continue restlessly for awhile until all the internal bits settle. This piece is a meditation about space and the emotive combination of a bittersweet and claustrophobic situation.

Noreen Battaglia is a multimedia artist with an affinity for textiles. Graduated from the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design in 1992. Produced sound pieces for radio, computer video, mixed media installation and film animation. Acknowledging women's position as individuals within the domestic space is an important element in her work. In the summer of 1996, in Halifax, she curated On my way home I was thinking, women employed by children.

Remaking StitchesNoreen Battaglia

m.d. campbell - pause

Technology and sanctuary are explored in this audio piece.

Pressing "play" reveals the recordings which are stored on these three memo pads.

I see these works as portable and personal. They can be pulled out and placed to the ear at stressful or private moments, at a coffee break, on the street, in elevators, bank machine lines.

Mike Campbell works with utopian-inspired installations that deal with urban and natural environments. He has assembled exhibits that mix 2'D and 3'D images with sound that reference recreational sites, such as suburban parkettes and indoor wave pools.

pausem.d. campbell

Ian Cauthery - Domestic Elements

Being one of the many workers who now primarily operate out of a home office, I have been slowly becoming aware of the artistic potential of the domestic space. My previous work has involved drawn and textual representations of the elements. The time I have spent at home has alowed me to really listen to my surroundings. The piece will, I hope, stimulate visitors to rethink sound and the domestic space and realize that our homes are fraught with aural metaphors.

Originally from Ontario, Ian Cauthery recently returned from two years in Nova Scotia. He graduated from the University of Guelph in drawing and print-making, and is currently pursuing a post-graduate computer graphics course at Sheridan College in Oakville.

Domestic ElementsIan Cauthery

Terence Dick - Ear to ear to hear

In considering what would be an appropriate submission for Incredibly Soft Sounds, I soon realized that any such piece would be frustrated by the constant buzz that already fills my silence. Too many years of standing too close to extremely loud speakers has left me with tinnitus. When all is quiet, I hear a faint ringing tone in my ear. The sound is persistent yet sourceless and unlocatable. It is generated within my ear yet aggravated by outside causes (loud noise, caffeine, alcohol, exhaustion). I sometimes question whether it is there at all or whether I am merely imagining it or remembering it. It is a reminder of all the music I have heard and a warning about the possibility of not hearing any more.

Ear to ear to hear is an attempt to bring the listener into the artist's sound world.

Terence Dick spent most of his youth listening to music rather than making it. In 1995, he began performing as one half of the rust brothers, an experimental and improvisatory DJ team. They do a weekly show on CIUT in Toronto and collaborate with musicians in such varied fields as free jazz, hiphop, hardcore punk and spoken word. They have released many cassettes and one limited edition CD.

Ear to ear to hearTerence Dick

Sounds (which are called silence only because they do not form part of a musical intention) may be depended upon to exist. The world teems with them, and is, in fact, at no point free of them. There are, demonstrably, sounds to be heard and forever, given ears to hear.

Biba Kopf quoting John Cage

Brandon Labelle - aroseisaroseisarose

To make this recording I placed a small microphone inside my mouth and said the phrase "a rose is a rose is a rose…" for roughly five minutes. During this process it became increasingly difficult to articulate the words until by the end all I could do was hum the rhythm of the phrase.

For this piece, I am interested in emphasizing language as sound and words as carriers of desire, as tonal vessels which attempt to convey more than they can. I want the viewer/listener to be brought into a relationship with words whereby meaning shifts from a lexiconic signification to a phonic resonance - the meaning of the phrase breaks down to a purely tonal understanding. The phrase "a rose is a rose is a rose…" was originally written by Gertrude Stein in an attempt to speak outside of metaphor, to emphasize the materiality of language without it referring to things outside of itself. There is also a hidden romanticism in the phrase (she wrote it in a circle above her and Alice's bed) the rose being the quintessential poetic image of love. For Gertrude "a rose is a rose is a rose…" rewrites romantic imagery, as well as romantic experience, by recovering the rose from metaphor. And through this recovery, to say something intimate to allow the interior of one's own being to resonate.

Brandon Labelle is an artist, writer and musician living in Los Angeles. His visual work over the past year has focused primarily on sound installation and aims to utilize the gallery space as an instrument. He also plays drums for the bands Farflung and Purse, as well as a sound project called id battery.

aroseisaroseisaroseBrandon Labelle

Eric La Casa - Clepsydre

Clepsydre, like my other works, is an investigation into reality. Notions of time and meter are important in this piece, which seeks to insufflate the distant into the immediate and the mundane. The installation juxtaposes the clockwork sound of electricity meters and their connotations of modern life and work, with ancient rhythms defined by natural processes. Through the vibrations of these two contrasting rhythms, the work stresses the essential dimension of humanity and of life: the ephemeral.

Eric La Casa is a composer (electroacoustics), sound plastician (installation), and radio producer (ACR-France Culture). From 1989-98, he was the director of the experimental Paris-based record label La Légende des Voix. He is also a journalist for the new music publication Revue et Corrigée.

ClepsydreEric La Casa

Christof Migone - Crackers

Do you crack your fingers? your neck? your back? your knees? your elbows? your ankles? your hips? your…? A cracking joint is the locale where bones articulate a tension. Crackers are compulsive about the release of that tension. As the sound of the cracks echo, some wince, others feel relief. In all instances, a crack is when and where something breaks, a crack is a body nonsequitur, a cracker is a bone edit, a cracker is a broken break.

Thanks to Tim Dallett and to all the Crackers: Justine Akman, Tony Daye, Marguerite Dehler, Sarah Dobbin, Vera Greenwood, Germaine Koh, Louise Levergneux, Micheal Sutton. The Cracker recordings were done as part of a residency at Gallery 101 which took place in October 1997. The audio material was produced at AVATAR in Québec City and the video was done at home.

Christof Migone has a radio body, almost invisible. Migone heads the Centre for Radiotelecommunication Contortions (CRTC) where he hems, hums & haws with abandon. His research for the CRTC primarily focuses on voices; voices which are radiated, electrocuted, fondled, vexed, whispered, transpired, articulated and vehiculated, incontinent, phantomized and phased, jaundiced, post-determined and post-digital, deregulated, mellifluent, fast forwarded, battery operated, synoptic and phatic and tonsilitic, glottal and colossal, salivaphile and expectorant, lecherous, reverberated, remote controlled, transistorized, modulated, and masticated.

CrackersChristof Migone

Terry Piercey - duet for eastern standard time

This piece does not involve the use of any pre-recorded tapes. Each musical performance is live. The duration of each duet is approximately 5 seconds. A new duet is performed every hour on the hour exactly (plus or minus 5 seconds).

Terry Piercey is an artist from Sackville, New Brunswick now living in Vancouver.

duet for eastern standard timeTerry Piercey

In January this year I had an accident. I was not seriously hurt, but I was confined to bed in a stiff and static position. My friend Judy Nylon visited me and brought me a record of 18th century harp music. After she had gone, and with some considerable difficulty, I put on the record. Having laid down, I realised that the amplifier was set at an extremely low level, and that one channel of the stereo had failed completely. Since I hadn't the energy to get up and improve matters, the record played on almost inaudibly. This presented what was for me a new way of hearing music as part of the ambience of the environment just as the colour of the light and the sound of the rain were parts of that ambience.

It is for this reason that I suggest listening to the piece at comparatively low levels, even to the extent that it frequently falls below the threshold of audibility.

Brian Eno
From the liner notes for DISCREET MUSIC
Obscure Records, 1975

Claude Schryer, Jeannine Schryer - sensations d'arbre

The questions of the responsibility and artistic interpretation of our environment have haunted us for years and have incited us to create an installation with and about the evocative nature of trees based on our home environment in North Bay, Ontario.

Our creative process has involved observing, analysing and contemplating trees from various perspectives (ecological, spiritual, allegorical, aesthetic, etc.) and creating combined sonic and visual tree portraits.

Sensations d'arbre was conceived as a simple painting/ electroacoustic installation which allows the audience time and space in which to meditate and contemplate the nature of trees from the dual perspective of fixed visual elements and shifting electroacoustic soundscapes.

Claude Schryer's electroacoustic and environmental compositions focus on spiritual, musical and interdisciplinary aspects of acoustic ecology. His professional activities are principally in the fields of electroacoustics, interdisciplinary production, acoustic ecology, and the media arts.

Born in Ottawa in 1934, Jeannine Schryer lives in Callander, Ontario and has been active as an artist for many years. The responsibility for and artistic interpretation of the Northern Ontario natural environment is at the heart of her work. She creates visual art using a variety of materials and media, including collaged fabrics, found objects, metals, spray paint, printmaking, acrylics and oil paint.

sensations d'arbreClaude Schryer, Jeannine Schryer

Carl Stewart - Promise

For some gay men telephone voice personal ads are an alternative to trying to meet people in bars. For some gay men gay porn films are an alternative to sex. Both rely on promise and expectation; the promise that the men will actually look like how they have described themselves in the personal ad and the expectation that sex in real life will be as it is depicted on film.

These two elements come together in Promise: Hi guys and Score. Hi guys refers to the greeting at the beginining of most of the personal ads. Score is a double entendre: to score or write the musical score for the film and to score or find a partner for sex.

Carl Stewart is a weaver and filmmaker living and working in Ottawa.

PromiseCarl Stewart

Sandra Szasz - Belief

Belief explores the interior, private thoughts, the most inner feelings and convictions in the pursuit of self-acknowledgement. Why a sound piece? My writings, before being so, were thoughts, sounds in my mind. I then fixed them on paper but this was still not enough. The sound of my thoughts is what Belief represents. My feelings are expressed by the modulations of my voice.

Sandra Szasz pursued studies in fine arts and printmaking at São Paolo, Brasil and Montréal, Québec.

BeliefSandra Szasz

Emmanuel Madan - curator, Incredibly Soft Sounds

Emmanuel Madan is a sound artist and electroacoustic composer living in Montréal. After several years in community radio, he went on to pursue projects in video production, performance, and multimedia, as well as writing music for film and video. He is currently collaborating on a composition project for an ensemble of dot matrix printers.

Incredibly Soft Sounds was the result of the Gallery 101's invitation to Emmanuel Madan in 1996 to curate a sound art project at the Gallery.

Special thanks to Tim Dallett suburban@cyberus.ca  for his invaluable help with Incredibly Soft Sounds.

Curator: Emmanuel Madan

Web editors: Yves Gigon & Jef Chippewa

Translation: Chantale Laplante, Sylvain Mathieu and
François Dion.

The Artists:

gallery 101

© Productions electro Productions (*PeP*) 1998

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