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I feel like a balloon going up into the atmosphere, looking, gathering information, and relaying it back. Rachel Rosenthal, 1985

Last April 2019, Sounding Out! published my two-part article “On the poetics of balloon music” exploring sound and sound-art practices through the object of the balloon. The first article focuses on late 18th century balloon travels and the descriptions of silence in the upper air that constituted a staple of Victorian balloon memoirs and literature of the time. Ascending above the noise of the industrialized city, the first balloonists were constructing a sonic identity rooted in the privilege of buoyancy and constructs of the sublime, harmony, and silence that excluded other ways of sounding. The sight of boundless space and the muted sonic experience of the higher regions of the atmosphere inspired colonial narratives of expansion and a listening mode that perceived sound as invasive, as contamination and as noise. By establishing an early connection between the exploration of the atmosphere and a listening ear based on elitism, race, and class the article goes on to analyze some contemporary sound-art practices that use balloons to explore the atmosphere and that take on the challenge of creating a more inclusive relationship with the medium of air.

Against Levity: Experimental Music and the Latex Balloon

Part 2 of this article features an interview with composer and sound artist Judy Dunaway, who has been developing sculptural sonic performances with balloons for over 25 years. Dunaway’s work with the balloon as a sound producer has been the exclusive focus of several records (e.g. Balloon Music,  Mother of Balloon Music), scores, sound sculptures, solo performances, ensembles, and installations. In this interview, Judy Dunaway talks about how her balloon compositions are in active dialogue with questions relating to feminism, body/mind, ecology, civil rights, memory, and the overall creation of a musical expression and lexicon that lives outside a classical heritage. As Dunaway points out, the balloon as a musical instrument bypasses dominant hierarchies of music production, leveling the access to experimentation and sonic textures that are restricted by expensive electronic technology. In addition to this democratization of sound, the latex balloon functions as a resonant chamber, offering an embodied mode of listening through the vibration of its membranes. This object duality of sounding and sensing opens up room for what the scholar Steph Ceraso calls a multi-modal listening that plays with body, affect, behavior, design, space, and aesthetics.

“From my earliest work with balloons as musical instruments, I instinctively knew that I must limit myself to the balloon and my body.  This required that the balloon function not only as a musical appendage by which I may transmit sound, but also one that transmitted vibrations back to me through its sensitive body. (…)” Judy Dunaway, The Balloon Music Manifesto

Balloon Music compilation
Balloon Music compilation

Sounding Out! articles:

On the poetics of balloon music: Sounding Air, Body and Latex (Part 1)

On the poetics of balloon music: Sound Artist Judy Dunaway (Part 2)

Carlo Patrão

Zepelim, Charles Amirkhanian

This piece was produced for BBT Sun Radio and aired on Rádio Universidade de Coimbra (RUC) on July 6th, 2018. BBT Sun Radio is a radiophonic space dedicated to freeform radio and a celebration of our beloved friends and radio colleagues José Braga, Bruno Simões and João Terêncio. This hour is a travel-log of old and new interviews, radio cut-ups, collages and excursions on themes like deep time, sound, ecology, lucid dreaming, etc. Thanks to André Quaresma and Tiago André for the invitation and for curating this show.

Collage 2

Ruc

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On June 28, I’ll be talking about Music for Plants at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Denver, Colorado. This talk is part of an event series called 3 Things, Any 3 Things that mixes performance, lecture, and music. The tagline for the event reads: We bring you three experiences. We smash them together. We make no connections. Let’s see what happens. 

Alongside music for plants there will be a Hip hop harpist (Erin Newton) and a whiskey tasting (Ryan Negley). I’m pleased to do this lecture in the hometown of Dorothy Retallack, author of the book Sound of Music and Plants (1973), that famously spread the rumors that plants don’t have an ear for Led Zeppelin or Jimi Hendrix’s acid rock.

MCA, Denver Colorado, June 28:
Music for Plants + Whiskey + Hip Hop Harpist 
with Carlo Patrão, Ryan Negley, and Erin Newton

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Kalun Leung is a trombone player based in New York City. This interview was recorded during a visit to Freshkills Park in Staten Island organized by the sound artist John Roach, the designer Andrew Shea and their students from the New School. The group is developing a series of installations for the park that translate ecological data into sensory experiences. Freshkills Park, once the world’s largest landfill, is now being transformed into a public park three times the size of Central Park.

Kalun Leung
Sound the Mound

DeepWirelessLarge

Zepelim’s radio piece Misophonia is included in the new Deep Wireless 13 radio art compilation curated by New Adventures in Sound Art (NAISA). This work explores the condition of Misophonia and the varying degrees of sonic annoyances that arise from bodily functions while also reflecting upon the ways in which this health issue has been covered by the media. Deep Wireless 13 features several radio pieces on the spectrum of electroacoustic and experimental sound art. The album was produced for the 17th edition of Deep Wireless Festival of Radio & Transmission Art taking place between January 17 and April 16, 2018. Pieces were selected from an international call for submissions on the theme Sonic Reflections.

“The Deep Wireless festival has been celebrating the art of the aural imagination since 2002 with annual performances, broadcasts, workshops and many special events. This year’s theme is Sonic Reflections. Reflections of South River that are broadcast out into the world and reflections of the world resonating in our memories and imagination.”— Darren Copeland, NAISA

Artistic Director: Darren Copeland
Executive Director: Nadene Thériault-Copeland
Image Illustration: Prashant Miranda

Deep Wireless 13 Radio Art Compilation:

Naisa

Harvard University Ex-centric Music Studies Conference

Next February 2nd, I’ll be doing a presentation entitled “Botanical Rhythms: A field guide to plant music” at the conference Ex-centric Music Studies at Harvard University. This presentation is included in the panel “Relocating research: the core of practice” chaired by Vijay Iyer. The conference will explore subjects, methods, and modes of presentation that have been deemed ‘peripheral’ to music studies, and aims to offer participants an opportunity to present projects that might exceed the bounds of academic convention.

Friday, February 2 at 7:00 PM – 9:00 PM EST
Holden Chapel, Harvard Yard, Cambridge (MA)

 

Botanical Rhythms: A field guide to plant music

ABSTRACT – Plants are the most abundant life form visible to us. Despite their ubiquitous presence, most of the time, we still fail to notice them. The botanists Wandersee and Schussler call it plant blindness, an extremely prevalent condition characterized by the inability to see or notice the plants in one’s own environment. Molly Roth And JimOur bias towards animals, or zoochauvinism, has been shown to have negative implications on funding towards plant conservation. Authors argue that artistic practices that engage plants in a sensorial and meaningful way can potentially generate emotional responses and concern towards plant life. This presentation reviews musical and sound art practices that incorporate plants and discusses the ethics of plant life as a performative participant. Starting in the early 70s, Music to Grow Plants By became a small footnote in the history of recorded music. However, it showed how the veiled nature of plants became attached to personal narratives, tastes and social values. In parallel, avant-garde movements interested in amplifying the noises of everyday life started to appropriate the sounding materiality of plants through contact microphones. John Cage’s amplified cactus became an icon of indeterminacy music. Plant-based generative music attempts to take a step forward into the inner life of plants by translating their biological activity.

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Creative chains linking plants, technology, music and touch can be found in site-specific installations and performances by artists like Mileece, Miya Masaoka, Michael Prime, Leslie Garcia and the collective Data Garden.

The recent blooming of plant bioacoustics studies and acoustic ecology have inspired artists to sonically explore plant matter combining artistic and scientific points of view. In the midst of a strong movement to revitalize the role of plants in the field of humanities, concerns related to plants ethics and performance with plants are being debated. The sonification and acoustic amplification of plant life evoke both a sense of connection and the realization of an ontological fracture. However, the act of listening to plant life can be an act of acknowledgment, a possibility for emotional identification and empathy, rendering plant life visible.

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Harvard Graduate Music Conference
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Megapolis Audio Festival 2017 Poster Detail

This year’s edition of Megapolis Audio Festival will be held on the weekend of September 16th and 17th as part of Philadelphia’s Fringe Festival. Megapolis is dedicated to sound art, featuring works and performances from musicians, filmmakers, educators, urban planners, scientists, and radio producers.

Carlo Patrao - Misophonia, Megapolis Audio Festival

Zepelim’s radio piece about Misophonia will be played at PhillyCam, alongside other digital works. Radio will be one of the main focuses of the festival with discussions about radio art with Joan Schuman from Earlid, the politics of storytelling with Karen Werner, live performances from Radio Wonderland, and radio in translation with Eleanor McDowall’s Radio Atlas.

Description:
Portuguese radio artist Carlo Patrao tackles the recently discovered and little understood chronic condition known as Misophonia. The condition is characterized by highly negative emotional responses to auditory triggers like chewing, breathing, sniffling, coughing, or slurping. This radio collage explores and utilizes this range of intrusive bodily sounds and discourse around it, while transforming those very sounds into music and performance art.

 

megapolisMore info:
Megapolis Audio Festival
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