giovedì 19 giugno 2014

Sonic explorations at rural.scapes - laboratory in residence - Brazil 2014


When I read the rural.scapes - laboratory in residence announcement my attention was attracted by the world “exploration”, that for me has a particular semantic network. Two areas of meaning were especially aroused. From one side there was the cognitive psychology and above all Ittelson's study and theories about perception of environments; from the other side the collective and personal unconscious produced by scientific and narrative travels literature of 19th century.
According with perceptions theories, en environment could not be just observed, must be “explored”: in the meaning that, becoming part of it, we situate our action on it. To move oneself through it gives place to an interactive relationship and it is thorough action directed toward and in the environment that the subject receive a variety of sensory clues in the form of visual, auditory and tactile feedback. Any sensory modes can be excluded by this experience and often we are exposed to a large amount of information (central and secondary information) simultaneously. The surrounding environment it's always perceived together with the part of it on which we are focused. Environment perception always implies actions toward a goal. By exploring, selecting and classifying environmental information, an individual manages to forge a subjective and relatively coherent representation, that, according to individual factors, setting characteristics and social relations, includes emotions, orientation, categorization, organization and manipulation. Usually everyday life environment are easy and economic from a cognitive point of view, because most of the perceptual and symbolic stimulus has been already culturally gained by subject grow in it. This is good from an existential point of view because there is less information to elaborate in perceiving our goals but at the same time the system becomes closed to experiencing new configuration of the same environment. But what's happen in the moment in which the individual approach an unknown environment? Which role he should decide to act on it in order to start a relationship and an interrelation? If the perception of that environment it's culturally elaborate starting from macro historical goals such as nutrition, habitability, social exchange what does means to perceive it from another point of view: for example sound or art? Which perspective open this if to be explored it's for example a plants, stones or cooking? Which new possibilities open to have technologies and interfaces that empower our sensory systems?
I was thinking about this kind of stuff, trying to design a project to participate at the residence, and to understand my supposed role of European artist in a Brazilian half rural and half wild territory. A first answer arrived by discovering a 1927 scientific pamphlet written by Berta Lutz a zoologist born in Sao Paulo in 1894. This little treatment was about the flora of Serra de Bocaina, part of Rural Scape residence area, and the way in which was written, the historical moment and the biography of the author captured my attention. Many characteristics of Berta's life seduced me. She was specialized in “dart frogs”; the ones used by Amerindians indigenous to poison the tips of blow dart, with their toxic secretion; but she wasn't just a zoologist; together with the father Adolfo, she was interested to many biological aspect of her territory, especially in a period of many economical and political changes. The Cafe era was at the end with a severe crisis and a strong and general social instability. She was the first women hired by a institution, the Museu Nacional do Rio de Janeiro, a fact which achieved great repercussion in the country, because the access to public offices was barred to women at that time and for these reason in 1918, Berta spoke out for a feminist movement to begin. In 1934, the women of Brazil earned the right to vote due to Lutz and her organization.
For me Berta and hers many interest became a sort of Virgilio, my personal guide to the territory I was going to approach; a guide not just from a scientific point of view but above all as example of engagement open to many aspects of the same environment. She suggest to me some attitudes to act in my exploration: a glance curious to every wonderful details of the unknown, a sort of need of accuracy in collecting, to categorize and to take notes of the items found, an inclination to socially share what discovered. I felt the necessity to practice things unusual for me, as drawing or invent languages of symbols to write down soundscapes.

Soundscape Notation Legenda by Enrico Ascoli

Fazenda Santa Tereza (Brazil)  8:00 am - soundscape notation

Forest of Serra Da Bocaina (Brazil)  8:00 am - soundscape notation
Field recording: Forest of Serra Da Bocaina (Brazil)  8:00 am

Aware of the fact that the way in which we cognitively represent en environment is what we are looking and acting on it I engaged my relationship with Rural.Scapes residence territory performing the character of a scientist of the beginning of 20th century intentioned to discover unprecedented sound and acoustic qualities into nature. 

Wind through giant Guada bamboo recorded with piezo microphones

Everyday I treked for long time through the hills around Fazenda Santa Tereza trying to map the points in which grassland was replaced by Atlantic forest areas, because, there, I was sure to find interesting stuff for my research. Actually all territory was full of surprises and some times I never arrived in the shadow green of my destinations because something unexpected get carried me away. For example, placing a piezo microphones inside of a “Formiga Sauva” anthill, met in one of my journey, I was completely raped by the unthinkable alien chatting of these red ants; so I spent the day investigating this phenomenon; comparing it with the sounds of other pecies, trying to understand how use this incredible sound in a music composition or installation. The same happen following flocks of different kind of birds, or handle and touching plants, seeds, insects or stones having, what Norman call “affordances” of an object, some characteristics in their shapes, structures or matter consistency, that suggested to me an hided possibility to discover a real or imaginary sound.
Formiga Sauva - piezo microphones inside the hanthill
Formiga Sauva - inside the hanthill, drawed sonogramme

Maritaka screams -  drawed sonogramme

Very preciuos it was to met Herbert, a young Brazilian biologist, born in that territory. He introduced me to one of the ancient parts of Serra da Bocaina forest, looking for frogs, snakes and interesting plants. One night he taught me how to massage the stomach of a Sapo Cururu, a poisonous big toad, to make him sing. Another day he showed me in the ground the dry fruits of Jequitibà, one of the biggest tree of Atlantic Forest, that I discovered having funny acoustic properties. 

Sapo Cururu (rhinella Icterica) - massaging the stomach this toad start to call

Jacutinga bird calls - the nosiest of the forest

Of course I recorded gigabyte of sounds using different techniques (this is my job) but, what really exited me was, in the evening, once came back to the Fazenda, to go over in my research manipulating my growing collection of strange objects.
Octavio Paz wrote in a famous essay on Marcel Duchamp that for over three thousand years the Chinese had established a sort of art that consisted of finding and collecting small stones at random. When a stone was chosen, once separated from the others, from the world, the work of art was born.
My “wunderkammer ” were done of pieces of the territory memory, containing fragment of the its DNA, of its life. They were as space temporal gates or inter-connectors and I needed to listen their voices. Some of them were beautiful but unsuccessful from an acoustic point of view; some other I came to know that they were quite common for the people of that area, but, also the simply fact to discovered a typical use of them, was really interesting because it was as if me and the culture of that territory had a lowest common denominator that linked us in giving sense to the world. Some of my samples instead reveal extraordinary musical properties such as the terrible spines of Brejauva (Astrocarium Aculeatissimum) a palm typical of that area. I started to used it directly in the forest trying to play it as a kalimba.

Brejauva (Astrocaryum aculeatissimum) -  "How to play" drawing

rural.scapes - Brazil 2014 - Improvvisation for Brejauva palm and stick (Astrocaryum aculeatissimum)

The sound was warm and exotic like a marimba with many possibility in timber and pitch variations. I felt in love and this it cost me two days of pain and tingling at my fingers because as every indigenous told me later, that king of plants contains poison and it should be not touched; just the fruit are delicious. But this was great because finding a way to play the spines without using nude hands I could have partly modify the cognitive and cultural perception and notion that human being has all along of this palm so common in life of natives. One of the most ephemeral characteristic of environment is their specific mood: Ittelson call him climate. For me It's similar to what is “timber” for the musical instruments. It's their proper vibration; something difficult to describe and measure but that let to identify them immediately apart from the notes they are playing. 
Brejauva was like a revelation because I felt it as it was the climate of the territory I was exploring: its soft hills, the humid darkness of the forest, the burning color of its soil, its exuberant fecundity, its incredible bio diversity, the warmness in the people glance, the African vibration of the black slaves that build that areas with sweat and blood. I showed my discovery to native people and their reactions gave me an emotional proof of this idea. For example Herbert, the young brasilian biologist, was so surprise to add a new notion, a “musical” one, to a plant that he knew so well from a scientific point of view, that was in that precise moment that he decide to took me Serra da Bocaina Forest to try to find other species with acoustic characteristics. During the open studio at the Fazenda Santa Tereza I had prepared a live performance with my objects but after one minute I was playing the children of my audience assaulted my set longing to make sound with what they knew as a dangerous branch of Brejauva. These and other reactions were so spontaneous that I felt as if my role of artist and performer was no more necessary because my supposed piece of art was already get back to his territory, no more as the every day evil plant but as something extraordinary and extremely pleasant.

Beja Flor (Humming birds) sound installation drawing
Beja Flor (Humming birds) drone ans whooshes - forest of Serra da Bocaina

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