Landscape and Amnesia
|We are exploring the relationship between sound and narrative, sound and memory, sound and place. The challenge throughout the process of making a radio play and sound poem has been to recreate the past through sound, but also to narrate the process of forgetting.2/4 (Patrick)Josephine and Tom can talk more about the sound poem, but I think the question of memory is very important here. Place, yes, but perhaps in a more obvious way. That is – through sound – Tom quite easily evoked the sense of place of Tullaree after it was reclaimed by the swamp. But the temporality of memory is more difficult. In the radio play the sound becomes a crucial narrative element. This is true of any moderately skilful audio drama (I will cite Crook, Richards et al here) of course. I will argue that the sound narrative works on three levels in the play:
|3/4 (Josephine)“To sound a space is to denominate it a place: it is to mark it as an historical event” (Carter 1992:12).I’ve been captured by this sentence, particularly the first half, for some time now and I wonder if we might run with ideas that it might suggest? Thinking in more humble terms than historical events, I’m interested in how, in a very simple way, the sound artefacts created for the Lyrebird project so far alter our recognition of the locations we researched.
I remember the day turning into evening when I was driving vainly around the Buffalo and Meeniyan areas trying to find sounds to record for the Ladyswamp piece in order to evoke a swamp landscape. I can see now how much I wanted this stage of the process to be authentic, as if the collection of actual sound from our research location would somehow make our project better. This notwithstanding our shared recognition of authenticity needing to be abandoned in the sound design, as part of the process of creating a point of view. At any rate, to move in the Sth Gippsland spaces looking for sound felt important for other reasons. For the writing of Ladyswamp the attempt to find a voice for the poem felt like it needed to come from an in-habitation of sorts in the ‘real’ place as superstitious as that might sound. I think most writing arises from superstitious behaviour, though. Fascinating then that the point of view needed for writing, or the ‘voice’, came upon arrival at a farmhouse in Dalyston, near the South Gippsland coast, after abandoning the Buffalo area in which the lady of swamp used to live. Torrential rain had created a swamp which was alive with frogs beside the driveway, ripe for recording as well as a host of other indiscernible sounds making the night air hum.
To take these ideas further into post-structuralist territory, the sense of creative artefacts (for want of a better description) as “not being copies of the city” (in loose quotation of James McGregor’s PhD thesis) but rather flowing through the city from imagination and imagination to city not in any linear sense but in the matted fashion of the rhizome, is exemplified by the song notes of magpies. I sometimes hear this call when out walking early in the morning and it makes me recall the magpies which begin the radio play. For moments my location shifts to South Gippsland as we have imagined it. Following Raban (2003: 14), perhaps this place – the sonified territory of our South Gippsland – is just as, or even more, real than the hard places we have located in maps and our travels to the region.
Carter, P 1992, The sound in between, Kensington, NSW, New South Wales University Press.
McGregor, J 2003, ‘The Search for the Just City: Characterisation and Spatial Politics in Melbourne Novels, 1949 – 2001’, presented to the Faculty of Architecture, Building and Planning, University of Melbourne, 19 May 2003.
Raban, in Bridge & Watson, 2003, p.14
Jo, that’s a fabulous quote from Carter, and I agree that it’s one we go with as a frame for authenticity. I had an interesting email with discussion with him on this. He rightly suggested that authenticity was a dangerously flawed aspiration, but I think he and I were talking about slightly different things. He was critiquing the idea of authenticity as an attempt to return to a historical artifact. He talks about attempts to ‘theatricalise’ experience. But I was meaning authenticity in terms of reading a place in terms of the process of becoming. You’ll recall the feeling we had at the beginning of our first field trip to South Gippsland, where we started to feel an anxiety over finding something authentic to photograph. We ended up beginning the journey at a cemetery, almost as an attempt to get the historical positivism out of our system. Then we simply started photographing what we saw.
So, the journey in the Lyrebird narratives always began somewhere else and funneled down McDonald’s track, to Poowong, where the real journey began. We took our first photos at the beginning of McDonald’s track, which is now a Shell service station. This is where authenticity acquires some dimension. You’d perhaps hope for a historical marker or a bit of recreated bush, but somehow the servo works. Perhaps before there was a stable. Then we stopped at Poowong and we took pictures of the monument to the packhorse. Poowong appears to be a town not burdened by buildings of note, and the monument could easily be mistaken for a war cenotaph, but this was where we ‘turned like a hawk in the air’ and headed south. Somehow we felt more confident in our research at this point. We ended up not photographing anything of historical ‘authenticity’ but we managed to gather up a great deal of story. The photo we eventually used for our conference poster is illuminating. The photo was taken up in the hills above Meeniyan. It shows a paddock atop a very steep hill with a fence running away down the hill. The paddock is green but somehow barren and we get a strong sense of vertigo. The folk at the conference were drawn to this image, and we received a lot of feedback about how powerful and emotional the image was. I feel that this is the sort of authenticity we were looking for.
So, how does this relate to sound and what we were after when we were recording for Ladyswamp and Under the Forest?
5/4 (Tom Kazas)
(A response to the initial ideas of this examination at ‘2/4 Patrick’. More hopefully to come…)
In designing the sound for the radio play ‘Under the Forest’, and the sound poem ‘LadySwamp’, the immediate question in each case became – what space is to be created? Is it to have fidelity to something known, something ‘real’, something from memory?
This is a problem of the authentic. I would argue that one is never able to create an authentic ‘anything’. One’s view is always mediated by the attributes of culture; sites prey to the operations of power, embodiment and history. Likewise, the object in question is also constituted by its own set of contingencies, rendering it impossible to describe as authentic. Far from this being a difficulty, it is in fact a liberation; one can (and must) choose a position to work from, a set of biases to shape with, which opens up many possibilities for the designer.
In abandoning the authentic, one necessarily creates a contrivance. I decided from the outset that this position should be self-evident in the sound design, that the listener must be aware of the constructions. This is attempted in the first few seconds of the radio play by chopping(!) the sound of wind, slicing it into audio snippets to disrupt any sense of a ‘real’ landscape, and hopefully demonstrate that what is to follow is knowingly an assemblage. These introductory few seconds are intended to momentarily unsettle the listener and place them in the same position as the makers, that is, of having to contribute to the realization of the work.
This is all well and good, designing a sonic space with these knowing assumptions, but this space is not static. The moment one introduces a narrator, the scene becomes markedly more complex. From what position is their revelation given to us? Is the narrator reliable and omniscient, or flawed and partial? Understanding this terrain, and what Patrick refers to as the ‘scale of resonance’, was key to my task of rendering sound for the radio play.
One key discovery in this task was the realization that the narrators of the radio play must not speak from a nowhere zone, a place absent of sound. It would’ve been too easy, and very disconcerting, to have them speak from a place that does not have a particular sonic identity – for they also need to be embroiled in the diegesis. In this case, their sonic identity is non-diegetic, that is, the audio that accompanies their spoken words does not belong to the world of the forest, of now, or of 1870. This accompanying sound is an oscillating sine wave, a pure electronically generated tone having no relation to any sounds of the forest, (apart from a Lyrebird in fine form, who must at least hear it once!). It is intended that this would not only situate that narrators ‘somewhere’, (not left in a silent void), but signal to the listener that the narrators are speaking from a constructed position, somewhere other than the action described, yet from a place every bit as locate-able as the action.
This sound then becomes the sound of memory, the memory from which the narrative originates. It is a sound that at once distances the narration from the action, from the ‘real-time’ historical drama, and contrasts it with the ‘elsewhere’ of memory. Do these memories, being from an ‘elsewhere’, bring us close to the condition of amnesia in ‘Under the Forest’? Are not amnesia and forgetting different things?