“To us, the value of a work lies in its newness: the invention of new forms, or a novel combination of old forms, the discovery of unknown worlds or the exploration of unfamiliar areas in worlds already discovered – revelations, surprises.” (Octavio Paz)
This work is intended as a digital ecology, a designed underlay of synthetic life beneath the everyday environment of the garden. Although some of the sounds emitting from the loudspeakers are derived from the natural world and several recordings have been used in this final implementation, the majority of the sounds you can hear are synthetic. The physical causes of sounds existing in nature (water, frogs, wind, cicadas and so on) have been explored, analysed and modelled in open-source software.
For example, the water-like textures (water being the focus of the recent World Listening Day) are generated according to the implementation of algorithms expressing the phenomenon of turbulence and its modification by factors including imagined depth, speed of flow, impedance and fluid viscosity. By way of a second example, sounds derived from insect life include pure tones, high pitched whistles and frictional sounds of tiny hairs and body parts rubbing together – a phenomenon called stridulation – a diversity of such sonic processes have accordingly also been modelled.
Practico-Aesthetic Context 1
“Procedural audio is sound qua process, as opposed to sound qua product. Behind this statement lies a veritable adventure into semiotics, mathematics, computer science, signal processing and music. Procedural audio is non-linear, often synthetic sound, created in real time according to a set of programmatic rules and live input.” (Andy Farnell)
Sound, in a general sense, always involves an element of change – the most simple oscillation, and hence most sound creation, depends upon a dynamic change between one state and another. A further observation is that sound creation also implies some form of behaviour – be this intentionally communicative as in the case of many biotic sound forms (mating calls, territorial warnings, orientation signals, human speech and song etc.) or simply indicative of system states in the case of non-biotic forms (large-scale behaviour, water flow, wind speed etc.). The piece is then a primitive attempt to model, and thereby understand, the complexities of biotic and non-biotic sound interactions as found in our soundscapes.
The encounter of the title, in the first place, refers to these complex interactions.
“Biophony describes the acoustic bandwidth partitioning process that occurs in still-wild biomes by which non-human organisms adjust their vocalizations by frequency and time-shifting to compensate for vocal territory occupied by other vocal creatures. Thus each species evolves to establish and maintain its own acoustic bandwidth so that its voice is not masked. For instance, notable examples of clear partitioning and species discrimination can be found in the spectrograms derived from the biophonic recordings made in most uncompromised tropical and subtropical rain forests.“ (Bernie Krause)
Secondarily, the encounter also describes the meeting between technology and ecology. The work was initially based upon sound recordings of a river ecology in North Western Scotland, a place with profound personal meaning and overflowing with memories. As work on the piece developed it became clear that a more procedural methodology (as described above) would not only support a more nuanced understanding of the behavioural sound interactions in this environment but also remove unnecessary (outmoded?) emotional content and enable a more nuanced and dynamic digital installation.
Theoretical Context 1: Bergson: Time and Duration
“The pure present is an ungraspable advance of the past devouring the future. In truth all sensation is already memory.”
“To exist is to change, to change is to mature, to mature is to go on creating oneself endlessly.” (Henri Bergson)
The primary means by which this is implemented is through the introduction of time into the piece. While sound recordings invariably point towards the past, the procedural method implemented here occurs wholly in the present. Various behaviours occur at particular moments throughout the day and sonic events are programmed to occur at the level of seconds, minutes and hours. We might also begin to imagine further variations in sonic behaviour at the grain of weeks, months, years and so on. Consider, for example, how the sound environment of this garden has changed over the last 30 years? How might we be able to track such change? Are these changes for the better or the worse? How also does your own behaviour alter this, and other environments?
“The idea of the future, pregnant with an infinity of possibilities, is thus more fruitful than the future itself, and this is why we find more charm in hope than in possession, in dreams than in reality.” (ibid.)
As you move around the garden, as we certainly hope you do, you will also encounter small solar powered sonic circuits created by local participants in the supporting workshop. These elements are, like the sounds coming from the loudspeakers, also intended to evoke primitive “life-like” sonic entities. They are fully autonomous, drawing their energy solely from the sun. Their behaviours, as designed by their makers, are variable and each displays its own idiosyncrasies as determined by their individual internal resistances, capacities, their location in the garden and the contingencies of the daily climatic conditions. The various elements of the work then (solar circuits, and the various sounds diffused from loudspeakers), all attempt to exist as fully as possible in the present, though are derived from past activity and are, like us, facing an uncertain future.
1. Technological progress is carrying us to inevitable disaster.
2. Only the collapse of modern technological civilization can avert disaster.
3. The political left is technological society’s first line of defence against revolution.
4. What is needed is a new revolutionary movement, dedicated to the elimination of technological society. (Theodore Kaczynski)
The third, and perhaps most vital area referred to by Electronic Encounter is this individual and collective participation in and impact upon our sonic environments and our broader lifeworld.
Theoretical Context 2: Dark Ecology
“Ecological writing keeps insisting that we are “embedded” in nature. Nature is a surrounding medium that sustains our being. Due to the properties of the rhetoric that evokes the idea of a surrounding medium, ecological writing can never properly establish that this is nature and thus provide a compelling and consistent aesthetic basis for the new worldview that is meant to change society. It is a small operation, like tipping over a domino…Putting something called Nature on a pedestal and admiring it from afar does for the environment what patriarchy does for the figure of Woman. It is a paradoxical act of sadistic admiration.” (Timothy Morton)
This piece is, finally, “an ecology without nature”: an exploration and implementation of artificial entities, in whose company we found ourselves, here and elsewhere. Any sentiment towards the exterior world has been absenced – though a form of affect may yet still remain.
It is hoped that the work is enjoyed and that some of these issues are of interest and of relevance to you here in this moment that we encounter each other. It is proposed that contemporary society requires “renewable thought” – concepts being here considered as a resource in the broader ecology of human life. It seems clear that my own society, the so-called “United Kingdom” is in dire need of tenable concepts with which to survive the future, its economic malaise a dark mirror of its moral and social bankruptcy. It is a further wish that this electronic encounter can participate in meaningful exchange and that an ecology of health and hope can be encouraged in both our troubled nations.