© 2015 Cal Harben

a sea, a stage, a voice
Nordic Sound Art graduation exhibition
HIAP Gallery Augusta, Helsinki FL
September 2015

(Headphones) Live stream audio broadcast of NEMO Mediterranean Ocean Observatory hydrophone, cooordinates: 37.3N, 15.4E
(Subwoofer) Low-frequency voice recording
wet clothing

Embodiment at the intersection of sound. How are actions, gestures, and relations mediated through somatic soundings? In what ways is a body embodied and disembodied acoustically? How is acoustic technology embodied and in what ways does that technology both embody and disembody an other? What would it mean to question the aesthetics, politics, and violence of (dis)embodied listening?
Sound, as a force, exists within a framework of dynamic relation: waves of vibration are absorbed, reflected, or refracted through, a body or thing. Sound as a phenomena is an apparatus that orients us, and is part of the architecture of embodiment. Within a certain frequency range, we consider these vibrations to be sounds- that which is audibly perceptible. I am interested in this threshold of detectability. How do we experience ‘sound’ that our ears can’t typically hear? And what sounds are we actively bearing witness to or tuning out? Listening is an embodied gesture, a political act, an ecological relation.

How do we relate to a body that is not our own?
How do we relate to a soundscape we do not inhabit?

Once we were bodied and embodied within the oceans, relegated slowly by evolution to become creaturely prisoners and pioneers of land. Though somewhere in the architecture of our bodies still resides the memory: as bodies composed of water, and through our veins, a salty stream in which the elements sodium, potassium and calcium are combined in almost the same proportions as in sea water. An embodiment persists.

Many international ocean observatories have initiatives to record and monitor the ‘ambient noise’ levels of the ocean through continuous hydrophone sound recordings, otherwise known as passive acoustic monitoring. They are distributed as part of a global network of oceanographic observatories around the world. It is not unknown that the level of noise in the ocean is increasing, that anthropogenic sounds are disrupting the acoustic ecology of the worlds ocean beyond any previous rate, and that there are very real consequences to the marine ecosystem in turn reverberating through the whole earth’s ecosystem from this acoustic assault. What does it mean for a technology to bear witness, to render that witness as material evidence to violence? And what power does a body have to bear witness, to render that witness as memory?

Off of the east coast of Sicily, lowered into the depths of the the Mediterranean sea, is a hydrophone, floating above the abyss; listening. It listens 24 hours a day, 7 days week. Using this live recording sets a stage for the viewer to anticipate with no promise of arrival; only contingent immanence is offered. To listen, almost invites the question of why, when it is mostly silent. But what do we consider to be silence? To be noise? To be worth being counted, as sound, as recordable, as record, as memory, as absence, as a voice, as violence? What do attune to and what do we tune out? The work ultimately asks what can be heard and what can not be heard. What are we bearing witness to?