When I was a little kid one of the things I enjoyed doing was hanging out in a tent made by throwing a sheet over a card table. Even better, my grandmother had a card table cover made specifically to turn one into a little house. I don’t remember exactly what I did in there, in the card table house, in the middle of my grandmother’s living room. But I remember loving it. I can imagine myself out of the sight of the adults in the close semi-darkness.
Later I graduated to an outside fort. Someone, probably the “big kids” of the neighborhood, had dug a three foot deep, six foot wide hole in the field across the street and thrown a couple pieces of plywood over it. I don’t remember what I did in there either, but I think the fort probably figured into a years long game of army I played with the little boys in the neighborhood. I remember how dark it was in there, except for the streaks of light stabbing in around the edges, and I remember tasting the dirt in the air.
For the last several years one of my favorite things to do is spend time in my little backpacking tent deep in the woods at Charles C. Deam Wilderness, near Bloomington, Indiana. Just me, alone in the healing green of the woods, feeling the breath of the Goddess in the trees, listening to birdsong and silence.
Last week I finished my most recent sound creation, installed as an audio component for an exhibition at the Indianapolis Art Center. The visual artist, 2011-2012 Skip McKinney Faculty of the Year Fellowship recipient, Sofiya Inger, created a work she calls the Story Dome. In her text about the installation, she also remembers playing in a card table tent and talks eloquently of spending time in the woods. We apparently have a few things in common.
When you walk into this work you walk into an ancient cave, or a tight circle of trees in the deep woods, or a secret hidden grotto. It’s full of, well, stories. It’s full of images and words and colors and textures and like a little kid said today when she walked in, “Wow. It’s so cool! And kinda spooky. But cool too.” I love observing the uninhibited observing art.
I can’t count the number of times while I was setting up alone that I saw movement out of the corner of my eye, or felt like someone was standing near me, or turned to talk to someone walking around in the room (but no one was). Spooky cool alright.
You need to go and experience this work if you can. I have some pictures here, but pictures don’t work. I’ve put up one of the audio components for you to listen to, but that won’t represent it either.
I am so grateful to Sofiya for letting me participate in the Story Dome project. I really enjoyed creating this work and she was remarkably trusting of my artistic vision throughout the entire process.
I’d love to hear what you think. Maybe you can share your impressions as a comment on this post.
Story Dome Poetry Recordings (This was the recording available via headphones in the Story Dome).
Technical Notes on the “Story Dome” Audio Recordings
The nature sounds were recorded over the last two years at Charles C. Deam Wilderness Area, Morgan-Monroe State Forest, and Shades State Park, all in Indiana. I use a portable Alesis MicroTrack recorder to capture natural sounds. When I’m camping I actually sleep with the Microtrack right by my pillow so it’s ready to go in case an interesting sound wakes me up. I have gotten pretty good at breathing very quietly and holding the recorder without moving a muscle for ten to twenty minutes. Very much a Zen practice.
The wind sound was recorded at Stepp Cemetery in Morgan-Monroe State Forest this fall when we enjoyed some really windy days. I set up the recorder in this little protective screen I made out of panty hose and coat hangers under a beautiful old evergreen tree. Wind sound is one of the most beautiful sounds to listen to when you are in a tent or sitting by a fire in the woods. But it is also nearly impossible to duplicate in playback. The ear tends to hear the recorded sound as white noise, or as Lisa said when she was listening to the quad playback for the first time in my studio, “Is that wind or water? I can’t tell. Whatever it is, it’s soothing.” I must say that my efforts to figure out how to trick the ear to hear wind in the tree leaves, when one is actually inside a still room, continues. I am beginning to think that either the brain needs to have the feeling of the wind on skin to interpret the sound, or the frequencies involved are such that speakers don’t accurately reproduce them.
The water and birdsong was recorded at Shades State Park, a beautiful and (during the week) very quiet park.
The insect noises were recorded at Charles C. Deam Wilderness. For all its solitude and beauty, it’s hardly ever quiet at Deam. It seems to be right along some main aircraft flight path. It’s difficult to get more than 6 or 7 minutes recorded before being interrupted by the synthesizer like droning of a plane in the distance.
The natural sounds are reproduced in four channels to create a relaxing and convincingly natural ambiance in the exhibition hall. I thought it was important that the Story Dome represented the stories told by the wind, water, insects and birds.
I also wanted to represent human stories in sound, just as Sofiya was representing them with visual art. But just as her visual representation leaves much to your imagination, I didn’t want to just record people telling their stories, I wanted to represent the essence of their words without providing the listener something that they would be compelled to mentally process.
I sat with this for some time, thinking about how to portray the essence of language without engaging the left brain.
One day I read an amazing poem by a gal named Phoebe Knopf, an internet friend of mine. Please read it on page 9 of this church newsletter. “Tree Prayer” is simply a gorgeous expression. And I wondered if someone who didn’t speak English could feel, could touch the beauty of this poem if I were to read it to them. In other words, if the essence of the poem could survive the failure of linguistic understanding.
So that became my experiment. I asked foreign language speakers to come to my studio and read poems about nature, and asked only that the poems have some personal or cultural significance. Several people generously donated their time and voices. I assembled their recitations into an audio piece that I hope portrays the sound in the walls and individual creations of the Story Dome. This recording plays through headphones located in the dome. I’ve embedded the file here so you can listen to it from the beginning in the comfort of your chair! It goes without saying that I’m indebted to the kind people who spoke for this project. My thanks to each of them.
Speakers and the selected poetry include (not in any particular order):
Rose LaPan-Davidson reciting Le Temps a Laissé Son Manteau (The Season Removed His Coat) by Charles de-Orléans and La Mer (The Sea) lyrics by Charles Trénet, in French.
Karin Van den Broeck reciting Zee (sea) by Toon Hermans, and De Dikke Eikenboom (The Big Oak Tree) by Levi in Dutch.
Soheir Ghattas singing Ya Jarat Al Wadi (Neighbor of the Valley) in Arabic.
Laila A Banu reciting Bristi Pore Tapur Tupur (Sound of Rain), and Sunon (Beautiful) by Rabindranath Tagore, in Bengali.
Sofiya Inger reciting в жилищах наших (In Our Dwellings…) in Russian.
Sandra Hendricks reciting Der Spaziergang (The Walk) in German.
Amy Yang reciting 望廬山瀑布 (Lu Mountain Waterfall), and 题西林壁 (West Woodland Wall) in Chinese.
Tim Hashko reciting Лесная тропинка (Forest Path) in Russian.
Abu Kamal singing Azan (Calling for Prayer) in Arabic.
Elcira C. Villarreal reciting Yo En El fondo Del Mar by Alfonsina Storni in Spanish