Audible Matter / Wave #5 ESSAY September 2021

Editor's Note #5

How can we center an audible experience based on the agency of matter? In other words, how do stones listen? What do they hear? Through Audible Matter, we want to celebrate the ever-failing attempt of human translation. The sound that wind makes through leaves in a densely populated forest represents the overwhelming nature of the audible, irreducible to human knowledge. Yet, we keep trying. We keep listening, hoping to engage with the cosmic nature of death, life and everything in between.

Audible Matter might appear as a seemingly contradictory enunciation. From within Western tradition, sound has been detached from its materiality. As a visually centered culture, the very proof of the “realness” of matter relies on it being revealed to us visually. Its formal qualities frame the perception of reality. Sound then is associated with a procedure of abstraction, detached from the formalities of matter. Curiously, this relationship of audible-matter is part of our daily representation of reality as much as the visual representation of the world is. While turning a corner, the frenetic sound of a car approaching our sight announces its momentary presence. Sound, we could argue, is associated with common knowledge as much as the visual regime is.

Rather than sound in the service of knowledge, Audible Matter exists as a contingency. The caresses of the desert wind of the Atacama against the dunes have meaning only until we take part in the desert as a system. Acknowledging this juncture with its potentialities, paradoxes and impossibilities is at the core of this Current. These acknowledgments happen together with an outstanding group of artists, musicians, curators and thinkers in our 5th Wave; they challenge the very way we relate to the act of listening.

Xenia Benivolski’s research draws a direct line between resonance and destruction. Her contribution to the 5th Wave explores ongoing research on Europe’s bells and the many lives the metallic alloys have lived throughout the centuries. This essay details how the copper-tin ratios of church bells have changed to make them more effective shapeshifters, more easily melted, cast and repurposed into weaponry and monuments during wartime before being cast once more into bells. An unintended side-effect of the extraction of tin is that the bells take on a distinct resounding tone, meaning the European bell resonates on its own frequency, signaling its ever-present proximity and preparedness to the machinery of death and war.

A dancing flute. The mimicry of an alto sax. A playful horn. The bellowing baritone sax. David Zink Yi uses these instruments in looping, repetitive flares to explore the connectivity between musical improvisation—particularly from African-American jazz traditions—and the song repertoire of a particular bird that holds up to 3,000 distinct phrases. The piece explores what is needed to burn a new refrain into the bird’s memory and what is lost when the limits of memory are reached. For a new phrase to be remembered, must one fall away?

The 5th Wave Track comes from Mhamad Safa, a multidisciplinary artist whose collaboration with Infrasonica includes a conversation with Reem Shadid where they contemplate the sound politics of mass migration, rhythmic algorithms and musical traditions from North Africa and the Arabian Peninsula, raising speculative questions on the region’s human displacement and their musical traditions.

In The Unbalanced Land, Adrián Balseca reflects on the origin and dynamics of the recurring application of epistemological and representative models of Western modernity by observing the specificity of the experience of British explorations in the late 19th century in the artist’s home country of Ecuador. Through a sensorial reading of the travel reports of British expeditions through Santay Island, Balseca interrogates cognitive frameworks of production and representation, and proposes the reexamination of definitions and measuring terms of a Western paradigm that imposes a standardization and an obliteration of cultural specificities via practices of narration, illustration and cartography.

Hellen Ascoli, Negma Coy and Sofia Jade Tanskis Hear Heart is a visual poem that opens to experiences of sound, visual and moving image. Through a relentless series of interrogatives, we are led through a sensory dimension in which touch, vision, sound, affect, memory, language and narration exist in an undivided space, relating to one another through a condition of necessary existence for us to make sense of the place we inhabit, of the representation of ourselves and that of others. Hear Heart gives access to the diversity and complexity of their collective practice, which finds its origin in the Mayan tradition of weaving on a backstrap loom, a device used to reflect body, space and the physical experience within it to investigate matters of identity and cultural belonging.

Ella Finer presents Ode/Oda, a sound installation composed in response to Mercedes Azpilicueta’s exhibition Bondage of Passions presented at Gasworks in 2021. In Finer’s work, Azpilicueta’s tapestries become acoustic portals through which we listen to a multilingual recounting of Catalina de Erauso, an extraordinary 17th-century figure whose life is remembered through contrasting voices, unified via notations on the roles of power and constructions of gender and masculinity.

In 2016 Manuela Ribadeneira presented Temblores armónicos, an exhibition at FLORA ars+natura in Bogota, based on a long-term research project inspired by her visit to the town of Armero in Colombia, destroyed by an eruption of Nevado del Ruiz in 1985. In this body of work, Ribadeneira speculates on the uncertainties and enigmas of the relationship between sound, scientific knowledge and visual representation. As part of the project, she collaborated with sound artist Pável Aguilar on a rapturous music composition whose raw material is the sonic emission of the volcano.

Wave #5 is published thanks to the Colección Patricia Phelps de Cisneros.

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