A solo environmental art project with violins out in the natural environment
Resonant Pathways is a solo project by electroacoustic composer and improviser Bennett Hogg, in which experiences of free improvisation with an acoustic violin are extended into interactions with the natural environment, in the pursuit of an ecosystemic sonic arts practice. That this is named as an ecosystemic practice is intended to convey a sense of participation and connectedness with the environment, in which the composer/improviser works directly with the sonic affordances of a particular place, not only recording environmental sound (collection) but generating it in a “collaboration” with the environment. As the philosopher Salome Voegelin has pointed out, we not only perceive our sonic environment but add to it through making sound ourselves. We move and react in response to sound. Our response to listening/hearing is often to make sound ourselves; or to make ourselves sound.
Such a collection of thoughts seems to offer an interactive model for environmental art, which is the philosophical ground out of which the project has grown, the pathways aspect informed and inspired by Robert Macfarlane’s writings – The Old Ways, for example – as well as Richard Long’s walks, and Andy Goldsworthy’s physical interventions into his local environment. Pathways connect, record the passing of humans and other creatures across a landscape, they stand as metaphors for stories as well as sites for the actualisation of stories, they draw our imaginations.
‘The imagination cannot help but pursue a line in the land – onwards in space, but also backwards in time to the histories of a route and its previous followers’ – Robert Macfarlane, The Old Ways (London: Hamish Hamilton, 2012), p.15
In practical terms, interventions take several forms. Using very small DPA microphones, sounds from inside the violin are captured as the instrument is confronted with a series of different environmental encounters. The violin might be dragged very slowly through undergrowth and vegetation, the different materials such as thorns, sticks, leaves, grasses engendering a dense array of different timbres as the body and strings of the violin come into contact with them. Sometimes the violin is floated on a river, so that dragging against the current produces a bright, watery resonance in the instrument that becomes an eerie stillness as the instrument is left to float downstream – the absence of water resistance against the body resulting in a near silence. The violin can also be used to directly engage with a river as it flows, the instrument being partially submerged so that the strings are sounded by the pressure of water flowing over them. Violins are also used as resonators in aeolian sound experiments built into living trees, the movement of branches stretching and slackening the strings so that the weather is gently registered in subtle pitch fluctuations. Completed works exist in the form of field recordings and interventions suitable for live performance, but also produce sonic materials for reworking into acousmatic compositions, or as elements to be incorporated into live improvisation.
Aspects of the project are akin to Richard Long’s walks; as he puts it, “The knowledge of my actions in whatever form, is the art. My art is the essence of my experience, not a representation of it”. This solitary experience, though, can be shared through inviting collaborations in which the experience is shared, and by involving audiences in the production of sounds, as well as in fixed media works, several of which have already been produced, that relocate these sounds produced through improvisation into more complex configurations suitable for installation or concert presentation; something akin to Robert Smithson’s idea of a “non-site”, but in a sonic register. Ideally, something of all of these factors should be present in any instance of the work, though stereo and multitrack versions for purely acousmatic presentation are also possible.
some recent compositions from Resonant Pathways project
aeolian violin installation with fishing wire and violins – used to record October Sunscape (link to audio below)
Four Times over the Same Path – a multi-tracked composition (intended for four channel installation) dragging a violin along the same path for exactly the same length of time – using the path like a score (The south Plant’n, near Seaton Sluice, Northumberland, 2010).
balancing string – pull-release improvisations with violin floating on river (at River Petteril, Greystoke, Cumbria, 2010), assembled into a stereo composition.
Devil’s Water 1 – field recording of live improvisation with two violins in a river (The Devil’s Water, near Hexham, Northumberland, 2011).
October Sunscape – long, slow and meditative field recording of an aeolian structure resonated by violin bodies, played by the wind and the ambient sounds (Morpeth, Northumberland, 2012). See illustration above.
‘. . . for animistic cultures, those that see the natural world as inspirited, not just people, but also animals, plants, and even “inert” entities such as stones and rivers are perceived as being articulate and at times intelligible subjects, able to communicate and interact with humans for good or ill’ – Christopher Manes, Nature and Silence, p. 15: in Glotfelty and Fromm (eds.) The Ecocriticism Reader (Georgia University Press, 1996), pp. 15-29.
“Working Through the New” is a paper-in-progress that has been given in various different conference formats this year, and includes material from “Ideas of ‘The New'” (available on this site), as well as from the Creativity, Innovation, and Labour in Music symposium, chaired by Jason Toynbee, and held in July at the Open University, Milton Keynes, and in a Research Forum presentation I made at Newcastle University in October.
Click here for the complete paper, with video examples which can also be found under the “academic writing” section of this website.
This is the rough text of a talk I gave at the “Nothing New?” Conference in Huddersfield recently. It needs referencing, and editing, but I’m putting it up here as a sort of extended blog. pdf. version available for download over on the “academic writing” pages.
Ideas of the New
“Nothing New? Understanding Newness in Medieval and Contemporary Music”
Huddersfield University, 25th April, 2009
The idea of the new is inhabited by contradictions; inseparable, as it apparently is, from “the old”. As the quotation from The Devil’s Dictionary on the present conference’s website says, “there is nothing new under the sun, but there are lots of old things we don’t know”. “Nothing new under the sun”, perhaps, yet we have to face the contradictory fact that under that same sun everyday “a new day dawns”. It’s the second half of that quote from The Devil’s Dictionary that concerns me today, though, the “lots of old things we don’t know”; do we really not know them? have we simply forgotten them? or have they been repressed – in the psychoanalytical sense – or marginalised, in the political sense – by social and historical pressures respectively? It is still difficult for us to look at “the new” without the ideological and conceptual frames and filters that belong to a historical period which may not be ours any longer. Modernity, and its variously defined modernisms, seem to have made the idea of “the new” their own, placing “the new” so much centre stage that anything not “new” has tended to be pushed into the wings; what Walter Benjamin identified, in the context of surrealism, as “the outmoded”.
Many of us, when confronted by the new, struggle, initially, to make sense of it. Typically we triangulate meaning, as it were, from the twin points of our personal memories and our cultural competences – to anchor the new experience in relation to the already known. Confronted with “the new” the phrase “well, at least it’s different” shunts the new off into the flexible category of “the different”, from where, once categorized as “different”, it can be dealt with later. And this conflating of “difference” with “dealing with later” is integral to Derrida’s neologism differance – a differing and a deferring that is never completely achieved, any sense of a signified behind the signifier (in Saussurean terms), any final and ultimate meaning, being infinitely deferred.
We might for a moment, then, place a hold on “the different’, as one possible destination, placement, or marker, of “the new”.
Difference, though, is a loaded term that also carries within itself an ambiguity, an instability, an undecideability. The word “different” is associated, in English at least, with two prepositions that, on the face of it, move in opposite directions – from and to – but in association with the word “different, we find that rather than naming opposites, they combine in a “to-ing-and-fro(m)-ing”, a dynamic process of differing that moves between points, or circulates within a given space; from and to position the word “different” in terms that are bi-directional, and as different differences differentiate themselves, a network emerges – which has, of course, been proposed as one way to think of a language, or a culture. Within this structure of understanding, “the new” in any absolute and non-contingent sense is an impossibility. Networks within culture arise not ex nihilo but emerge and grow from established points. New connections, or what I will be discussing as “inventions”, depend, for their emergence, on existing knowledge and modes of understanding, and for their subsequent and necessary assimilation into a culture. More »
Great Parisian Modernists is the (probably) rather unlikely sounding title of a projected cycle of pieces for solo instruments and voices, with live electronics, that draw connections between “Great Parisian Modernists” and figures or ideas from ancient mythologies that are in some ways associated with them. The project is modular insofar as each individual piece can be played separately, and different versions of each piece will be made for a selection of related instruments, but the separate pieces can also be combined together, as though they were constituent modules (arias, ritornelli, and scenes) of a music theatre work/chamber opera on the model of a Florentine intermede. As well as being possible in a live performance, I am also involved in a project to make this possible using a specially designed web-based system that I am calling ARCCADDE (Archives and Creative Collaborations for Artists in the Distributed Digital Environemnt), partly in homage to Walter Benjamin whose Parisian “Arcades Project” has informed and inspired my ideas. More »
I’ve already been involved in two projects released on the Moscow-based web label “Clinical Archives”, both improv projects of one sort or another – “My Little Pop Group” and “Wormhole“. This most recent release is a short piece with long-term musical collaborator (and member of both “My Little Pop Group” and “Wormhole”) electric guitarist, circuit-bender, and deafening noise generator John Ferguson. The track is an edited and remixed version of some live improv recordings we’ve made over the past couple of years, and is called Steaming Priest – no one knows why, but that’s what it’s called.
Bennett Hogg – Residency at STEIM – Nov 5th- Nov 16th 2008 The Resistant Violin – Project Blog and Information
The Resistant Violin: Initial ideas and concept
The Resistant Violin is a work-in-progress that aims to find a way of adapting a violin, the main instrument I have chosen to work with in free improvisation, to interface with digital technology. However, the project does not strive to extend the existent possibilities of the violin but works instead to restrict them – even to negate them. It does not seek to make the technological interface more ergonomic or intuitive but rather to problematize the notion that technologies make things somehow “easier” or “more possible”. Physically, the prototype that I developed at STEIM between the 5th and 16th November this year (2008) consists of a violin and bow connected together with strong elastic at various points, making free movement of the bow almost impossible (fig. 1).
The Resistant Violin – the working prototype made at STEIM – fig. 1 (photo by Will Schrimshaw)