Thursday, February 24, 2011

ghostwood a/v project


'Ghostwood a/v' is an audio installation which investigates the psychogeography of Ontario's northern wilderness. It is primarily focused on the use of infrasound, provided by specially-constructed bass-cannons, and will be supported with a single-channel video component. 

  The installation is part of a series of sound-art projects investigating the psychogeography of the liminal spaces which exist between humans and the natural environment. Previous iterations have focused on peripheral suburban developments, urban environments in states of disuse and decay, and dead malls or 'ghostboxes'. The project title is a reference to those suburban neighbourhoods where the sole memory of what has been displaced or eradicated as a result of development and construction survives in the now-prosaic street names ('Valleyview', 'Forest Hill', etc.).

  This version of the project focuses on the 'near north', rural areas where the encroachment of civilization has clearly begun, but in which nature has yet to be suppressed as a dominating force. Drawing from precedents such as the work of the Group of Seven, the stories of author Algernon Blackwood and First Nations mythology, 'Ghostwood a/v' seeks to reference their notion of the natural environment as a fearsome, awe-inspiring force imbued with quasi-mystical powers. In this case, the viewer is to come to the realization that this natural environment is a sentient, arcane power which is communicating a blunt rage for its debasement via sound. 

  Conceived as a semi-abstract narrative, 'Ghostwood a/v' relates the story of two artists venturing into northern Ontario, ostensibly to shoot a landscape documentary. As the trip progresses, audio anomalies begin to manifest themselves with increasing frequency - campfires begin to burn silently and events are heard to happen in impossible acoustic spaces (e.g. outdoor conversations sound as though they're occurring in a closed, reverberant interior space).
  The primary component of the installation, however, will consist of the use of field-recordings shifted to both the infra- and ultrasonic frequencies. Infrasound, frequencies that are lower than 20 Hz (Hertz) or cycles per second, tends to be felt rather than heard, and is known to have unusual effects on people (scientists have suggested that this level of sound may be present at some allegedly haunted sites and so cause people to have odd sensations that they attribute to a ghost). The natural environment thus begins to 'haunt' the protagonists via sound in a disconcerting, but not overtly malevolent way. Implied is an intent: a tenebrous, inscrutable message that the environment is trying to sonically impart upon the travellers. Sound's already ephemeral nature, its ability to exist without a defined projecting body, provides a clear parallel to the notion of spirits or ghosts.
  Visually, the piece will detail the sweeping beauty of the landscape in rich, saturated colours. Beginning with conventional documentary-style scenes, the video will subtly fragment and transform in parallel with the audio. Wide panoramic vistas, long rocky shorelines, deep forest imagery, macro images of the forest floor and waterways and the suggestion of wildlife will begin to distort and slow, lending to the premise of the environment's rejection of the visitors.

Although there are human protagonists in the film, their presence is solely acoustic: they are not seen, merely heard. In parallel with the increasing abstraction of the environmental sound, their conversation gradually becomes more abstracted, cryptic and fraught with silence, eventually ceasing altogether.

  The film culminates with a time-lapse sequence of aural and visual acceleration - from a remote lake back to an urban centre, during which the acoustics re-establish themselves to greater, though not complete, normality.

Video for this project will be by Brent Bostwick:

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