Translating Ambiance

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1. Jordan Lacey Curatorial Essay: Translating Ambiance

This exhibition asks: is it possible to translate ambiance between environments, and what are the embodied processes employed during acts of translation? Translated ambiance considers the body and its situatedness, as a site of perceptual difference entwined within an immediate spatial encounter. Each artist has been asked to create a work that considers their own experiences and perceptions while engaged in the process of translating phenomena between environments, using methods and tools particular to their practices.

To understand how translation as a concept is applied here, it is useful to consider Nicolas Bourriard’s use of the term. He argues, if postmodernity fractured the unitary dream of modernity into archipelagos of otherness, then the move towards ‘altermodernity’—an alternative to globalisation that preserves diversity—is characterised by processes of translation. In his book, The Radicant , he writes:

‘translation always implies adapting the meaning of a proposition, enabling it to pass from one code to another’

What is translated will always differ from what was translated ‘since every translation is inevitably incomplete and leaves behind an irreducible remainder’. Similarly, translation is explored in this exhibition as a method for discovering new places of encounter, which references both ‘natural’ and ‘urban’ environments.

The terms nature and urban are heavily coded, related as they are to our own cultural and political references. In their codifications they have come to mean something very different to each other. The urban, a land of excitement, concrete and noise; and nature, as places for escape and restoration: at least their coded reputations would have us believe in such dualistic caricatures. It is by transversing the natural and the urban that the artist reveals new possible worlds. Like Bourriard’s altermodernity, the act of translating ambiance provides an alternative to the homogenising forces of globalisation, where rather than uniformity, translation suggests a diversity of environments, encounters and experiences.

Thibaud states in his catalogue essay that ‘ambiance is not what one perceives, it is not an object of perception. It is from this which one perceives, which opens up the perceptibility of the world, which enables perception’. To translate an ambiance is not to try and recreate the feelings or experiences of one place into another place. It is the application of creative techniques that expand the perceptual range of the world, through the production of new phenomena. Sound is a particularly effective means to both understand and create ambiance. This is largely due to the power of audio technologies to record and relay the sonic. It can, therefore, be more easily translated (i.e. recorded) between environments, and shaped with editing suites. However, it should be remembered that despite the sophistication of technological prowess it is the simple process of listening that relays the affectivity of sonic ambiances. With or without technological mediation, listening presents an embodied awareness of place that can evoke new imaginary relationships with the world.

Common to all of the artists involved in this exhibition is the use of sound and listening as part of their working methodologies. Sound has an important role in the generation of ambiance, given its affective and relational qualities, as so elegantly discussed by Brandon Labelle (sonic relationality) and Salomé Voegelin (sonic possible worlds). Sound always surrounds us, we can never switch it off, and as such our being and imaginations are shaped by its flows and intensities. Many of the sound artists in this exhibition, as Samartzis states in his essay, maintain a ‘spirit of independence, of being outsiders within [a] system’ particularly academic institutions where ‘sound has always been a problem (…) for one reason or another. Its history doesn’t fit neatly into the story of art, nor the story of music. Its practice is oftentimes loud, sometimes obnoxious, occasionally poetic’. Accordingly, diverse and idiosyncratic responses to the translating ambiance theme have emerged in this exhibition. From shifting guttural noises of the body as it transits across environments; the re-creation of phenomena from natural settings into everyday urban motifs; translations created for the mind while suspended in a body-bag; and, the possibility of coding politics into natural phenomena and materialities. As this exhibition will demonstrate, there is no right answer to the question, what is translation? Rather, each artist has chosen a unique way to present translation, as it applies to their practice.

There is an additional, opaque quality to this exhibition: the gallery acts as a research environment. Each artist is asked to produce an autoethnography in reference to the works (including their own) that considers the affectivities produced by each work’s generated ambiance. As Pink describes in her essay:

‘human perception is ongoing and multisensorial’ and ‘the artist is essential in seeking to create the circumstances within which such experiences, feelings and meanings will emerge’.

As such, it is the sound artist’s acute awareness of phenomena that propels the ethnographic dimension of this exhibition. This collective ethnographic act, is in itself, a meta-translation of artistic knowledge. Such creative know-how could, and should, be translated into the utilitarian processes employed by engineers and planners, whose charters are, partly at least, responsible for the increasingly homogenous character of our global cities. Indeed, identifying pathways for artists to engage in discussions of urban futures is at the heart of this exhibition’s ethnographic intent. By treating the gallery as a research environment we may discover methodologies for the creation of urban ambiances, that manifest new imaginative and bodily encounters.

2. Jean-Paul Thibaud Ambiance: An Atmospheric Sensitivity of the World

Ambiance is part of a general movement of openness to the senses. It contributes to the emergence of new frames of sensitivity. Whether one insists on the aestheticization of urban spaces or the increasing attention to ecological issues, the development of experiential marketing or the diffusion of ambient intelligence, our way of being sensitive to the spaces we inhabit is changing. No doubt we are engaged in a historical moment of transformation of our sensory conditions of existence. In other words, we are witnessing the birth of an atmospheric sensitivity of the world. Percepts and affects regain their own rights, involving the diversity of sensory modalities and recognizing the importance of bodily experience. With ambiance, it is not only a question of perceiving a landscape or measuring an environment, but of feeling situations in common and experiencing the sensory contexture of social life. From now on the sensorial is to be heard and ambiance is one of its most powerful resonators.

In this respect, the notion of medium is of prime importance, summoning the air in the first instance, that imperceptible but no less vital medium. Hence we should not be mistaken: an ambiance is not what one perceives, it is not an object of perception. It is from this which one perceives, which opens up the perceptibility of the world, which enables perception. No vision possible without light … no audition possible without sound … But also, the domain of ambiances is not an isolated domain, autonomous, independent from social practices. On the contrary, any ambiance is embedded in common gestures and forms of sociability. It involves social performances that actualize the resources of the built environment and accomplish our ways of being together. Thus we need to pay particular attention to the background of ordinary practices. What is taken for granted and usually goes unnoticed is the basic material of an ambiance. A way of walking, looking or speaking, quality of air or light, bright sunshine or sudden rain, the height of a stair or the material of a sidewalk are part of the composition of an ambiance. But an ambiance does not come from one or more of these components, it is not limited to their mere addition. An ambiance is rather the connection and coalescence between these various elements, to hold them together by giving a single tone and a unique pervasive quality to everything that appears. We are dealing here with the power of homogenization and atmospherisization of an ambiance. Ambiance leads to a shared, embodied, enacted and situated sensory experience.

As a nomadic concept, it goes from one science to another one. It migrates, circulates, translates. Far from being attached to a single scientific discipline or domain of action, it spreads and proliferates in regions as diverse as sensitive architecture or existential psychopathology, social anthropology, cultural geography or phenomenological philosophy, literary or urban studies, the area of organizations or consumption, the world of art … In doing so, ambiance pushes the boundaries of the disciplines and complexifies each time it comes into contact with them. In any case, ambiance highlights the pathic feature of experience, embodies the affective tonality of situations and involves the modes of attunement of everyday life. Theoretical tools then refine and diversify to its passage. New ideas are experimented such as quasi-objects and sensory effects, tuned spaces, climatic envelopes, ordinary affects, atmospheric affordances, ambient gestures and other diffuse qualities. Thus emerges an unprecedented field of research, which contributes to an extended sensory ecology of life forms and explores the potentialities of a socio-aesthetic of dwelling.

Finally, one has to reflect upon the diversity of the models on which the notion of ambiance or atmosphere is based (a more thorough clarification between these two notions should be made). Five main theoretical frameworks can be identified, sharing arguments and placing them in discussion:

  1. ambiance according to the situationist movement insists on the critique of everyday life and promotes intensifying the emotional potential of urban situations;
  2. new phenomenology from German language tradition develops a philosophy of the lived body and leads to an aesthetic of atmospheres;
  3. a more pragmatic approach explores the transformative and generative power of ambiances and puts them to the test of empirical investigation;
  4. non-representational theory inspired by Deleuzian and poststructuralist trends of thought explores affective atmospheres in terms of intensities, forces and events;
  5. spherology approach initiated by Peter Sloterdijk introduces a general theory of air conditioning and focuses on atmospheric installations as immune systems.

Obviously these dividing lines are abusively simplified. However, this brief cartography allows to show the inscription of the theory of ambiances in various traditions of thought and to promote a pluralism of approaches. Among the various topics of discussion, three important ones can be mentioned. First, a basic theoretical problem concerns the role of the subject and human subjectivity in relation to ambiance. If affects and bodies occupy a central place recognized by all, the question remains open as to how to understand them. Is it necessary to make human experience the measure of an ambiance or rather to open it to the non-human, the more-than-human, the pre-individual? How far should we be inspired by post-phenomenological thoughts that propose a decentering subject? Second, instead of focusing on what an ambiance is, and how to define it, we could explore what ambiance accomplishes and performs. What does an ambiance enable to perceive, to do, to feel, to share? Where does the notion of ambiance lead us in terms of sensitivity, thought and design? Third, how about the capacity of these various perspectives to confront empirical reality and integrate the major mutations of contemporary life. The challenge here is to give a concrete account and thick description of the ambient world. How then to seize an area that first and foremost deals with the diffuse, the discreet and the molecular? How to explore and experiment with new forms of inquiry? How can the art world help with this?

3. Sarah Pink Ethnography and Ambiance

Ambiance is felt, sensed, in our bodies and emotions. Our ways of knowing and imagining in and with the ambiance of a place or moment cannot be captured by technologies of measurement and modelling. So how can we encounter and understand the feelings that are emergent from our encounters with the ambiance of art? This involves understanding human perception as ongoing and multisensorial, and always contingent on the swirling myriad of human and nonhuman things and processes that configure as the flow of everyday life continues. To bring about ambient experiences, the anticipatory sensibilities and techniques of the artist are essential in seeking to create the circumstances within which such experiences, feelings and meanings will emerge. The elements thought to contribute to ambiance—such as sound, light, temperature—can be measured, but such technologies cannot access or convey human perception or meaning. Ambiance cannot be rationalised or objectified and the process of creating it cannot be modelled. Creating ambiance is not a predictive science, so how do we make, know, feel, document and reflect on the ambiance that is generated through artistic practice?

Design anthropological theory and practice offer a mode of understanding and articulating ambiance. In such an approach theory and practice are always in dialogue. Sensory ethnographic practice draws on the phenomenological anthropology of Tim Ingold, and its attention to the multisensory experience that is inextricable from the ways that we all (researchers, artists and those who encounter our work) encounter and learn in and with the environments we move through. It offers modes of documenting, reflecting on and anticipating the ambient possibilities that can emerge from encounters with art, through a focus on the sensory embodied experiences that we might find it difficult to describe in spoken words. It also, through its emphasis on futures, focuses not only on what things feel like in the present or felt like in the past, but on how we sense futures, again in ways that it might be impossible to express in words. Design Anthropology, can also welcome the uncertainty of what might happen next, within its practice. It understands future as always contingent, unknown and unpredictable. In this sense futures are not fixed, but instead exist as possibilities, and the study of futures can be seen as uncovering possibilities and the modes through which people anticipate them. A focus on uncertainty acknowledges both the fact that we cannot know what will happen next, and the continually emergent nature of the environments we inhabit and of the configurations of circumstances that constitute our everyday worlds. This involves putting a concept of emergence, which has been forwarded by design anthropologists such as Rachel Charlotte Smith and Ton Otto, as well as in my own collaborations with Yoko Akama and Shanti Sumartojo, at the centre of our thinking. Following this approach therefore, enables us to understand the ambiance that we feel and sense, to be similarly part of a process of continuous emergence. Therefore, rather than being pre-figured, ambiance is the continually experienced outcome of the circumstances that we find ourselves in.

Therefore, design anthropology engages with the possible and recognises anticipated futures as experiences and feelings that emerge in the present, rather than as predictable products that will either succeed or fail. Here ethnography in both its form of exploring how people experience the ambiance of art, and in the auto-ethnographic stance through which an artist might reflectively anticipate future encounters with her or his practice, presents a mode of knowing about ambiance. The reflexive artist as auto-ethnographer accounts for the question of how to create art that opens up ambient possibilities for its audience. It is impossible to orchestrate the feelings that people will experience when they encounter art, simply because the circumstances of these experiences will always be contingent and audiences will improvise with their own ways of knowing to create meanings. Yet by auto-ethnographically documenting their own feelings, practices and hopes through drawing, writing, audio or video recording in the process of making, artists can create an archive of sensory knowing. This can be compared with in-depth ethnographic explorations with those who experience art, to explore how the experiential possibilities it afforded meet with the artists assumptions and hopes. Such research involves collaborative audio and video recorded explorations with participants, using these and other written or visual modes of expressing what these experiences have been like. These stages of working ethnographically can be interwoven in the ongoing process of creation and reflection, as the artists’ understanding of their own imaginative and anticipatory modes grows, and their understanding of how people experience ambient circumstances cumulatively influences the evolution of practice.

4. Philip Samartzis Notes from the Front Line

If I’d stayed at college I would have become a teacher
Syd Barrett

Variable resistance

The relationship between sound art and the institution is an interesting topic within the context of this exhibition. The post WW2 period is littered with artists, technicians and researchers working within institutional frameworks to advance the theory and practice of sound—from design and generation, to choreography and arrangement, and finally articulation and encounter. Historically, the institution provided the finance, expertise and technology to facilitate a research agenda designed to advance the understanding and appreciation of audition and perception. The evolution of electronic music studios and their attendant research groups including the INA-GRM, IRCAM, WDR, STEIM, NHK, et al, are well documented, however, alternative organisations such as art schools and colleges hold an equally important role in promoting the sonic arts. While theorists and historians argue over the merits of analogue tape over digital sound generation, resourceful students draw on broken speakers, cheap microphones, and portable hand held recorders to produce a vibrant and dynamic music. More importantly, art schools and colleges are places where equality, gender identity, and cultural diversity flourish. Through a quixotic mix of ability and experience, a sound field is produced that is arguably more potent than anything to come out of the vacuum tubes and variable resistors of the consoles and amplifiers utilised within state funded research institutions. The Melbourne Electronic Sound Studio is a noteworthy exception for using a model established by independent radio broadcasters, whereby rarefied technology is accessed through a subscriber system, circumventing the hierarchical structure governing access to similarly appointed studios.

A history of forgetting

It can be argued that the narrative that consistently informs contemporary sound discourse is historically shallow, thematically narrow and culturally deficient. A discourse that rarely contravenes the hegemony of scholarship materialising from the northern hemisphere.

History is often articulated from a self-serving perspective—one that recursively folds back on itself to produce narratives reinforcing intellectual and cultural dominance. It is a position where Stéphane Mallarmé’s Un coup de dés jamais n’abolira le hasard (1897) is neglected for John Cage’s Silence (1961). Where hermit and inventor Knud Viktor is marginalised from the history of acoustic ecology, and yet whose innovations predate the Canadian soundscape movement. Where the destructive impulse of Milan Knizak’s Broken Music (1964), which anticipates Christian Marclay by twenty years, is reduced to a footnote. Historians seem good at forgetting, and really good at restating a past that gets shallower with the passing of time. Sound history is as endangered an ecology as the concepts, technologies and structures that once supported it. A crepuscular world where the shoots planted by Cage, Schaeffer and Schafer are the only remnants occupying a once fecund garden. If you place your ear against the weeds however, you may hear Persopolis (1972) by Iannis Xenakis—a work detested by Schaeffer for its brutality and dissonance, yet perennially loved by fans of noise and industrial music.

Sound art is for everyone

Sound art seems to be commonplace within contemporary art and music. Once the bête noire of fine art, sound is now integrated into numerous hybrid and transdisciplinary practices. No longer marginalised to rarefied exhibitions, or specialised festivals and record labels, it is an integral part of the fine art experience through multichannel and immersive installations, live art and performance projects, and through the intersection of audio-visual practices. The process of absorption has been so successful that it could be argued that sound as a distinct and independent discipline is now a somewhat redundant concept. Computer and mobile technologies, along with pervasive forms of communication and distribution, offer new ways of incorporating sound into various categories of fine art production to expand temporal and spatial interactions and flows. Once the province of highly guarded knowledge and specialised know-how, sound practices are increasingly populated by generalist approaches and everyday electronics.

Detuning the world

Most of the Australian artists in this exhibition are graduates of the School of Art at RMIT University. Sound has occupied a liminal position within the school since it was introduced into the fine art program in the late 1970s. While staff and students come and go, a spirit of independence, of being outsiders within the system remains. Sound has always been a problem for the academy for one reason or another. Its history doesn’t fit neatly into the story of art, nor the story of music. Its practice is oftentimes loud, sometimes obnoxious, occasionally poetic. It has a tendency to fill space with a tactile and immersive presence that overwhelms delicate sensibilities. Pierre Henry declared that working with sound is like waging war on a daily basis—challenging tradition, disrupting complacency, and confronting the arbiters of taste. For some critics and audiences, sound is simply too hard, just as abstract painting was too hard until it was eventually subsumed and commodified for the masses. A case in point is Bridget Riley’s Movement in Squares (1961) which demonstrates the dynamic potentialities of optical phenomena that anticipates the aural and optical art of Ryoji Ikeda. The success of Ikeda’s much lauded series of data streams suggests the long transition of sound art from margin to centre is now complete.

Broken nose

Before writing this essay, I asked the artists what sound art means to them today. Only some responded but the answer was more or less consistent: that it is perceptual; that it’s all around us; and that it is something that should be listened to. This exhibition uses site responsive practice to draw attention to atmosphere and ambiance. While the works are new, the practice of responding to a site and its attendant complexities is well established. When engaging with these works it is worth thinking about precedents. Eric Satie’s Musique d’Ameublement (1917) provides a good starting point as it was specifically composed to function as background ambiance to social gatherings. I am also reminded of Martin Hannett and his use of digital reverb and delay to create lugubrious spaces for bands infatuated by the abject. The broadband thrum filtering through the Yarra Sculpture Gallery from nearby Hoddle Street is reminiscent of Vittorio Gelmetti’s dense electronic soundscapes for Red Desert (1964). The repetitive sound of the train line running perpendicular to the gallery could be lifted from a 1980s Jean-Marc Vivenza album of stark industrial noise. Sound may be omnipresent, and anything these days may pass as sound art, yet I would argue that it is its connection to the mavericks, innovators and the lunatic fringe that provides it with its enduring charm and legacy. For this we have people like Jean Dubuffet to thank, whose composition Broken Nose (1960) demonstrates that anyone can be a musician, and that sound is as much about play as it is about perception.


Lisa Hall and Salomé Voegelin

And it Tastes Like Hair

Sound, speakers, headphones, scaffolding boards, hooks and fittings

The work negates the ability to record nature from outside. Instead it wills entanglements in roots and leaves, on moss and air, and by the long grass and the thistle. It insists on our being together and of each other in a co-dependent interbeing, rather than allowing for the separation of being nature or being human. However, this interbeing is not a becoming plant, becoming wild, becoming other, in a colonial and territorial grasp. Instead it is an acknowledgement of sharing structures and molecules: the invisible traces we are all made of. 

The recordings are in the ear, on the hands and feet, and in the mouth, caressing and also slightly unpleasant. They perform textures and rhythms, close up—unintelligible but felt—impressing correspondences and a shared origin, and manifesting what we have in common rather than our difference. To make us feel our skin on their surface.

And the recordist stumbles rather than controls the wilderness that she is too. She is where things meet as textures and surfaces, hairy, jagged, wilful and intractable, and definitively alive. Where both nature and human perform their matter together, breaching a dualistic world view and building a different imaginary from the encounter of small hairs, skin, stems and spikes. 

Lisa Hall is a London based sound artist exploring urban environments using audio interventions, sound installations and performative actions. Interrupting behaviour and questioning design, her works aim to make space for something new. Her projects have been shared at Tate Modern (UK), Kochi-Muziris Biennale (IN), Folkestone Triennial (UK), Lisbon Architecture Triennale (PT) and Cafe Oto (UK) amongst others.

Salomé Voegelin is an artist and writer engaged in listening as a socio-political practice of sound. Her work and writing deal with sound, the world sound makes: its aesthetic, social and political realities that are hidden by the persuasiveness of a visual point of view. Her most recent book The Political Possibility of Sound, 2018, explores sound’s social and political agency.

Martin Kay

Aquatic Centre

Sound, water, light, glass, chlorine

Floating half naked in a state of meditation, I find myself transfixed by the shadows of water shimmering over the calcium stains scattered across the walls of my local public swimming pool. Through the diffuse ambient azure hue and reverberant acoustics of the space, this focused yet abstract spectacle appears to seamlessly ground itself to the accompanying activity of children playing, amplified aqua-aerobic instructors and pop music, rhythmic splashes of lap-swimmers, and the warm embrace of water and its pungent taste of chlorine.

Through such intense sensory and immersive experiences, I find my mind and body drifting away from the outside world and becoming bound to the ambience of the pool – an ambience which facilitates and dictates a particular pace, rhythm, mode of engagement, and state of mind.

Urban swim centres can be understood as a kind of translation of ‘natural’ aquatic spaces. Employing complex technological process and architectural structures, they compose a recreational spatial order that regulates the flow
of human bodies. 

Aquatic Centre seeks to offer a meditation and retranslation of such constructed aquatic ambiences through exploring the ways in which light, sound, smell, and architecture can be experimented with to shape our experience of water.

Martin Kay is a sound recordist who primarily utilises unmixed and unedited environmental sound recordings to create audio montages and compositions that explore the intersection of architecture, psychoacoustics, social dynamics and place. Kay’s works have been published through: 3LEAVES, Avant Whatever, And/Oar, B—CSC, Earwitness, Herbal, and MOOZAK.

Byron Dean and Polly Stanton

Emergent Fields

4K video, stereo sound, 19m

Emergent Fields is an audio-visual work that explores the production of wind energy as a provocation for action, solidarity and the politics of production. Created during a residency at the Hepburn Wind Farm—the first community owned wind farm in Australia—the project engages listening strategies, performative intervention and visual documentation to activate new perspectives on the creation of renewable energies. By considering the affective bodies of the turbines, the work presents a sensory reading of the farm as a means to reveal the complex and multilayered transformation of materials, durations and gestures.

During four days spent at the site, the artists listened and recorded at the base of the wind turbines, wandering through surrounding paddocks and edges of the nearby wombat forest. The piece draws on recordings of mechanical infrastructure and resonant structures, movement of air, contours of electrical fields generated by the power station, through to tracing the sound of turbines throughout the landscape, carried on the wind. By seeking to translate these unseen ambiences of the natural and built environment, Emergent Fields highlights the acoustic multiplicities of site and explores cooperative relationships between human and more-than-human worlds.

Byron Dean is a sound artist and field recordist working across the areas of acousmatic composition, performance and site-specific sound art. His work reimagines and negotiates sensory experiences of place and culture through fieldwork and phonographic practice, often exploring themes of transformation, urban multiplicity and agentive listening. Drawing relationships between sounds, environments and temporalities, his compositions are concerned with the portrayal and expansion of sonic experience.

Polly Stanton is a moving image artist and sound practitioner. Her work primarily investigates the relations between environment, human actions, and land use. Her films and installations focus on contested sites, presenting landscape as a politically charged field of negotiation, entangled with history, technology and capital. Stanton’s mode of working is expansive and site based, with her practice intersecting across a number of disciplines from film production, sound design, field research, performance, writing and publication.

Catherine Clover

Guyup-Guyup: Scores for Eight Songbirds

Eight unframed digital prints on paper, 841mm x 541mm each, plus vocal performance

Using homophonic translation the sounds of wild urban birds are written using phonetic words from English-language bird field guides. As a vehicle for the three-dimensionality of sound, the written word is limited. This fallibility promotes doubt, uncertainty, even an absurdity, useful characteristics for proposing that other species use complex language, a highly contested idea despite scientific evidence.

Pre-colonisation, the dominant language of what is now known as northern Melbourne was Woi wurrung, the language of the Wurundjeri Tribe. With the decimation of Wurundjeri culture due to colonisation, Woi wurrung is a language vulnerable to extinction. As a white British migrant (arr. 1993) I sought permission to include translations in Woi wurrung from Wurundjeri Elder Gail Smith who has provided me with some of the birds’ names still known.

Eight songbirds common to the gallery environs are transcribed. Songbirds learn their language from their parents which means they can adapt their sounds throughout their lives. Four of the birds are native: Magpie (Barrawarn), Little Raven, Magpie-Lark (Dit-dit), Red Wattlebird (Yan-guk). Four were introduced by the early colonists: Common Starling (arr Melbourne 1857, Sydney 1877), Common Blackbird (arr 1860), House Sparrow (arr 1862), Common Myna (arr 1863-1872). A performance of the scores by four voices considers how the two groups of songbirds sonically and vocally affect each other.

Catherine Clover’s multidisciplinary art practice addresses communication through voice, language and the interplay between hearing/listening, seeing/reading. Using field recording, digital imaging and the spoken/written word I explore an expanded approach to language within and across species through a framework of everyday experience. Her work has been exhibited and performed regularly both within Australia and internationally since the 90s.

Camilla Hannan


Quadraphonic sound, mixed materials, cornflour. Dimensions variable.

Sulphur crested cockatoos screech over city streets. Flocks of yellow and white swarm overhead yelling and screaming in groups of 10, 20, 50, 100.

Perched on light poles and nestling in building alcoves, the cockatoos were here long before our arrival. They ignore, disobey and torment. The cockatoos tear open a sense of space upon the urban. Their presence is a reminder that they were here long before us and that they shall remain long after we have burnt out. The cockatoos will pick out the sinews of what is left and they won’t give a damn.

Like cockatoos we screech and rage and torment, we imprint on all that is around us and leave our filthy traces on the world in which we traipse through. We ignore any objection and defy any protest. We don’t give a damn.

Camilla Hannan is an Australian sound artist who works exclusively with field recordings. She processes these recordings into abstract representations of place and experience. She investigates the construction of urban and natural environments sonically, and spatially, morphing these elements into new sound worlds. Camilla’s work is centred on a deep fascination with the way in which we listen to our environment and how this listening impacts upon our micro and macro worlds.

Jordan Lacey & remi freer


Four readymade aircon shells with embedded speakers networked to computer system; interactive voltage

Cold is a collaborative artwork between sound artist, Jordan Lacey, and visual artist remi freer. Together they combine technology, phenomenology and notions of atmosphere to create an urban site of variant environmental encounter. Taking their lead from the snowy plains and peaks of the Victorian Alpine high country, Lacey and remi translate the phenomenological experience of frost-lined horizons gleaming in the dawn sun, and the multiplicities of small gurgling eddies emerging from the flow of water through a natural linear clearing in a snow gum forest. The artwork’s title reflects the abundance of coldness in this climate, manifesting as a chill in the exploring artists’ bones, the site of their exhaling breath and the crispness of air enveloping their skin.

These experiences and field recordings are translated into the YSG laneway, itself a typical example of a Melbourne laneway strewn with its own characteristics of disused pipes, graffiti and multi coloured bricks and mortars; and, it happens, with proportions similar to the linear forest clearing discovered in the Alps. Using readymade air-con shells, the individual sounds of small eddies, recorded with ambisonics and hydrophones, mix with the surrounding sounds of the busy Hoddle Street thoroughfare. And, a diffusive LED lighting system within each air-con shell flickers in relationship to the immediate soundscape. As such, the phenomenological and embodied experience of the Alps is translated into the laneway, creating a new urban environment.

Michael Graeve

Rendered Imperfectly Rendered

Sound and painting installation, dimensions variable. 4-channel sound. (Various compositions, live audio feed). Paintings (oil on linen, various dimensions). Loudspeakers, chairs. Courtesy of the artist.

The moment of the space that was elsewhere becomes here quickly a profusion now. One becomes many. Links are broken, then awkwardly mended, thus imperfectly rendered. The question of representation. Those questions of representations. Crossings of sorts, too, falling into focus, or out of line, registering and deregistering. A relation, a-relation, a re-relation, a composite, an opposite, a plethora, a profusion, an allusion. Being located between spaces, in spaces, across spaces. Across purposes and across actions. It comes to hold a moment here only to evade us of the moment there.

Now we have a sequence of overlaps and overlays. Of delays and relays. Recordings from a gallery set in a semi-rural, semi-industrial location. A space filled with record players rumbling and tumbling, two dozen loudspeakers conjuring a complex mechanorganical surround in the interior. Thresholds between inside and outside, between artificial and natural, between technical and animal, between fake wood and real wind. Walk-throughs. Seatings and movings. All this, and more, now displaced to the Yarra Sculpture Gallery. Placed within earshot of traffic, with doublings-up of that traffic, and triangulated inside framings, with layers of angles. A rendering of moments and actions and dislocated spatial propositions.

Dr Michael Graeve is a Castlemaine-based visual and sound artist. He engages sound art and painting practices in dialogue, extending frameworks for their creation and reading through oscillations of conjunctive and disjunctive relations. He exhibits and performs internationally. His work features in curated exhibitions surveying sound art and non-objective, concrete and abstract painting practices. Michael has been a board member of Liquid Architecture Sound Inc since 2007, was a board member of West Space Inc and Grey Area Art Space Inc, and is a senior lecturer at RMIT University.

Andrew Goodman

Gut Feelings

Digital video and sound loop 25’, transducer, Perspex

I think of this translation of environmental factors through the sensitivity of the stomach (the so-called ‘second brain’) to the larger body and at the same time through this artwork into sound and vibrations not as translation in the traditional sense of a parcel of information exchanged between discrete entities, but as a transductive process. That is, it might not be merely the process of the clean transformation of forces as they pass through different bodies, but also a process that remakes bodies. For Simondon the resonance between these forces as differentials is therefore productive in a larger sense, drawing a becoming body into complex and emergent relation with the field, and charging the relationship with potential. It might also be a speculative process, a feeling out of the potential of this relationship that sets activity in motion, as forces and bodies are forced into relationships that open up questions rather than resolve them. In this sense translation might retain at its centre something of the strangeness of that which is translated, complicating rather than clearing things up, or perhaps folding them into each other, so that each unfolding parcel of information retains the creases and bent edges that are part of its complicated and intertwined fields.

Andrew Goodman is an artist with an interest in ideas of ecology, Sci-Fi and philosophies of science, and whose work often involves interactive technologies, sound and soft sculpture. He exhibits both as a solo artist and in collaboration with a number of other artists and writes on art, process philosophy and ecology.

Bruce Mowson

Bodies (listening to conversations between trees)

Installation of three suspended body-bags (tested to 120 KG) Petrochemical fibres, plant fibres, iron and carbon alloy Dimensions variable, height approximately 2500 mm.

Poncho ran away from the path, down to the creek, nose down, hunting smells. I closed my eyes and took a moment to stop and listen. I could hear some birds, wind and leaf sounds coming from a few hundred meters north and south, and the murmurs of the soundscape beyond that, and the drone of traffic in Bell Street, a kilometer away. Beyond those distances, sound seemed to turn into feeling as I straightened my back and imagined stretching out my body into the world. Or did I open my body to draw the world in and through me? I lapsed into another state. The flow of words stopped and the larger part of my brain at the back of my head became aware, synchronising with the without. Then a tongue licked my fingers.

Sound artists who love nature can face a particularly acute issue. How to take the glory of the great outdoors, or indoors, or any place of listening for that matter, and give it back to the audience through the kilometers of wiring, algorithms, monitors, knobs, transducers, speakers, diaphragms, XLR connectors, gain stages, normalisations and digital conversion.

Whilst inspired by listening to trees whilst walking at the Merri Merri Creek, this work intends no metaphor or simulation and translates no experience or place or material—except in the mind of the participant. It champions receptivity and is not an instrument for doing anything. It manifests a situation of receiving some of the basic physical forces of the world which I love— sound and space, darkness and light, gravity and motion. You can climb into these body-bags, lay back and be enveloped. And if you’re open to it, be receptive, feel and listen.

Bruce Mowson’s practices are founded on the experiences of sound and the body. Participation and the experience of the audience have been important to his explorations and research. In 2018 he created the participatory music experiment Three Twilights into Darkness, and in 2016 he produced a collaborative performance for Polyphonic Social and series of performative assemblages for the Festival of Live Art. Further information can be found at


Translating Ambiance is an exhibition that emerges from an Australian Research Council grant (DECRA) awarded to Jordan Lacey entitled Translating Ambiance: restorative sound design for urban soundscapes (2019 – 21). The research aims to discover a methodology for translating the ambiance of natural places into urban places for the creation of restorative sites in large, densely populated cities. In addition to Lacey’s contribution, eleven sound artists have been invited to create works that respond to the themes of translation, embodiment and ambiance, in relation to their own field-recording and listening practices.


Australian Research Council for funding Jordan Lacey’s Discovery Early Career Researchers Grant, which has helped support the realisation of this exhibition.

Yarra City Council for funding support to help realise the creation of the catalogue.

RMIT University School of Art and SIAL Sound Studios for supporting the realisation of this exhibition through funding, technical support and artistic materials.

Ari Sharp, artist, curatorial assistant and technician, whose keen eye, ear and mind has been invaluable to the exhibition’s realisation.

Public Office, for the design of this catalogue.

Finally, thank you to Jean-Paul Thibaud, Sarah Pink and Philip Samartzis, for supporting the exhibition with their insightful essays.