Sound Art Forum | SURVIVAL 19

About the history of the soundscape in pandemic reality: we present the Sound Art Forum during the 19th edition of the Art Review.

artists: Viktoriia Tofan, Beata Kwiatkowska, Paweł Kulczyński, Robert Mathy, Radek Sirko
curator: Daniel Brożek

The motto “You Ain’t Going Nowhere” refers to the pandemic lockdown in houses, towns and countries, which in the history of the practice of soundscape was the first and perhaps only opportunity to listen to the world with drastically less noise pollution. The limited traffic of cars, airplanes and naval vessels opened up space for sounds in forests, fields, seas and oceans, which until then had been obscured by acoustic smog.

The community of sound researchers all over the globe not only rushed to record this unique situation, but also took the opportunity to emphasise the importance of aural practices in understanding the scale and effects of ecosystem devastation. When talking about the act of “listening,” we usually think about us, people – how we hear sounds, interpret them through our knowledge, experience and preferences, typically acquired in an anthropogenic environment. During the pandemic, curator Alaina Claire Feldman coined the phrase “minor listening” to describe the need to change the perspective of hearing and understanding what and how nonhumans hear. It is no coincidence that we used to call bird sounds singing; after all, our cultural memory assigns variable pitches to the domain of music, whose canon includes many instances of including “bird melodies” in compositions – be it by Schumann, Messiaen, Händel or Dvořák. For a bird, the voice is primarily a means of marking the territory, endowing it with an individual character. For soundscape researchers, sounds of birds become a feature of space, a source of information about the relationships between its inhabitants.

Robert Mathy in Connatural asks a question about our listening habits and how our sensitivity can change if we focus on common nonhuman sounds, which we typically consider irrelevant. Sound installations by Radek Sirko and Paweł Kulczyński constitute a diptych about the role of sound in the process of space perception. LOVE IS STRONGER THAN FEAR uses the form of a pleading song to outline an acoustic map of the boiler room, filling its soundscape with the matter of its carbon footprint. It refers to the sound memory of the venue, but also to Maryanne Amacher’s concept of perceptual geography, according to which the anatomy of sound results directly from architecture, while sounds penetrating through the walls and buildings become elements of the composition. The Epiphone is an attempt to reverse this process – to enclose sound in a space, to capture the moment of transition between topological forms.

The physicality of sound as a story is also present in Viktoria Tofan’s work Let’s Not Be Afraid of Bobo. The lullaby song, which is a form of female protest, is transformed into an immersive experience of acoustic vibrations, following Maryanne Amacher’s question about the transgressive power of sound perception.

In Beata Kwiatkowska’s interactive sound walk, the history of the Workers’ Opera for the factory space and the voices of the audience provides an opportunity to recreate the process of working on the performance and examine its social and cultural consequences. When following the narrative of the extended reality (XR) documentary, are we just participating in a spectacle of power and symbolic violence, or perhaps in the search for an inclusive opera about the communal experience of space and sound?