Article categories: Issue 57
March 15th, 2010

I was able to meet the artist Larissa Linnell, during the final stages of her site-specific installation.  Using a slide projector as a guide, she was completing a floor-to-ceiling pattern. Thousands of red and grey crayon dots of slightly differing shades were accumulating on the short wall at the far end of the space. Initially, I read the irregular pattern of material and open spaces as a kind of lacework. The space was filled with everyday sounds of gallery workers, birdsong from the street beyond and the scratchings and knockings that signal the rhythms of the gallery. But we were the only ones present!

close listening started life as ambient sound recorded in the gallery space. Minimal editing – mainly cutting and splicing to layers the sound – created a soundscape. Playing the soundscape back into the space in which it was made, challenges visitors.  Their task is to make sense of an acoustic experience in the space.  What am I hearing? Is the sound coming from movement and interactions happening now or is it part of a soundscape?  Is it a combination of these? In either case, which elements do I discard as noise, and  which do I focus on?  By paying close attention to the acoustic environment of the gallery, Linnell hopes visitors may be able to detect sonic evidence for previous movements and interactions in the space and distinguish these from a sonic present. The sonic events captured in the space and combined into a soundscape yield a kind of acoustic history.

The connection between the soundscape and the visual pattern Linnell was constructing on the end wall was less obvious. During a painting residency on Tasmania’s Maria Island, Linnell was intrigued by the way sounds contributed so much to her sense of place. She made a series of sound recordings around the edge of the island and the possibility of building maps from sonic happenings occurred to her.

In close listening, the ambient sound recordings are exported to a spectral analysis program where a visual display enables Linnell to see the pattern of frequencies. She tweaks the format from a line to a dot display which allows her to produce a spatial rather than linear representation. Then she uses Photoshop to produce a composite image from a series of dot image overlays.  These are the basis for the slide projection used to install the drawing element.

The meticulousness with which Linnell keeps the edges of each dot regular in size, location and orientation suggests an objective, ‘scientific’ approach to the drawing but she admits to a ‘delicate sense of the aesthetic’ when choosing her acoustic samples – necessary she believes – to engage her audience.  This work is not produced exclusively from the digital capture, transformation and display of an array of acoustic information. The artist is very much present through the act of drawing. The image drawn directly onto the wall, which the artist has likened to mould or condensate takes on the appearance of a kind of code, a language of dots, or a ‘sonic braille’ I thought. Running one’s eyes over the wall reveals a pattern which is not random but a sample of the ways in which energy and matter have interacted on a daily basis and so defined the gallery space.   close listening like many installations with a sound element, repays another visit – after the hubbub of opening night.

Louise Finch

Louise Finch is an artist and writer based in Darwin.

close listening was exhibited at 24HR ART Darwin, new media space, 4 June – 3 July 2004

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