Disquiet (sound art commentary)

Posted: November 8, 2009 in All and Sundry, Art Attacks, commentary

I’m no longer ashamed of posting some of the pieces I labored on during this first phase of my journey in the graduate study of Media Studies (theory and production).

Here’s one I made for Media Practices: Concepts class. Here’s the description of the class:

The course looks at the character of different media forms, the relationship between forms, and guidelines for choosing which combination is best for a given communications project. Concentrating on design thinking, it offers an experiential tour of the creative toolset and critical precepts of media practice and is the foundation course for additional Media Practice and project-based courses. Through a series of short projects, students work with sound, the digital still image and its sequencing, lighting and the moving image and digital post-production and distribution techniques. Using simple digital tools, student designers focus on the important primary concepts of digital media making. Additional major software used professionally and in subsequent Media Practice and project-based courses are introduced, though not explored in depth. By semester’s end, each student will have completed a series of individual projects combining media formats. The course’s broad goal is to reconnect media designers to their personal sources of creativity and to help orient them to the program’s Media Practice course curriculum.

So anyway we have already gone though typography, graphic design, digital photography, hyperreal photography, among others and two weeks ago, we were required to record sound and edit and mix these sounds on Garageband. I decided to do a sound art commentary piece. Later, we were supposed to incorporate still photos into a slideshow with this sound piece. The slideshow according to Kit Laybourne’s book is not just a series of pictures put together, it supposed to have a purpose and structure and pacing, in a way like video, with all the transitions and effects.

The title of the sound art commentary piece is Disquiet. WordPress won’t allow me to post an MP3 file here. Dammit. So just click on the icon:


Here’s my explanation (sort of):


My first two plans for this sound project didn’t take off as I expected. First, I would have wanted to record the US Open, focusing on the stadium–the sound of the players grunting and the whispers of the crowd. If I close my eyes when watching tennis on tv, I have often thought of the sound the players make as something close to erotic, and would have wanted to play with that. But as we all know, the US Open was two months ago, and so I had to delete that plan off my list. The second idea I got from my friend Paul (a video artist) who mentioned while we were waiting for the DVF fashion show to start, that the crowd inside sound like bees buzzing inside the hive. But I didn’t bring my digital recorder during that show. So again, that one didn’t happen.

This last idea came to me while I was sick with the flu (NOT swine flu, thank god). I remembered that when I was back home during the time the H1N1 news broke into the mainstream, Pinoys were filled with fear, especially those living in the crowded urban capital Manila city. Most of them started hoarding boxes of face masks, and bottles of alcohol and hand sanitizers. When reports of deaths surfaced, the panic continued. The WHO worked hard on their conflict communication management programs by appearing in mass media to quell the panic and to provide contextual information about the disease. Elsewhere in the country, we were just oblivious to the entire thing because there were no reported cases yet in our region Mindanao. Because we don’t live in the context of having flu seasons (we only have two seasons: wet and dry),  most Pinoys started thinking that one can get the flu if one has traveled abroad, especially to the US where it all started. So here’s where stigmatization happened.

1) Anyone who has traveled abroad and starts coughing and sneezing is to be feared.

2) Your skin color is your worst enemy. If you’re white and obviously a Westerner, then it was likely that people would stand several feet away from you.

Now, I find myself in New York riding a crowded subway train everyday. Once a man who had red puffy eyes and who kept sneezing and coughing without even showing effort to cover his mouth, sat beside me all throughout the train ride. I felt immobilized with the fear of getting sick that I almost scolded him (but covered my mouth with a kerchief instead). When I arrived home, I read news about President Obama declaring H1N1 as a health emergency. That’s when I thought I should make this sound project like a commentary about how media and other sectors has handled the information and how it relates to one’s individual journey of dealing with the fear/panic that it has wrought. I hope I have succeeded in this exploration.


I am not a very aural kind of person, although I spend time listening to radio in my Ipod, but that’s just about it. Before this, sound has always been important to me when it is used for movement. I have tried making a soundscape using Audacity for a performance art piece I did two years ago for a Beckett festival. But that was so arbitrarily done, I’m even embarrassed to listen to it now.

So when I checked Ubuweb for John Cage’s solo pieces, I didn’t like them because I have always liked the work he did when he was collaborating with Merce Cunningham. So far, my favorite sound artists are Laurie Anderson and Yoko Ono. So obviously, the coughing track of this piece I made was inspired and references Yoko Ono’s coughing piece.

Working with Garageband not on a podcast project but more on a sound art one was a revelation of sorts. I realized that working with sound requires a kind of shifting of gears, from visual to auditory senses. And each sense functions in a different way and has its own rules! Especially when you’re working with more than one track, and layering them.  Even though I find the final piece a little crude in terms of editing, I’m still happy that I got to experience the entire process and learning so much from the journey.

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