Sound is Matter Singing
Part 2: Touching The Sound In Darkness by Dallas Simpson
Photograph: Helen Simpson
The perceptual and cognitive consequences of sound are profound.
This is something that has piqued my curiosity since childhood, and has become the focus of an ongoing series of personal studies since the 1990’s. I’m going to talk about my experiences with sound from a personal perspective. My professional academic background is scientific. I’m not an arts academic and have not studied environmental sound art at any establishment of further education. So this is very much a personal view. And I’m going to try and keep the language simple.
We connect with the world through our senses. Sight, hearing and to a lesser extent smell and taste, allow us to extend our realm of perception beyond the confines of our skin. Our senses also allow us, through the agency of memory, to transcend the barriers of time.
Touch is the ultimate connection. To hold, to touch, to caress is more than mere possession. It is an extension of our awareness of matter, whether living or inanimate. To touch life is sublime and to find the living within inanimate matter is pure transcendence. This transcendence is revealed through vibration communicated and perceived as sound in a sublime act of communion. Sound is matter singing, revealing its other self, its soundbody. We greet the soundbody with our ear and assimilate it. Our ears touch the source of the vibrations and we reach out to embrace it.
(The concept of the ‘soundbody’ is complex and difficult to explain and my understanding is evolving. The concept is highly abstract and ‘breaks down’ in detailed scientific analysis. In essence it refers to the idea that the sound of the physical source vibrating objects or substances complex in the pure realm of sound, is the vibrating source object. In the pure realm of sound all physical sound sources can only exist as vibrational sound. Furthermore this conservation of the reality of its origin is transferable according to any further transforms of the sound vibration to other forms of energy or information – or example electrical, digital, perceptual cognition… So the physical vibrating source of the sound is preserved in vibrational form as an actuality. The sound of an object IS the object in the realm of sound, or in any other form of energy)
The musician and the music lover will speak of the potency of sound. And the perception, creation and organisation of sound around us reveals the musicality of matter itself, in its native form, pure, resonant, pictorial, abstract.
Over the last twenty years or so I have attempted to engage with the world around me in sonic conversation. The conversation always starts with listening, then, as the locality becomes more accepting of my presence, and as I become more aware of its sonic potentiality, I offer gestures to give voice to the location. Through the agency of my actions I invite the silent sonic potentialities of the location to ‘speak’, and I continue to listen…
Environmental performance can use a variety of forms and techniques. In an unprepared location only the objects and surfaces found at the location are used as a focus for performing sounds. In a prepared location sound objects may be imported into and placed within it. A third option is to carry one or more sound objects continually into and through the location for personal use as inspired. There are obviously inherent elements of our human nature carried with us, elements such as one’s own voice, limbs and body surface, which can be used both to stimulate the locality and to elicit sounds in their own right. (the hand clap, the shout or call…)
But more important than technique is the richness of the experience of environmental performance. There is a spatial component, a meditative spiritual component and the pure physicality, the joy of listening and sounding. Dialogues occur both intrinsically (in my mind and soul) and extrinsically (my perception and reaction to the acoustics and of all sounds within the environment I inhabit) – my performance can respond to the sounds I hear and to the physicality of the location. My behaviour is tempered by how I perceive the location, the proximal and distal (near and far) soundscape and my engagement with them. I use the terms ‘proximal and distal’ from their medical origins – the proximal and distal tubules of the kidney, the process of filtration, of recovery and disposal. We interrogate the local and distant acoustic by stimulating it, through our physical activity, with sound which is discarded, disposed into the environment. We recover and preserve in our memory the responses we perceive. Those responses bring joy, respect and reverence. It is a sonic conversation ladened with meaning, a musicality of timbre and texture, of rustle, scrape, slap and boom. Yet all the while the environment speaks through the wind, the water, the wildlife and the effect of our presence, and others, moving within it. We can choose to be active or we can choose to be silent… and listen…
In what sense composition?
I often refer to the importance of spatial composition in environmental performance, and certainly the distribution of sounds around me in three-dimensional space are an element of that spatial composition. But the dialogue of sonic composition, like music, occurs through both space and time. The moments of silent contemplation, the spaces and times of listening and observing, trajectories of movement and shifts of perceptual focus, inform the dynamics of the relationship the environment is offering me and governs to a high degree my frequency and intensity of response.
Responses must emerge from the mind, the soul and the heart.
Therefore the emerging environmental spatial sound composition is viewed as the result of an ongoing, maturing personal relationship with the location and not as an end in itself. The recordings I make of environmental location performances must be viewed in this context. They are records of an encounter at a particular place and time and, hopefully, invitations to others to go out and explore for themselves.
In some cases I will offer a metacomposition compiled from several recorded encounters. These are often linked through abstract concepts. Two examples are Sacred Thresholds (2013), circumambulation of Holy Places and spiritual transcendence through death, and A Short Journey of Silica (2017), the evolution of the raw material silica and its manufacture to glass in the form of bottles together with the recycling of this material resource.