The Global Composition
Conference on Sound, Media and the Environment
July 25-28 2012, Hochschule Darmstadt, Media Campus Dieburg, Germany
Sound is ubiquitous and permanent and embraces us as an envelope. The experience of the auditory can be considered an environmental experience par excellence. The term and concept of soundscape reflects this idea. It implies that sounds do not exist in isolation; they have to be understood as being embedded in and interacting with other sounds and perceptions coining the perceptive abilities of individuals and societies and their social relations: soundscape is a system in which all elements are interdependent.
The World Soundscape Conference held in Darmstadt will bring together sound makers, listeners, scholars and all those, interested and affected by the Global Composition to discuss which concepts exist to “orchestrate” everyday life’s cacophony.
Confirmed keynote speakers:
R. Murray Schafer
Come, listen, talk, enjoy.
Conference page: www.the-global-composition-2012.org
Special Panel: The Local Composition
Special Panel on field recording, museum practice, and intangible cultural heritage
The Sounding Museum: The Local Composition
Hein Schoer, Maastricht University/Fontys Arts College
The global soundscape is a highly diversified network of local soundscapes, which interact with each other, resulting in, how I call it, the glocal composition.
By the example of the cultural soundscape of Native British Columbia, namely that of the Namgis of Alert Bay, the Sounding Museum investigates the interrelations between the global and the local, the issues of auditory coevalness and representation, and of cultural rapprochement by means of museum and hearing pedagogy.
After a brief summary of the project’s background and current state of affairs, this panel will feature a roundtable discussion on the Sounding Museum’s contribution to the “orchestration of everyday life’s cacophony”.
We will discuss its political, social, and artistic dimension, and its pedagogic potential as put into force with the Sound Chamber at the NONAM (Nordamerika Native Museum) in Zurich.
We will also introduce the soundscape as a major aspect of the intangible cultural heritage of the world.
After a first round of commentaries relating to the specific subjects of expertise of the respective speakers, the discussion will also (and especially) be opened for public contributions.
Participants of the roundtable will be:
– Hein Schoer: host (the Sounding Museum)
– Trevor Isaac: First voice and glocal interpreter (U’mista Cultural Society, Namgis Nation)
– Marc Jacobs: heritage and cultural brokerage (Director faro, UNESCO Commission Belgium; tbc)
– Heidrun Löb: museum applications (Director NONAM; tbc)
– Lasse Marc Riek: ethics and legal issues of field recording and publication practice (gruenrekorder)
We will round up the panel with an introduction of consecutive projects that the Sounding museum will pursue in the following years, such as The Way of the Mask (a multisensual First Voices exhibition and publication project with the NONAM and the U’mista Cultural Society) and ILARA (Interdisciplinary Laboratory for Arts Research and Acoustic Ecology; guest speaker: Sebastiaan Lefevre, fontys Arts College, Tilburg/NL; tbc).
Of course we will make use of all multimedia installations available, presenting the newest developments in the work-in-progress multi-channel cultural soundscape composition and slide show The Way of the Mask.
Poster presentations and a permanent quadraphonic Sound Chamber installation will be accessible throughout the conference, as will be an information/discussion desk in collaboration with gruenrekorder.
The Sounding Museum: The Way of the Mask
Hein Schoer (Fontys School of the Arts, Tilburg / Maastricht University)
In collaboration with Heidrun Löb (NONAM – Nordamerika Native Museum, Zürich)
Sarah E. Holland (U’mista Cultural Society, Alert Bay, BC)
Trevor Isaac (U’mista Cultural Centre, Namgis Nation)
Chief Beau Dick (Master Carver, Namgis Nation)
Franci L. Taylor (Choctaw Nation) of Washington State University recently told me about what she calls the “Apple Tree Paradigm”.
When Ethnologists come to work with Native communities, there is a tendency to pick the best apple, leave with it and give nothing back, “not even the core”.
Taylor demands a set of binding protocols to be followed in order to stay true to the peoples’ rights, be it copyrights, per¬sonal rights, or simple respect for your informants, without whom your work would not be possible. We have always understood these protocols as central to a fulfilling and successful collaboration and intend to stick to that.
We are surrounded by a world of sound that we call soundscape.
By analysing it we can learn about the ramifications of nature and culture. This holds espe¬cially true for societies in which oral literacy is traditionally held in high value. The indige¬nous peoples of North America deserve our full support in safeguarding and preserving their long suppressed heritage.
The Sounding Museum investigates the potential of cultural soundscape production for art, research and education in the museum.
With the Sound Chamber at the NONAM (Nardamerika Native Museum, Zurich/CH), the multi-channel composition “Two Weeks in Alert Bay”, and the clearaudience workshops built around these tools, first steps have been taken to bring the intangible cultural heritage of the indigenous cultures of the world to the museum visitors.
The new joint project of the Sounding Museum, the NONAM and the U’mista Cultural Society on the indigenous cultures of the Pacific North¬west Coast will follow the self-evident path of respect, working with musicians, artists and representatives from the Kwakwaka’wakw communities of BC. It will also follow the Way of the Mask.
From the logging business that provides the cedar tree the mask will be cut from over the carving process to the ceremonial use of the mask at a potlatch, the most important festivity in Northwest Coast cultural life, all steps will be meticulously documented by camera. A whole squad of micro¬phones will record all the sounds emanating from the respective events and activities, but also interviews, songs, and other relevant material, thereby assembling an acoustic portrait of one of the core aspects of contemporary Kwakwaka’wakw cultural identity.
The idea is to establish a collaboration with Kwakwaka’wakw master carver Beau Dick, who we will accompany working on a transformation mask, next to the well-known crest poles one of the trademark showpieces of Northwest Coast artistic activity.
The audio footage can be used at the NONAM and the U’mista Cultural Centre over the coming years in form of little interven¬tions into the yet mute exhibition space, culminating in a special exhibition that will feature the transformation mask itself (as a loan from its owner) at the centre of a setup with a multi-channel soundscape composition and visual documentary material in 2015, with additional presentations, lectures, workshops and performances. One of the project’s objectives should be to support educa¬tion programmes for First Nation youths, as we want to give the apple back with interest.
There are three major points of departure in this concept that make it worthwhile to pursue, all of them dealing with inclusions not yet to be taken for granted in museum exhibition practice.
First, the inclusion of the whole sensory apparatus. While the Sound Chamber aims to re-introduce sound as an important means of communication and therefore deliberately separates it in a laboratory-like artificial environment in order to avoid distraction by other, in our times more dominant perceptive element, namely visual ones, with the Way of the mask all sensory information shall be made accessible to the limits of what is possible in a museum environment. We will be able to hear, see, smell, and touch; films and photographs of the logging will be accompanied by the ramble of power, falling trees, and truck engines, we sell the sawdust and the gasoline, and we will have a log lying on the ground to feel the bark and the rough edges of the saw marks.
Second, the inclusion of the inside story. Usually the exhibition designer, the ethnographer, or maybe an artist decides which objects are to be exhibited, how they should be arranged, and what additional information will be offered. In the Way of the Mask, the people that provide the objects (and the other materials) will tell the story. Our collaboration with the people of Alert Bay will not stop once we have returned to the Old World, instead they will come along and create an exhibition to their liking. We will turn the classical power relations of the museum upside down by letting them have the last word.
Third, the inclusion of absolute transparency. When you visit a museum you expect to be presented with the truth. Hence, whatever you are confronted with, is the “real thing”, and nobody bothers discussing with you the staged nature of exhibition design. And perhaps that is not what you are interested in. You want to immerse yourself in an exotic world of strange creatures and strange habits that spark you imagination. The Way of the Mask will grant you a certain amount of illusion. But it will make sure that this illusion breaks down soon enough so you begin to understand that an object in a museum has a history of removal as well. The is not the same artefact anymore as it was when it was danced at the potlatch.
It is very likely that the mask that you see on display as the centre piece of the exhibition is not even the original one, which is safely stored away in the box of treasures of the chief who owns it, only to be exposed to the witnesses at the potlatch it is danced in. And we will make sure that the whole story is told; not only that of the mask in its natural habitat, but also that of its removal and that of the making of the exhibition. We will take you backstage.
The Sounding Museum has been approved by the Swiss UNESCO Commission as a contri¬bution to the 2010 International Year for the Rapprochement of Cultures.
Hein Schoer is a soundscaper and musician.
He works as a PhD researcher at Fontys School for the Arts in Tilburg, NL, as a member of its research group Arts in Society.
In his research project “The Sounding Museum” he investigates the academic, artistic, and pedagogical implications of cultural soundscape production and implementation in anthropological museums. He works in collaboration with Maastricht University and the NONAM (Nordamerika Native Museum, Zürich, CH), where he is also responsible for the Sound Chamber, that he helped to build a few years ago and keeps operational and up to date since then.
The foci of his research are acoustic ecology, representation of the Other, museum and hearing pedagogy, surround field recording, interdisciplinary art practice, and multisensual exhibition design, all of which he also teaches at various places, such as Fontys School for the Arts, Maastricht University, Hochschule Darmstadt, Hochschule Offenburg, and Halle University.
Hein owes a great deal of thanks to the U’mista Cultural Centre and the Kwakwaka’wakw of Alert Bay, who have been and still are his greatest resource for information and inspiration.
Next to that he has developed and conducted various workshop formats in hearing and cultural pedagogy and spent three years digitising, restoring, and archiving taped time witness interviews for the Aktives Museum Spiegelgasse for German-Jewish history in Wiesbaden.
He holds a diploma in audio engineering, a Bachelor of Arts in Recording Arts (First Class, Honours), and a Master’s degree in cultural science (with distinction).