[ISEA94] Tony MacGregor & Virginia Madsen – Sound Design, Nature and the Post-Real


Because of the apparent transparency between the real and its recorded, replayed (and now digitalized) image, sound designers have been among the first to propose virtual space. Through Hi-Fidelity technologies sound designers can fashion virtual sound environments that are faithful to the real. So much so that soundscapes, ‘captured’ from endangered natural environments, are being used in an effort to recreate ‘natural’ habitats in zoos, and so deceive animals into behaving as if they were in the Wild.

As the theorist Paul Virilio says, “The question of modernity and postmodernity is superseded by that of reality and post-reality”. This post-reality, here in the form of sound architecture, is able to puncture the real and interact with it. (Sound is living; It creates response patterns, resonances, rhythms and counter rhythms). These sound-grafts, as virtual worlds, have the potential to substitute themselves for reality, and return to us a world (in virtual, distilled form) that we are in the process of losing. In this sense, Sound Design proposes a Sound Ecology. Here, the Virtual becomes a bridge joining Nature to Culture; a graft composed of the distilled spirit that Nature
offers up to heal all wounds. The sound designer can believe he is Nature’s shaman, or Medium, for communicating with the dead Distilling spirit from the virgin earth, finding in the lure of the virtual a way back into alchemy. There is a little known history here which deserves further distillation. The religious and utopian underpinnings of this postreality, created by sound (which always has real effects) have gone largely unnoticed by the cultural critic. It is not that sound cannot afterall heal or that such interventions in culturally constructed  environments like zoos may not lessen animal (and human) distress. It is rather that these interventions are taken at face value. Much is assumed uncritically. The transparency of the microphone for instance, the transparency of the digital, the category of Virgin Nature as distinct from corrupting Culture.

  • Tony MacGregor was born in Australia, 1956. Lives and works in Sydney. Producer with The Listening Room, ABC Radio. (Australian Broadcasting Corporation) since 1984. Works also in collaboration with other artists to produce installation and performance works, including Zona Di Transito for the 1994 Adelaide Festival and Zona Del Silencio for the 1992 Biennale of Sydney.
  • Virginia Madsen was born in Australia 1960. Lives and works in Sydney. Independent radio producer, sound designer and writer. Works regularly for The Listening Room, ABC Radio. Her work has been broadcast in the USA and France. Currently working on the sound design for the inter-active performance SHOP with the Sydney group Open City. Current research toward a Doctorate of Creative Arts at the University of Technology, Sydney. Lectures regularly in the area of radio & sound studies.