Sound Bites City: The Fine Art of Listening
by Evelyn Tsitas
A new exhibition at RMIT Gallery Sound Bites City will showcase the RMIT University Sound Art Collection – the first of its kind in Australia – and offer audiences the chance to experience 19 new and significant works by leading Australian and international sound artists.
Lawrence Harvey is an Associate Professor and director of the SIAL Sound Studios. His recent projects include artistic direction and sound diffusion for five concerts at the Melbourne Recital Centre, a report on Melbourne’s five Urban Soundscape Systems, spatial performance research with Elision Ensemble at the 2011 Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival, and performances at the Institute of Sonology, The Hague, 2013.
Evelyn Tsitas from RMIT Gallery caught up with him during the installation for Sound Bites City to discuss the auditory self, and how a curator helps an audience to ‘see sound’.
Evelyn Tsitas: How can Sound Art expand our concept of both music and art, as well as the vocabulary of song writing?
Lawrence Harvey: A lot of the artists in the exhibition and the collection have practises in both classical music and Sound Art; some come out of fine art, media art, theatre studies, experimental music, and composition; anywhere people have been working with expanded notions of sound and how it can be used artistically. These artists create works that you can just come upon, listen to for some unspecified time and then move away again; although most of the works in this collection have a finite duration.
ET: How can Sound Art extend the very act of listening?
LH: It’s always an interesting question that one, because when you’re putting together an exhibition or event you do put yourself in the shoes of an audience, wondering “If I came into this room, what do I leave with?” or “Do I leave with a big frown?” or a big “well what was that?” Or does something change in the way that I go out and listen to the world and I think that’s really what I would be interested in?
What happens as a result of someone walking off Swanston Street into RMIT Gallery, up the stairs to into the 16 channel sound system and suddenly being presented with a transformed sonic environment? The audience is moved 15/20 metres away from a dense urban environment into something quite different, and then back out again.
It’s what happens in that transformation that is fascinating. There’s always that aspect at one level when we talk about artistic experience. The art object or sound doesn’t necessarily do anything. It’s always about the relationship we form with sound as the viewer or listener.
So what we bring to the work is important, and that relationship that you build up through your own sonic imagination. And we all have a sonic imagination. When I’m teaching students one of the first things I do is to get them to understand that they have sonic ideas, they have sonic memories, and they probably have sonic dreams as well.
ET: That’s a fascinating idea. To dream in sound, to remember in sound.
LH: Hopefully the exhibition provides a place to come and play with all of those aspects of our imaginations. When you have an opportunity to work with sounds recorded in the environment you experience just how dynamic the world is. When you really listen, it’s not all noise. When you listen to the world in a particular way it is a cornucopia of sound. The idea that sound is critical to our being in the world cuts right across many cultures. Sound is different depending on your environment, be it natural or urban. For instance, we experience reverberation in an interior going to a cathedral or concert hall. There is that beautiful decay in the sound, but when you’re in the forest you can also get that sense of enclosure as well, your voice comes back to you in that way. The aim of Sound Bites City is to provide an opportunity for the audience to really hear the world in a different way.
Sound Bites City: The inaugural exhibition of RMIT University’s new Sound Art Collection. Exhibition dates: 4 September – 19 October 2013.