Astral Totems will manifest as a guided walk designed to transition visitor/participants from a general collective reality to the shared personal alternate/dreamlike reality of an immersive installation. The installation, An Experimental Space for Reconnection with the Natural World, exists within a small house that incorporates sculpture, projections, and sound components.
Participants will be instructed to gather at a neighborhood coffee shop approximately two blocks from the residence. In this public atmosphere, the transition to astral dream state will begin, as visitors will be met by a Guide in character/costume. The Guide will communicate with gesture, and possibly written word.
Participants will have the opportunity to don animal totem masks to more viscerally interact with the dream state world they are about to enter. They will also be given headphones and mp3 players for listening to the Astral Totems sound collage poem while walking from the coffee shop to the house.
Upon reaching the door to the house, the Guide will gesture for participants to remove their headphones (but not their masks). Once inside the house, they will be allowed to experience the installation on their own, unencumbered by the Guide.
I have recently become heavily influenced by the work of Janet Cardiff and George Bures Miller. Their Alter Bahnhof Video Walk (2012) is deceptively titled. Although video is an integral component of the piece, audio is truly what brings the work to life. Visitors borrow an iPod with headphones, preloaded with video/audio shot in an old train station. Watching documentation of the piece without the sound is interesting, as the person experiencing the piece attempts to line up the moving image on the iPod with their own space in real time, creating a type of portal to past-tense time. However, it is not until watching the documentation with headphones that Alter Bahnhof Video Walk really struck me. Even though I was not experiencing the piece in person, I was still sucked in by the sound of Cardiff’s voice, instructing the visitor to move with her through the space. Simply listening to music on headphones while moving through a city creates a bubble for me, while simultaneously hyper-connecting me to the images I am processing. Cardiff and Miller’s piece pushes the audio cocoon (Caroline Record’s term) to the next level by blurring the boundaries of time.
While I can appreciate the flicking visual accompaniment* of Cedric Dupires images, the best way to experience Bjarni Gunnarsson’s Grey Seeds is with eyes closed. Grey Seeds is a haunting sonic fabric where a somewhat familiar but alien landscape comes alive via (what to me sounds like) the transfer of information through the static of electricity. I like the aural ‘void’ quality of the piece, as though it were recorded at the bottom of a well. The well would be massive, and (in my imagination) rendered by H.R. Giger. I appreciate how quickly this piece was able to transport me to a frame of mind where time no longer exists (at least not as a hard linear construct), and how Gunnarsson** imbues sentience into imagined objects and places that a human mind may otherwise view as inanimate.
*There are lovely photos of lichen from the 7:05 mark until the end. Yes please!
** According to his web bio, Gunnarsson studied composition with Trevor Wishart.
I very much like Liisa Tervinen and Saana Uosukainen’s Kolme kirjettä (Three letters), the umbrella piece posted by Abby. I have a bit of a fetish with clear plastic bubble umbrellas like the ones used by Tervinen and Uosukainen – I think I had one as a child – and I was extremely excited when they came in fashion again a few years ago. When employing these as they are designed for use in the rain, I definitely have the sense of being subtly removed from the world around me, literally within my own bubble. In the Three letters piece, Tervinen and Uosukainen take advantage of the umbrella’s design to create an intimate space for passers by to listen to letters read aloud, via speakers in the umbrellas. I find it interesting that while there are several umbrellas in the park, people will often snuggle close to have one shared listening experience instead of claiming their own umbrella station. This makes me hopeful that I may be able to encourage a similar cuddle of strangers… Further description of this under Effect.
This link has a few photos of the project at night:
The larger work, Experimental Space, is about experiencing the intersection of the natural world within human constructs, and how this merging of worlds might be encountered on one version of the astral plane. Astral Totems is specifically the expansive recounting of a dream that was particularly resonant for me in terms of both imagery and meaning. As I am always interested to listen to peoples’ dreams, I imagine there are others like me who would find this compelling.
My discussion with Miles was particularly helpful in that he suggested the participants could wear animal totem masks, as related in my sound collage poem. This suggestion was extremely exciting for me, because I did not previously tell Miles that I love making masks or that I had intended to do this in a previous installation three years ago, but thought visitors may not be game to don the masks. When I met with David, I asked if he would be willing to wear a mask, and he enthusiastically replied he would indeed, and that the role-playing aspect would encourage more interactivity once participants entered the installation.
Additionally, my discussion with David took the project in an unexpected but intriguing direction. I was telling him that while I felt I had a strong concept for visitors entering the space, I was still struggling for how to mentally guide them through exiting the installation. My goal is to create a type of mindset that will alter how people view the world around them shortly after leaving Experimental Space. I would like visitors to feel as though they are still somewhat in a dream world even after they have reentered the ‘real’ world. We talked about the potential of hypnotism with given consent. As this pertains to the larger work, and not the Astral Totems sound collage poem, I will not go into detail here
The main sound will be my voice, mildly distorted, reading a poem. This narration will be layered with the sounds of glass tubes scraping against each other to create a sense of subtle displacement from reality, a suspension of disbelief for a visitor to (vicariously?) experience one of my dream states.
I plan to record additional sounds, site-specific to the walk from the coffee shop to the house. I am not yet sure how these will play out in the final piece, but I imagine them layered in and around the narrated poem.
I may also incorporate the sound of rustling seed pods, or I may save this recording for use in the installation space.
Time / Structure
Both the time and structure of the sound collage poem will be informed by the time it takes to make the walk from the coffee shop to the house. This ‘clocked time’ may included stopping to pause at a particular spot (or spots) to highlight certain visual cues with sound.
Conceptually, the transitional sound collage walk is designed to cause a slight shift in one’s state of mind, so that the time of the outside world begins to slip away from the internal dream logic of the collage poem.
The listening experience I am attempting to create with the sound collage poem is to help set the tone on the walk from the coffee shop to the residence/installation. The goal is to condition participants to more readily interact with the visuals and other sound components once inside the house.
I would like for people to listen in a state of common bond with their fellow participants, who may very well be strangers.
Ultimately, I would like for participants to experience a visceral connection with both the content and sound of the collage poem.