field: alarum, implication (v.2)

The site of the field: alarum, implication recording.

field: alarum, implication (v.2) is a six-channel sound installation (with optional subwoofers, as possible). The installation consists of an electronic music composition, speakers in an empty and preferably darkened space, and an accompanying booklet which contextualizes the piece for the listener.

In November of 2018, I participated in the Sonic Mmabolela residency in Limpopo Province, Republic of South Africa, directed by Francisco López and Barbara Ellison. field: alarum, implication is made from a short excerpt of a much longer recording gathered at the edge of the Limpopo River, which forms much of the northern border of South Africa. In this location, we are directly across the river from Botswana, beside a pond-like eddy on the southern edge of the Limpopo. Here, I have gathered six channels of sonic input from a fairly circumscribed area of about three to four meters square using different input methods: microphones, a contact mic and a pair hydrophones in the water.

These six channels, the voices in this composition, create an aural ‘snapshot’ of this particular place at this particular time, while revealing more sound than would meet the ear of a listener who was standing at the spot. The integrity of their temporal relationship has been maintained throughout the piece. I applied a few resonant filter effects to some passages in response to the sounds themselves, to intensify certain sonic qualities.

Each of the six voices (channels)—corresponding to the individual voices in a traditional musical composition—is sent to its own separate speaker. The speakers are placed in a formation analogous to where the various microphones and hydrophones were situated in relation to the recorder and the recordist. In this way, the configuration of the inputs to the composition is then recapitulated in its presentation. (See diagram, below.) The listener, then, is free to move about and explore the geography of the sound installation, curating their experience as they do so.

Diagram of speaker placement for the field: alarum, implication (v.2) installation, based on the placement of the microphones. Units are those of proportion, not distance.

It is a commonly-expressed belief that humans are separate from nature. People want their soundscape recordings free of the traces of human presence. But there are planes in the sky and roads filled with cars all around because we put them there. The drive to keep all of these things out of our sonic representations fulfills a need for reassurance that our environment is undisturbed, that everything is fine.

In a discussion with the artist Nyeema Morgan, in response to a field recording I had played her which at one point contained the sound of my footsteps, she talked about how she preferred to hear signs of humans in the recordings, how she wanted signs of human bodies; she wanted people “implicated” in the recording. That notion stuck with me, validating my own preference for some indication of human presence. After all, these recordings do not make themselves. They are made by someone who was present, in the space, with a recording instrument. In the present composition, two of my colleagues in the South African residency are heard speaking toward the end of the piece.

The recording linked below is a stereo mixdown of the installation version of the piece.


I want to thank Francisco López, Barbara Ellison and all of my compatriots in the Sonic Mmabolela 2018 residency for their guidance and companionship on that fantastic trip. Thanks are also due to N.B. Aldrich, Michael Lang, Joel Chadabe, Sofian Audry and all my colleagues in the University of Maine Intermedia MFA program for their thoughtful feedback and critique. Many thanks also to Matthew Shaw at College of the Atlantic for his advocacy for and support of this project.

P R O J E C T   H I S T O R Y

October 28, 2019 – November 8, 2019 :  Ethel H. Blum Gallery at the College of the Atlantic, Bar Habor, Maine, USA
May 18, 2019 – June 28, 2019 :  Fernald AP/PE Space, Orono, Maine, USA

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