ASCA Sonic Interventions :: Ros Bandt

17-29 March 2005 :: Amsterdam Netherlands

Thanks to ANAT, I was able to attend the Sonic Interventions Conference. I had two goals in mind: 1. To deliver a paper on the Australian Sound Installations in public space referencing the on-line data base and gallery of 130 digital published works I have been steering over the last four years [1], which represented major international advocacy for Australian artists working in the field of sound design of public space. 2. To participate in the international discourse on sonic interventions and hear the latest international attitudes to sound, art, theory and culture before editing a new book on these themes. A call for works Hearing Places was issued and is published below.

ASCA is renowned for its excellent conferences and workshops. Sonic Interventions was a lively place for exchange of ideas between a large interdisciplinary group or scholars, academics and practitioners. The keynotes were Emily Thompson (The Sound scape of Modernity, 2002) and Douglas Kahn (Noise Water Meat, 1999). Emily Thompson gave a riveting and detailed account of the transition from audio on disc for film scores, to sound on the medium of film itself from the years 1927 -1930. She traced the labour and working processes involved in the technology of the Vitaphone Sound Movie System which was a cleverly organised system of simultaneous Discs being marked and prepared by Turntable DJs to inform the master disc of 10 minutes in length. From these masterdiscs, the audio could be assembled by film screeners elsewhere. Douglas Kahn looked at the ideas associated with the impossibility for sonic absence since Cage’s experiments in the anechoic chamber in his paper entitled: The Art of Anechoic Perception in Postwar America. The third keynote, Fred Moten, expert in the aesthetics of black radical culture unfortunately was unable to attend but Mieke Bal, the mainstay behind ASCA’s innovative programme volunteered to give a paper on the relationship of sound, non sound, image and text in her recent film about dislocation and identity.

There were four simultaneous panels under the themes of:
1. Sound and the Moving Image and Sound Technologies and Cultural Change.
2. The Sonic in the ‘ Silent’ Arts and Bring in the Noise.
3. Silences/Orality
4. Soundscapes: Sound, Space and the Body, and Sound Practices and Events

The papers were all published in advance so that the ideas contained could be workshopped through speakers addressing the common threads, ideas and concepts which could be further teased out for discussion. This was challenging and brought about fascinating interlocutions from cultural and media studies, theoretical ideas from political, social and geographic studies, psychology, philosophy, fine art, comparative literature, musicology and architecture. It was exciting to see ASCA, being a school of Cultural Studies, which hasn’t a previous history of discourse in the sonic area embrace the idea of sound as the focus for the conference. It is part of an expanding consciousness of the importance of sound in culture happening both inside and outside the academy at this time. The importance of sound as both an interface and marker of boundaries was discussed with reference to the international field work and theoretical concepts presented by this wide range of speakers. The history of sound technology, being seated in the military was a recurring theme and also the subject of Jay Needham’s audio work which was a sensitive sonic narrative about a key player in the American spy industry in Korea, his sensitisation and subsequent debriefing and return to normal society. Other extraordinary discourses I heard included highly theoretical explications of sonic notions of non-representation and subjectivity of Deleuze and Guattari, (who seemed to be the flavour of the month), Nancy, Barthes and Kristeva, among others.Quite different were the architects who embraced the place of architecture as a creative sonic space for change, intervention and re-interpretation.

More audio examples could have been used to redress the imbalance between the audio and visual text and over-reliance on the linguistic that most people mentioned. A notable exception to this was the paper by Sibylle Moser Pop Songs as Intermedia practice. The case of Laurie Anderson’s Kokoku, which was entirely in the audible domain splicing the ideas cleverly into the piece itself with conceptual comments interleaved in response to Andersons’s provocative ideas texted in the song.

My paper presented a case study of 10 Australian sound installations through the published online audio visual digital objects on the sound design website: sound, images, video and text simultaneously. This methodological approach is an integral part of the sound design website’s in documenting works, that they be understood through appropriate mediums. To this end I have created the website to encourage more audible research. I defined 18 stylistic features, as a basis for the comparison so that readers could analyse more carefully, the nature of intervention in the design processes present in the case studies. These are the commissioning process, community consultation, the nature of the site, outdoor and indoor, the type of collaboration, the macro forms of the genre of installation/ performance/ audience involvement, the micro forms of the sound sources, the duration, temporary or permanent, interactivity, environmentally sensitivity, mixed media, visual sculptures,screens, speaker arrays, internet, silence, listener pathways. There was little other in depth sound analyses as most people were concentrating on conceptual and theoretical modalities about sound as they were coming from literary and cultural studies backgrounds. The sound artists present found the lack of sound examples a problem with many of the papers.

The intellectual rigour brought to the debate from this international forum was refreshing indeed. Australians in the main were extremely well represented including the sonic geographer Michelle Duffy, the architect Chelle McNaughton, Luke Stickels and Kate MacNeill, film studies and myself, sound, all from the University ofMelbourne. Caroline Birdsill who is studying at ASCA (formerly of University of NSW), gave a fascinating paper on political contestation of sound in Nazi Germany which she is working on for her PhD.

Being Easter it was wonderful to hear some authentic baroque music of Bach and Telemann on period instruments including the the orbo, oboe da caccia and baroque ensemble using gut strings which reminded me that technology has taken an ever changing journey in sound for centuries. The painting of the city of Amsterdam as a woman of beauty and conquest on the lid of a harpsichord in the Rijks Museum was another example of this. Other museum visits to the Van Gogh and the Stedelijk were crammed in around this wonderful conference. Nor could I resist the opportunity to make my own sound recordings on canals, bicycles, foot, listening to the very different acoustic of a fast moving, yet wet and floating four storey European city. The pure resonance of these sounds and ideas of this city are still vibrating and willfind their own pathways and sonic interventions. Very exciting for me as a sound artist, was to make contact with other international sound artists whom I had not met before, Cilia Erens, and Ricardo, working in Amsterdam and Yolande Harris from Britain now working in Maastricht. Many sound documentations were exchanged at this level.

You can read many of these papers and share in discourse about sonicinterventions online at

I would like to thank ANAT and ASCA for this wonderful opportunity to reconsider many aspects of sound, art, technology and culture at this time. It will certainly have enlivened ideas for the book Hearing Places to be edited with Michelle Duffy and Dolly MacKinnon and a new course I am creating for the Centre of Ideas at the Victorian College of the Arts entitled Sound and Culture, later in 2005.


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