[ISEA2016] Artist Statement: Gail Priest — Sounding The Future

Artist Statement

Interactive sound and video installation, 2015

“Sounding the Future”. We always speak of ‘visions of the future,’ but what if we were to let the audible lead our imaginings? An immersive, audio-driven hypertext, Sounding the Future uses speculative narratives to consider what the future might sound like and how this may manifest as art. These possible futures are viewed through two filters: the integration of technology and biology resulting in transand post-human conditions and the exploitation of the sonic potentials of the new cities we imagine. Unavoidably, these futures are informed by the ways in which we listen now and in the past, so a third strand comprising theoretical and documentary material weaves past/present practice into future thinking.
Future fictions. Sounding the Future attempts to imagine different scenarios in which sound is the dominant novum, Darko Suvin’s term for the ‘new thing’ or paradigm that renders a future reality curious. Literary science fiction has often dealt with art as a novum. Fed by research into cyber fiction, literary and media theory, science, technology and architectural advancements and travel to the almost future cities of Seoul, Tokyo and Osaka, the resulting narratives of Sounding the Future congregate around two themes: the Future Human and the Future City. These scenarios are near-future suppositions in which sound is used as a lever to pry open situations that reflect on how we might ‘be’ when current conditions reach their ultimate state of development or decline. This speculation touches on issues including technological determinism transhumanism and transcendence individuation versus collectivity capital-driven environmental destruction and the powers of noise and silencing.
However ‘Sounding the Future’ doesn’t seek to suppose what the future in general will sound like, rather what art in the future will sound like – art operating as a distillation of civilisation’s desires, fears, virtues and vices. Consequently the scenarios offer more fantastical rather than hard-science fictions: an afterlife as a sonic manifestation a quantum rift that acts as a sonic drug a world in which men are unable to understand or make music noise terrorists hacking a city that sings and a society with synaptic burnout from audiovisual overload. What binds all the scenarios is something approaching a techgnostic pursuit of listening as a deeply, although not always positive, transformative act.
Future facts. Fact is often more interesting than fiction, and as William Gibson suggests the future is already here, just unevenly distributed, so in ‘Sounding the Future’ fictional fantasies are matched with the ‘facts’ that prompted them. Comprising over 50 sound/ text/video fragments, the visitor is positioned inside a media-rich, extensively cross-linked hypertext and allowed choice agency. They can follow an idea from fiction to fact and vice versa. The factual material is presented as info-bites covering subjects ranging across subjects such as substrate independent mind upload (SIMU), body augmentation, alternative energy sources, utopian architectures, climate and population projections and quantum sound technologies.
In addition to this, a number of Australian sound and media artists have been interviewed discussing their work in relation to innovation, newness and their attitude to futurity. These are Robin Fox who creates synaesthetic sound and laser performances Pia van Gelder whose work explores the esoterics of historical media machines Guy Ben-Ary who has grown an extra mind from his own neurons Peter Blamey whose sonic practice challenges the notions of consumption and obsolescence Cat Hope who is seeking new forms of notation George Poonkin Khut who experiments with sound and biofeedback and Michaela Davies whose experiments with Electrical Muscle Stimulation turn her musicians into cyborgs. Further interview material is compiled into short features in which key ideas raised in the work are discussed, such as ‘Are there any new sounds left to be found?’
It is inevitable that future dreaming reflects our current situation. As Frederic Jameson writes “Science fiction is generally understood as the attempt to imagine unimaginable futures. But its deepest subject may in fact be our own historical present.” In “Sounding the Future”, the integration of current and factual material with that of the future narratives allows the speculative and the real – the future and the present – to interact with and interrogate each other, creating a kind of ficto-critical time machine.
Hypertextural visions. The overarching interrogation is framed by an historical interest in media art theory from the 1990s and early 2000s, where the present and the future collided through the science-fictionality of ‘new’ media art. While much of the art was technologically unable to deliver, the intoxicating glimpse of the future was delivered via its rhetoric. Forming part of this was the hope for hypertext to become the literature of the future, a dream which did not quite come to pass as expected. As both homage and cross-artform experiment, Sounding the Future revisits the world of hypertext literature, seeking narrative and structural strategies that integrate sound, text and vision. The resulting saturated radiophonic soundpieces, augmented with navigational animations, create an immersive multisensory experience that works with and around 21st century attention deficiencies and multi-media dependencies. Taking inspiration from Deleuze and Guattari’s idea of the plateau, the work consists of fragments – a series of middles – narrative scenarios without beginnings and endings. The intention is that these plateaus offer ‘views’ (sonic views in this case) into the distance – the future and also perhaps the past – experienced via the installation very firmly in the here and now.

Gail Priest: Concept, text, sound, video. Julien Pauthier: Technical director/interactive programming. Thomas Burless/tomikeh: Furniture design and fabrication.  soundingthefuture.com

  • Gail Priest is a Sydney/Katoomba (Australia)-based sound artist. She seeks to engage creatively and critically with the aural realm, the outcomes manifesting as recordings, performances, installations and writings. Materially she concentrates on the voice, the field recording and the word. These materials are manipulated to play out an argument between figuration and abstraction – how much stretching can the ‘figure’ within the material take before it breaks and becomes abstract filaments? Alternatively, what essence or residue of the figure remains in them? Currently Priest is endeavoring to bring her practice as a writer (of sound/media commentary and creative fiction) into a more direct engagement with her sound making. She is seeking ficto-critical methods of writing about sound, through sound, as a cohesive creative act. While there is an ever-present danger for the word to dominate, her aim is to encourage modes of resistance, ruptures and renegotiations between sound and text in order to find new perspectives on them as independent and yet intertwined languages. In this recent project, Sounding the Future, Priest uses the lens of futurity, drawing on the structures of hypertext to offer movement, non-linearity and media interaction. The intention is that through contemplating a future world of sound, proposed in words about sound, accompanied by sounds, we may further interrogate our present relationship with the aural realm. gailpriest.net

Full text and photo (PDF): p.  222-225

Realisation with support of EMARE Move On at Bandits-Mages, La Box, L’École nationale supérieure d’art de Bourges (ENSA), Culture 2013 Programme of the EC, the Goethe Institut and Bandits-Mages, France, Australian Government through the Australia Council for the Arts, its arts funding and advisory body and by the NSW Government through the Arts, NSW.