La Belle Noiseuse?


Returning to the farm and walking past the rows of sprouting vegetables, seeing the budding trees in the small orchard, looking across to the newly extended run for the pigs and finding our way to the shrines, now carpeted with soft yellow blossom, we are immersed, once again, in the whining, straining uproar of the taxiing aircraft. Although I had written about this smearing, throbbing, tearing sound last year and retained what I thought was a strong memory of its character, it was only through standing to listen that I realised quite how polite we had made the first “Sound Pressure” film. In that film, alongside the take-off, landing and taxiing sounds, we had established contrasting shades of acoustic colouration, trying to make room for the quiet delicacies of plant stalks rubbing together, the sharp cuts of secateur blades, insects swarming in busy, blurring masses or coalescing into an individually written sonic signature – a hornet hovering, a solitary fly drifting across the mic. Writing now, with the airport’s belligerent sounds dominating the territory of the farm, I am struck by the feeling that perhaps the soundtrack to the film – and to the exhibition in Manchester – should consist of nothing more than an attempt to replicate the mess that is the site’s real disposition. Perhaps, in an effort to replicate this racket, I should devote my time in Japan to taking Sound Pressure Level meter readings and making long recordings with different mics in different locations. Having returned to the UK, perhaps I need to work on these recordings first with audio processing software and then with different speaker combinations until I am confident that what we present in the gallery constitutes a reliable impression of the original soundscape.

But there are problems with this approach. For one thing, even if the sounds that emerged from the installation speaker arrays provided as close an approximation as possible to the ‘keynote’ of the farm, and even if we provided evidence of the credibility of this approximation through interpretative materials, I imagine that no audience could believe that such a place existed (indeed, ironically, such an installation would certainly fall foul of health and safety regulations for work place noise). For another thing, I would feel my own aesthetic sensibility being cramped in such circumstances: my inclination leans towards the quieter and the less energetic, the smaller ratio. Finally, I believe that to only replicate the auditory jeopardy in which the Shimamuras live and work would be, in a sense, to let the airport win. The farm is a farm and it is kept alive by people endeavouring to operate at a human scale. It also incorporates within its organic bounds elements of uncultivated nature, the bird that rests and calls before taking flight, the insects, the wild plants that have taken root.  These dimensions are worthy of representation.

Of course, another strategy would be to remove all sound from the installation as a gesture towards the desolate and unnameable.

This dilemma will be something for conversations with Hiramatsu-san and Rupert and (hopefully) with the family in the coming weeks on the farm and in coming months towards the exhibition.

Despite this expressed inclination towards sound’s small and its modest in my own work, I would – before spending time in Toho – have been content to make an allegiance with noise. Noise as the aural alterity that can be extracted from Jacques Attali, noise as the shuddering strangeness within and without that Michel Serres hears in Genesis. Noise against silence where silence finds its synonyms in order, cleanness and control. Noise, too, experientially, as the willing exposure to waves of molecular compression and rarefaction. Waves charged with energy and intensity as an air display fighter plane roars through hundreds of thousands of years worth of hydro-carbon deposits or as a friend’s band explores the thresholds of what a venue’s speakers can deliver before they collapse with a ‘phut’ and we all walk the cold night home. Now all that, all the philosophy and all the practice, just sounds obscene, an absurd luxury exercised by those who can know quiet.


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