Sound Series #3: Sound and Architecture

I finally found it. A real architectural structure of sound. Muttering and uttering voices, music and speech along with an ever-present echo of static.

There is nothing quite like a moment of inspiration. It is childish glee: Christmas come early. That moment you realise there is someone else who has made that same connection. Rather than worry about the lack of original thought, it is affirmation and excitement that sparks my brain into action. It is moments like this when I remember why I study.

IMG_3509 Recently, I have been playing with the idea of ‘visualising the invisible’, considering the architecture in Chaucer’s The House of Fame dream vision to be structures built of sound. It was Cildo Meireles’s Babel (2001) which – when I visited before the June re-hanging – was positioned in the centre of its own room at the Tate Modern, and sparked so many ideas.

Meireles’s piece explores ideas about the unity of humanity despite language barriers, paralleling the story of the Tower of Babel. The work is an imposing structure made of hundreds of radios tuned to different stations in many different languages. I was most struck by my reaction to take a picture of this architectural structure of sound. Pressing the shutter-button, I realised that this was not an experience to be captured as a still image.

The hearer/viewer moves around the structure; the eye is looking for something that is not there. I took in the barely audible noise, the music I recognised and started to hum too, the languages I cannot speak and wondered at this at once static and constantly moving piece of architecture, like the House of Rumour in Chaucer’s dream vision. It was a moment of connection, with the music and speakers, with those in the room moving around me and the tower. It was a moment that will never happen again. And yet a memory of it lives on in the sonic space of the room.

The sound is heard and disappears and it is held in the sonic structure. While Meireles is concerned with exploring ideas of overcoming barriers and unity, I question how do we deal with the transitory nature of sound? Do the radios demonstrate a fixity? Or simply a way of transmission? The room was almost overwhelming with the various sounds and yet most of the people around me where silent when experiencing Babel (2001). I, however, was speaking rapidly to my very bemused friend. Sound can become tangible in these moments, for language, for communication, for the artwork; adding another layer human radios.

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Charlotte Rudman is a second year PhD student in the Department of English at King’s College London, researching sound and sound representations in medieval dream vision poetry, @charrud.

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Your PhD, Your Brain, and Your B-Movies

Your brain – big, buxom, full of neurons, and a pineal gland, and an amygdala, and a basal ganglia, and then some – is what is doing your PhD. It reads your stuff, it writes your stuff, and it decides which Sainsbury’s korma to microwave whilst you email your supervisor to postpone your stuff.

“Everyone has a hidden emotional motive behind their PhD,” my friend always says, “what is yours?” Day to day, I write about connections between contemporary French philosophy, cinema and neuroscience, so I like to think that I was always aware of the brain. Since undergoing an out-of-the-blue Endoscopic Third Ventriculostomy this Christmas due to a rogue blockage in one of my brain’s water tanks, however, I could not be more aware of it.

I have realised more than ever that I owe it to my brain to figure out who it is and what it does. So as well as using it to think about other brain-workings in French philosophy and cinema, I have decided to get to know my own much better. I have decided that I’m going to treat this throbbing alien in my skull with the respect it deserves – like the true Genovian princess it really is – and that this journey might as well be a voluptuous, bawdy experience, and needn’t necessarily start with the MRI scanner.  

An unforeseen delight which has emmerged from my research – between libraries and hospitals and cinemas – has been the brain B-Movie. B for Brain, if you can stomach that degree of tweeness. Whatever your own reason for wanting to explore the brain writing your PhD, here are three gloriously campy places to start:

The Brain from Planet Arous

This 1957 favourite, directed by Nathan H. Juran, does exactly what it says on the tin. A brain-shaped alien by the name of Gor descends to earth and takes over the body of a young scientist, using his powers to destroy the planet bit by bit. Meanwhile, another of the brain-shaped race also descends to earth, explaining that Gor is a wanted terrorist on their own planet. It is found that Gor’s weak spot is his Fissure of Rolando, or the central sulcus: a line that separates the parietal lobe from the frontal lobe in the brain. Continue reading

Sound Series #2: Reflections on ‘Soundscapes’

Soundscapes-The-National-Gallery
Image for ‘Soundscapes’ exhibition at The National Gallery, 8th July-6th Sept 2015

Last summer the National Gallery presented an experimental exhibition, ‘Soundscapes’, with ‘six new music and sound installations in response to paintings from the collection’. For me, it was a fantastic opportunity to see how musicians and sound artists interpret pieces of artwork as sound. Additionally, it gave me the chance to see how my own research could benefit and develop from the exhibition.

Journeying through the exhibition ignited the senses. In a departure from the whitewashed galleries, the visitor entered into a darkened room with a spotlight on the painting and the sound installation issuing from precisely positioned speakers. This created an immersive and very personal experience with the combined art forms. The eye focused on the selected painting while the ear tuned into the surrounding sound piece. It was an entirely new experience of perception in which each artist responded to the complexities of the artwork through different sound uses. Each sound piece became a creation of the painting itself. The shared aural experience demanded the visitor to actively listen to their surroundings. Continue reading