25 Nov 2015

tidelines for water street

a site-specific installation of a durational score created for the independent artist-run exhibition in a blessed parenthesis, in a vacuum full of promise, located in a warehouse at 57 crawford street (cnr. jetty street, above dutybound bookbinders), central Dunedin, NZ, November 2015. included a performance event and artist talk in which the score was activated (as "hundreds of simultaneous shorelines"). premiere performers were Motoko Kikkawa (violin), Campbell Walker (shortwave radio), and myself (mini FM transmitter, receivers, zither.)
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title: tidelines for water street 
date: 24 Nov – 1 Dec 2015
time: various
notes: a sound score is constructed from a Dunedin street, using the location. In its initial stages, this score is a textual response to the idea of “land reclamation” and the fact that this street is on a part of the earth that was, until recently, underwater. It progresses further into the investigation of tidelines from various eras between the 1840s and 1890s, which inched forward from the place used as a landing site by Maori who were embarking on mahinga kai expeditions at the time of colonial settlement, which under the name Toitu Tauraka Waka became the first site in the South Island, and second nationally, recently recognised as a wahi tupuna (an important place of Maori ancestral significance).

The tauraka waka site was gradually swallowed by building and foreshore reclamation as the settlers threw more and more stuff into the harbour, including whole inconvenient parts of the landscape and later, the built environment; both were treated as raw material for what we might identify as, geologically speaking, an anthropocenic armature, a conglomerate “archaeological” landmass that everyone could contribute to: geological cross sections might reveal not just monumental or ‘natural’ things but strata of broken tea cups, glass bottles, and garden wastage. 

The notion of the shoreline as a liminal space, a fluxing zone of imaginative indeterminacy, was conceptually a little buried in this process, to be replaced by a local footnote to a wider cultural pragmatics of land usage. between 1846-1889 there are various sketches of a tideline. each line looks oddly monolithic when frozen to a map, but taken together, the multiple tidelines seem more accurate in their imaging of a fluxing boundary line. it is as though the land is indecisive, shaking, re-drawing its boundaries, staggering into a solidity. that the map is always provisional. that the attempt to provide a definitive version is fraught with human hubris. tidelines will change again. with development, with erosion, with climate change.

At this point the score is a noticing, which reads: 

Wait until just after rain. then navigate the street’s relocated tideline, paying particular attention to things not visible. do this as many times as needed, noting the changes.

Living through a natural disaster, such as the Christchurch earthquake, one learns much about how sound, earth, history and politics form composites. And that a map is also an amalgam of unstable things, hanging in the matrix where time meets materials. that it can be re-drawn overnight, and then keep on drawing itself, like a violin bow, creating variations and tonalities from the resonance of the fluxing landmass with subtlety and violence, that through this process the earth can liquefy and rise to form new tidelines within living rooms. that one's spaces of living must be re-assessed in the light of the connection between memory and rubble. a street, then, can easily be re-imagined as a river. not in homage to the notion of an "original" shoreline stepped onto, in that decisive, reified first-contact fantasy of land ownership, but as a recognition of an ongoing process, a re-drawing of boundaries, constantly and questioningly.

now the score is questioning itself again too, and reads: 

Proposal: that the street is not linear but has many shorelines. Navigate some of these, though careful listening. Do not attempt to straighten the river.

Radio, too, is a territorial medium. In the case of small-radius, or Mini-FM transmission, what one might in some circumstances call ‘pirate radio’, territory dreams of being sovereign but is in actuality somewhat parasitic; setting up a signal in a bounded area allows that signal to jam any other on the same frequency, for the extent of the signal’s reach. Which is not very far, but roughly the size of a room. It took me a while to realise that this score, too, was radio. Then I remembered that the origins of the word ‘broadcast’ date from the mid 18th century and refer to sowing seeds by scattering - it is only in the early 20th century that it came to be related to media, such as radio and television. Something was becoming clearer: 

Go into a place and find something lost to listening. broadcast its silence. keep the sounds found there.

this in turn suggested the connection between broken records, recycling, materials, the earth as a form of record, and the lateral activating of unavailable listening. the fragility of recording media from the early 20th century era, when records were made of a sustainable bio-plastic, a composite of animal, vegetable, and mineral, with the only known resin of animal origin providing a matrix in which hang suspended debris of rock and plant matter, was replaced after the 1950s by records made of toxic and unbreakable PVC, which are classifiable under Timothy Morton's re-definition of the computer science term hyperobjects. things that we have authored that exist on a different temporal and spatial register to the one we can grasp, an intervention into and re-definition of deep time which will not only outlive us but remain within whatever the earth might one day become as one of our only forms of immortality, anthropocenic archaeological traces for any subsequent era.

by now the score read: 

Trace Water Street, directly on tracing paper, progressing in sections until completion. leave the 78rpm dust from seven broken records found in the area as “filler” in seven tracings, to be ‘broadcast’ / recorded, one each day of the exhibition. then, on the same day, actualise each tracing through a composition in the space, which begins with the recording of each “land reclamation” of the street, by the shellac sand of the records, and then takes these grooves or shorelines in micro, as notation. instruments to actualise the tracings can include music box, shortwave radio, and a broken zither found behind a skip by a friend in the area.

becoming simpler, it currently reads: 

Beyond literal “sound mapping”, make a recording of the street, relating land to composition as a form of sonic geology.

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