The body is a big place

Helen Pynor & Peta Clancy
with sound by Gail Priest

Honorary Mention Prix Ars 2012

Sound notes:

“Peta and Helen first approached me at the end of 2009. While I frequently work on collaborative projects in performance, I was intrigued that two visual artist with very defined oeuvres were choosing to come together to create a collaborative work—one that clearly pushed beyond their normal realms of practice with its bio-art implications. I found their personal works and their concept for this piece very evocative.

There are two aspects to the sound design that function in a modular fashion. The first is the quadraphonic soundscape that accompanies the video installation. For this I used material recorded with a hydrophone during the Melbourne Baths shoot. Interestingly the sound during the shoot did not yield much material of interest, as there were too many distracting noises such as the scuba equipment and chairs scraping on the bottom of the pool. In fact the hydrophone recordings were disappointingly sparse, not anywhere near as rich as what we imagined of submersion. To my understanding, any bass tones which we assume should be present, are not audible as the conduction of the water extends the sound waves to lengths/pitches below our hearing. I suspect any sub-frequencies we think we hear are the effect of pressure and blockage of our own faculties—the sounds of the fluids and workings of our own bodies. Thus the material from the hydrophone was multipli-manipulated using pitch and time shifting, and aggressive equalising to reach the state of our imagined immersion. As the intention was to create a sensual environment, actions on various screen are subtly accompanied by half heard, heavily disguised vocal material creating a sense of suspension and ascension.

The second aspect of the installation is the heart perfusion system. I attended a test experiment and made recordings with both condenser and contact mikes to see if I might be able to use and manipulate sounds from the system itself. However it was only really possible to ascertain the full extent to which this might work when final system was erected in the gallery as the materials—in the test plastic, in the gallery glass—offered different potentials. A lovely surprise is that the majority of the time, the water circulation creates an amazing, regular sucking sound, something I had been aiming for but which the machine creates perfectly, unaided. During installation times there is a pre-composed soundscape drawn from the system’s noises that plays through another two speakers. In the live performances of the heart perfusion system, I improvise with the machine, using two contact mikes extracting resonant frequencies to create a drone and focussing attention on the fluids in process in order to transmit its subtleties into the space.”

Gail Priest, sound artist for ‘The Body is a Big Place’, November 2011.

The Body is a Big Place by Helen Pynor and Peta Clancy (with sound by Gail Priest) was awarded a an Honary Mention in the 2012 Prix Ars, Hybrid Arts category with documentation exhibited as part of the Cyberart exhibition, OK Centre Linz, 2012.

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