Friday, September 30, 2011

City Links

I used to imagine, sitting at a screen in the city, some kind of remote aural connection to a wild landscape.  Perhaps this is now possible - some durable, unobtrusive, solar-powered device hidden in the cliffs at Zennor for example, transmitting the sound of waves to my computer here.  As long ago as 1967 the composer and sound artist Maryanne Amacher set up microphones that could feed sounds back from five sites round the city of Buffalo.  Later she installed 'a microphone on a window overlooking the ocean at the New England Fish Exchange in Boston Harbour, transmitting the sound into her home studio continuously, sometimes using it as an element in other performances or exhibitions of City Links. “I would come in and it would be different according to different weather and changes,” Amacher told interview Leah Durner in 1989 ... She lived with the live transmission for three years. “I actually miss coming home to it,” she says now, some 20 years later.'  This quote comes from a 1999 Wire article; you can see a few photographs on the Maryanne Amacher Archive Project website (sadly it looks as if this has not been updated recently and a year ago they were asking for more funds).

It seems paradoxical to go to the trouble of listening to the world but played over the top of the 'real' soundscape surrounding you.  I wonder what John Cage thought of this?  Amacher worked with Cage on his Lecture on the Weather (0975), a composition 'for 12 speaker-vocalists (or instrumentalists), preferably American men who have become Canadian citizens, each using his own sound system given an equalization distinguishing it from the others ... The performance starts with the reading of the preface. In it Cage expresses his disgust with the institutions of American government. After that the work starts, the 12 men reading and singing text fragments by Henry David Thoreau, and/or play instruments (ad lib.). In part 1 this is accompanied by sounds (on tape) of wind and in part 2 by sounds of rain. In the third part the lights in the performance-space are dimmed and the performers are accompanied by the film and the sounds of thunder. The film consists of Thoreau drawings, printed in negative, the projection resembling lightning (white on black).'  Lecture on the Weather goes well beyond the simple notion of a soundscape.  It represents (in the words of Joan Retallack) a collision of political and environmental climates, like ' the complex chaotic condition of interpenetration and obstruction in which we live, a fragile balance of order and disorder, clarity and cacophony.'

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