I kept working throughout the break as I had an opportunity to present a new work overseas at ISEA Durban, South Africa. SLIPSTREAM was a collaboration.
Firstly, I want to reflect on my recent time presenting work at ISEA in Durban, South Africa.
Slipstream is a collaborative project with Alex Davies. This multichannel sound composition is experienced in a unique embodied manner; underwater via submerged speakers. Sound materials collected from Durban and surrounds form a site-specific composition that considers the importance of water for a community living in a humid sub-tropical climate. Presented in public pools around Durban, Slipstream brings art into everyday rituals in playful and participatory ways.
Slipstream is an ongoing collaborative project. Most recently it was presented at ISEA 2018 in Durban. Audio below is an excerpt from this presentation.
Slistream was, in the end, quite a successful work. But it didn’t happen without some difficulties. We came up against a lot of issues with presenting work overseas. South Africa is a very complex country, and it seems there was a lot of pushback from the local council about this international arts festival happening in their town. There was conflict between how they wanted things to go, and how Marcus Neustetter (the creative directors of the festival) wanted things to go. In the end, though, it was a hugely successful, but rather stressful undertaking for the organisers. Marcus was an amazing person to meet. So passionate about pushing the boundaries of contemporary art in South Africa, his generosity towards us and our work will be something I’ll always remember.
Essentially our main issue was the venue. There had been talk about us presenting the work at an indoor pool, which was our aim considering it was winter. However, Durban doesn’t really get very cold in winter, the average temperature was 27 degree when we were there. So it was decided that an outdoor pool would work fine. We really didn’t have much power over this, so we were in a position where we just had to go with whatever could be realised. Marcus pushed hard to make this complicated install work for us, and in the end people really did enjoy it.
We presented three different installs of the work.
1: Beach Front Swimming Pools - (underwater) 23 July 2018
As a trial install, we were given access to this public space to install our underwater sound composition. The pool was quite shallow, and we found the volume to be an issue. There were possibly many reasons for this, but I think mainly because it was such a lively environment above the water, the audience were hearing a mix of what was happening around them and the sound underneath the water. This made for a chaotic listening experience. After this install we were able to remix the work, making the levels a lot louder, and compressing the dynamics which meant that the audio was a lot easier to hear, clearer and more direct.
2: uShaka Marine World Swimming Pool (underwater) - 28 July 2018
Our installation at ISEA ended in two parts. Working in south Africa meant that we needed to be fluid with the presentation of the work, and made compromises.
3: uShaka Marine World Aquarium (above water) - 28 July 2018
In order to make the work accessible to everyone, not only those who wanted to take a dip, we decided to present the work a third time in the hallway of the aquarium as part of the evening exhibition and performance. The weather and time conditions made it difficult for us to present the work to a large number of people, so this was a good compromise for those who wanted to listen to our work, without getting wet. These speakers are not exactly designed for use above water, and the frequency range is limited when used in the air. However, this beautiful reverberant hallway meant that the sound carried for quite a distance, and fill the entrance to the larger exhibition space. The uShaka Aquarium is an incredible space, and the curators made a really impressive show here. The other works were presented in a range of ways, video, installations, sound pieces, VR and performance.
CONCEPT / PROCESS / RECORDING
Listening to sound underwater is not something that people have often had the experience of doing. This work was intended to be a celebration of this act. A celebration of water. An experience that people might remember and think about after the fact. The act of being submerged, in a literally immersive environment is something that we wanted to play with.
The sonic content of this work was developed through field recording of Durban and surrounding areas. Alex and I arrived in Durban 2 weeks before the symposium, to develop the work and compose the sonic content. The sound was made in quite an intuitive way, and we each ended up working both independently and collaboratively to make a 20-minute composition. We made a decision to include synthesis in an attempt to evoke a dream-like state for listeners, the sound floats over you and into the spaces around. The composition was made for 8 individual speakers, so sounds moved around the pool as people listened.
I recorded many sounds around Durban, but most interestingly I worked on sounds that were captured through contact microphones and hydrophones. The idea behind this was to capture sounds that can’t be heard with the human ear, and then present them under water where those sounds could not be heard naturally, but mediated but technology the sounds can be clearly heard under water. There is a level of processing involved in the sounds, which brings out a musical approach to the composition.