Steven Feld
Ear to the Earth:
Currents

Produced by
Electronic Music Foundation

Ear to the Earth 2006
Currents

Saturday, October 8, 2007 8pm
3ld Art & Technology Center
Greenwich Street

Steven Feld discussed the global environmental issues as well as the aesthetic concepts and concerns that shape his work on water and presented four sound art compositions: about rainfall and water song in the New Guinea rainforest; sustenance and the spiritual solace of an underground water zither in Japanese Zen arts; the Black Atlantic ocean of memory at the shorelines of West African slave fort; and the rapidity of Arctic melting and end of artisanal Northern traditions connnected to environmental aesthetics.

PROGRAM


Waterfalls of Song (Bosavi, Papa New Guinea).............................................................................Steven Feld
Suikinkutsu (Kyoto, Japan)........................................................................................................Steven Feld
The Anomabo Shore (Anomabo, Ghana).....................................................................................Steven Feld
Circling the Arctic (Pyhajarvi, Vikajarvi, Saunavaara, and Rovaniemi, Finland)................................Steven Feld

ABOUT THE MUSIC

Waterfalls of Song

"From 1976-2000, I made several visits to live in the Bosavi rainforest region of Papua New Guinea. During the time of this work I developed the theoretical ideas of an anthropology of sound and of acoustemology, seeking out how local forest traditions of vocal song, oral poetry, and instrumental sound were both inspired by and creative responses to a specific sense of place and sound ecology of the rainforest. The centerpiece of this work was the mediating power of birds and bird sounds, since Bosavi people consider birds to be both ubiquitous acoustic presences and resounding ancestor spirits. But birds are not the only forest voice to connect sound, ecology, and cosmology in Bosavi. Water equally captivates local attention, inspiring and guiding practices of composing poetic song maps and creating an environmental accompaniment to song. Bosavi people analogize the time and space characteristics of water and voice. They say that voice is to body as water is to land; as water flows through and connects land, voice flows through and connects body.

"This piece, a re-mix of recordings from the 1970s through 1990s, some published, some unpublished, is a water soundscape that explores the Bosavi "flow" of water and voice as one, the way that song poetics create "paths" that "flow" through persons, communities, and environments, the way sounds of water's presence map the forest for Bosavi people."

Suikinkutsu

"Suikinkutsu, literally 'water-zither-cave', is a unique instrument associated with washing for the Japanese tea ceremony. Water drips from a chozubachi stone basin into a partly-filled underground ceramic bowl. The dripping sound, resembling that of a koto zither, projected up through bamboo tubes into a garden, where water symbolizes spirit, purification, solace, and reflection.

"Dating to the mid-17th century Edo period, the name suikinkutsu is often credited to the famous tea ceremony teacher Kobori Enshu. After a decline, the instrument re-emerged in the Meiji Era of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, with renewed recent popularity.

"In this August 2005 soundscape of Kyoto's Enko-ji Temple suikinkutsu one experiences an extremely subtle acoustic ecology where ever-changing water rhythms flow randomly into the pulsing surround of summer cicadas."

The Anomabo Shore

"Since 2003, visual artist Virginia Ryan has produced at her studio in Accra, Ghana 1100 objects titled Castaways. Each piece, 9.5" x 11.5" in size, is a collage composition created with materials washed up and collected along shorelines of Ghana. All the works are white-washed and flicked through with grey-gold, resonant with the colors of foam and sand as the waves break on the very shores from which inhabitants were taken to become enslaved and build the new world. These Castaways are exhibited as a collective artwork of 200 or more pieces hung close together in rows, filling entire walls or rooms as if in a continuous wave. This exhibit format emphasizes the power of repetition and number, creating a meditative environment concerned with the memory of gold, slavery, contacts, movement, loss, oceans, beaches, shorelines, and displacements.

"When I first saw Ryan's Castaways in Ghana in October 2004, I found them quite echoic. Their material tactility, color, volume, and assemblage were audible to me as a sound environment. Viewing some one hundred Castaways on Ryan's studio floor, I felt las though I was putting my ear to a huge seashell and listening to the detritus of history. In the rows of objects I could hear the washing-up-and-out sounds that deposited Virginia Ryan's raw data on the shorelines of Ghana.Anomabo Shoreline is a composition that responds to this way of hearing the visual material of Ryan's Castaways, creating for and with them an acoustic memory of where the Gold Coast becomes the Black Atlantic. Composed from recordings made at Anomabo beach in April 2006, this piece is part of a sound installation to accompany a large-scale 2007 exhibit of Ryan's Castaways at the Cornerhouse, Manchester, UK, marking the 200-year anniversary of the British Parliamentary act to abolish slavery.

Circling the Arctic

"Finnish bell maker Alvi Ruonala lives above the Arctic Circle in Lapland, amidst deep forests and a multitude of lakes and streams. There he represents the end of the line of seven generations of legendary Northern bell-makers, specialized in exceptional artisanal techniques for hand-crafting cowbells, sheep bells, reindeer bells, harness bells, ship's bells, and the most acoustically complex sleigh bells in the world.

"This composition, created from recordings made in May 2006, joins the sounds of local Arctic circle forest creeks and lakes with their bird life, late spring winds and rains, distant reindeer grunts and bells, and a passing trio of Alvi Ruonala's famous sleigh bells."