Dance of dream-led masses

If we are dancing a dream of ignorance around our planet’s future, perhaps a sound can pry open some of the residual oblivion. Two artists working in transmission technologies consider environmental ruin—as witness-listener and as a kind of poetic intruder. Both keenly consider relationships between artist and audience, transmitter and receiver. Both also excavate a kind of truth—how what we do and say and hear reflects back on our own selves, a kind of internal knowing.

“ … environments are also media, and bodies are recording devices …”

Anna Friz’s momentum is from the center of extractive industries. What she is drawn to listen to and record along the slag heaps in the northern Chilean desert allows for an artistic practice that arises out of very quiet sonic material. Her recent stint in the desert beckons towards the ephemeral. Materials are sourced from trajectories as subtle as electricity or far-off rumbling picked up by Very Low Frequency (VLF) receivers. She’s a sound artist who works where the evanescent becomes as tangible as it can be. And it takes time to watch and listen, to witness.

Friz spoke with Earlid’s curator; listen to the full mix of many of these desert sounds and stories from the artist’s recollection of listening deeply.

Clicks and hums and sustained drones and crackles comprise many hours of field recordings. You can hear the heat, the invisible noise of electricity. Friz is beginning to engage listeners in performative meandering, with aleatory pairings for the radio and in live concert settings. It’s not about the extractive depths, but a slinking around the desert’s corners to hear something as ubiquitous as the wind. It’s her attempt to get us to listen to the potential dangers of the mined minerals that support our love affair with digital devices—and our responsibilities around these substances.

… copper, lithium, rare earths; mining the ingredients for wireless communication devices. … Ancient geoglyphic inscriptions on the desert are dwarfed by deep industrial scars visible from satellites. … But environments are also media, and bodies are recording devices

These notes from her research are like tailings. What is evolving is Radiation Day, an ongoing performance delving into the infinitesimal of both visibility and sound.

Art becomes a framing device for visual and social experience offering multiple views of how a space can be heard—and seen, like in this long refraction she took in the desert and immediately after, began performing with sounds and images at Radio Tsonami. Its subterranean economies, as Lucy Lippard suggests, are ripe for any artist working with the land. And by simply listening and watching, Friz is deeply curious about the ‘aftergrain’ once you start removing frequencies of light and sound. What sort of distilled aspects remain have more to do with our own expressive viewing than an external truth, Friz suggests.

It reveals more of ourselves.

Poetry is not a refuge, but an incitement.

The oblivion, even extreme focus on climate crisis and environmental ruin, takes dream-led masses further—into a desert, in Friz’s artistic reach, or down a dark mountain, as one might view delegates tumbling, metaphorically, at a United Nations conference on climate change, in Victoria Estok’s artistic activism.

Her incursions into spaces differ from Anna Friz’s in ways that are not so much opposite as they are generative. Both artists listen deeply and collect and transmit sounds as the foundation of their artistic practice. They are grounded in questioning the myth of progress.

Estok’s Interpelled is an ongoing intrusion using hypersonic sound (HSS) to transmit audible messages to people unaware of its sourcing. Through surreptitious beaming of rhetorical talking points from earlier COP meetings, Estok is ‘calling out’ to attendees to listen anew. More poignant are the beamed sounds of children playing and laughing and giggling to yield surprising reflections and potential responses.

My sonic intervention had a couple of trajectory points. The first came from a desire to do something with the haunting climate crisis voices in my own mind that whisper to me that time is running out.

Sound is material; so too is distribution, beaming, directionality. Bodies receive as much as they transmit.

If sound is a gesture, then Estok’s approach is warm, an invitation to listen fully. Yet the sound comes out of nowhere, towards delegates busily airing data and science and urgency. She’s gotten curious responses to Interpelled. Estok is willing to engage deeply with resistance to her artistic and stealthy use of her technologies.

“… It’s the first sense we develop, it’s the last we lose …”

Estok and Friz demand attention—ever so quietly—to our own responsibilities and relationships to extraction and to our first-world comforts. We’re all like the parts of a single body: eyes, knee, sinew, mouth; brain, ribs, pulse, heart. Each of them some part or other. All ears.

Like a body, transmission artistry invites and expands the idea of circuitry. Radio frequency allocations expand and contract, sometimes fading in signal (FM, AM); but also combinations of lo-fi and the ubiquitous gear we still maneuver: walkie-talkie, shortwave, cellular and satellite technologies.

These two artists do not arrive here at Earlid ensconced in a gallery of creative sonic mixes. Rather they offer a frame around their artistic processes and open generously with their words and shared concepts. In conversation, they consider their forays in order to peek over the edge, face the world that is coming with a steady eye, as Paul Kingsnorth might suggest: rise with a challenge of its own—an artistic response to the crumbling of the empires of the mind.

Anna Friz: Radiation Day—A Conversation

Victoria Estok: Interpelled—A Conversation

Anna Friz in Chile 2017 for performances of Radio Tsonami.

Radiation Day, Ars Electronica Festival 2017 and ORF Kunstradio performance excerpt.

Victoria Estok: explorer … sound artist.

Video and audible/textual elements of Victoria Estok’s Interpelled.

—Joan Schuman, Earlid, winter 2018