Tuned Wanderings: Material Soundscapes in Works by Janet Cardiff and Georges Bures Miller


Sa, 07/11/2015 – 11:00 bis 12:30


University of Graz, Department of American Studies, Attemsgasse 25/II, 8010 Graz

Lecture by Carina Lesky at the “42nd Conference of the Austrian Association of American Studies‚ Soundscapes and Sonic Cultures in America”.

Debates on the relationship of image, sound and space have had a long tradition in the cinematographic discourse. The filmic experience as such was never a completely silent one. Even film projections in the very beginning of cinema were accompanied by a soundtrack, which was edited live on location: The experience was acoustically supported by the sound of the projector, piano music but also laughter as well as comments by the audience or by a narrator. From the late 1920s onwards, sound and with it the spoken word started to enter the filmic imagery as a direct component and the so called “talkie” was born. The recording of image, voice and sound had become a simultaneous phenomenon. This synchronized interplay of image and soundtrack rounded the fictional mimicry of the “real” life experience.
Today, modern digital technology again favors the separate production of the visual and acoustic dimension in the filmmaking process, shifting the concept of film sound to the practice of sound design. Expanding the range of opportunities to emphasize particular sounds and even to add,remix and compose them on an independent basis, this development challenges the synaesthetic experience of the viewer. Computer assisted post-production facilitates the division of sound from its original source – the same is true vice-versa for the visual dimension. This opens an experimental field for the mixing of spaces and temporalities testing aesthetic and social ambiguities of perception.
The composition of this interplay of sound and image is at the center of Janet Cardiff’s work. In her site-specific audio and video walks the Canadian artist invites her audience to explore their sensual perception of a space. For instance in “Münster Walk” she recorded sounds of the city while wandering through it and asks the listener to follow her paths listening to her soundtrack (Schaub 102). Cardiff’s soundtrack is a combination of the recorded sounds mixed with fictional elements and her voice, which guides the listener, but also involves him into a narration, while interacting with his or her direct environment. As the recorded sound does not correspond with the visual impressions of the listener, the walker is challenged visually and acoustically. The overlapping of situational perceptions creates moments of confusion of space and sound. In her work, the artist highlights the ephemeral nature of the spatial experience and tests the role of the senses, while drawing parallels from the cinematic practice to the experience of the city in motion.
The non-synchronized and acousmatic character of the audiotrack demands us as listeners to fill the visual gaps synaesthetically by producing a fictional cinematic track from the surrounding visuals merging them with interior images triggered by Cardiff`s voice and the sounds on the track.
Exploring the analogy between the movement through public space and the cinematic experience, Vienna based artist Oliver Hangl draws from similar conceptions and observations. In his work “Kino im Kopf” he transforms a tramway into a cinema hall and lets the occurrences in the public space become part of the scene. While an audio version of “The Truman Show” is played back, the tramway traveller is watching a mix of everyday urban life and some staged scenes. The viewer searches this scenery for the material, which is referred to by the soundtrack.
As in Cardiff’s work, also in Hangl’s “Kino im Kopf” fiction merges with reality and the dialectic of random and structure defines the ephemeral film experience of spoken text, sound and image.
In this paper we aim at exploring the cinematic imaginary space produced by the interplay of image, word and sound connected to urban environments. The combination of these components and dimensions (re)creates the material reality and expands the boundaries of the filmic experience. Analyzing experimental films as well as works by sound and media artists within the framework of spatial theory and phenomenology, we explore the role of the senses in the conception of cinematic space.