Gabi Schaffner

Entry #1

13.11.2015

All Entries

Rain falls. From my doorstep I can see the communion of fog and clouds on top of the opposite mountain range. In between the trees stand, rising and falling like waves in slow motion. This space, veiled in moisture, brings Henry Dargers extensive weather descriptions in his phantasmagorical volumes of the Vivian Girls to my mind. Their function is what? A distraction to the on-going drama of those yellow dressed and red stockinged protagonists being hunted down by vile soldiers in blue uniforms? A scheme to infuse the passions of atmosphere into a tale of fight, victory and loss? To provide a heavenly space emptied of human action? If it wasn’t for the hydroelectric dam and the company tending it, if it wasn’t for the occasional tide of cabin owners visiting the village, this place would be just that: a tree-sphere devoid of human activity. Stillness.

16000 kilometres separate me from Berlin where I come from, 17000 lie between Iceland and Bogong, forming the trajectory of the “Hidden Places” project I am working on. When I sit down to communicate with my loved ones, their morning is my evening, and my evening catches them drinking their first cup of coffee. Before I came here, I was obsessed with the thought of entering a world upside down, a sky with hitherto unknown constellations of stars.
Can you hide in the unknown? Or isn’t it rather that in order to know what could be called hidden one must be acquainted with the ways of seeing. Nouns are deceiving, I find, they are mostly not “known”. And with the sky in clouds, I spend my time walking among the trees.

The forest ground is covered with shreds of eucalyptus bark and brown, oblong, leathery leaves. A slightly resinous perfume wafts through the air. Ferns and fern trees hover in between the tree trunks like the giant green wigs of some forest witches. The alpine woods are a floating world in thousand shades of green. The sounds? A fly buzzing in my room, the constant rush of the Kiewa River to my right side, the dripping of water from the rhododendrons in pink, white and yellow decorating the deserted village streets and gardens? Birds sound different from Europe, too…

The other day I was trying to record bird song in one of the village streets. However, as soon I tried to get closer the birds changed location. So, what is this idea(l) of proximity and “clean” sounds about? Isn’t a recording as much about the distance and its space as it is about the desired subject? Doesn’t a veiled mountain tell you as much about the mountain as seen in clear sunshine? Maybe even more as there is something visible happening in between you and its body. In Bogong, one of the most prominent sounds is constant broadband stream of almost crystalline white noise mingling with the scent-filled air.

Every evening I copy my recordings and photos from my devices to the computer and further to the external drives. Hundreds of documentation pictures, extensive sound files with or without human voices: It feels like copying mirrors into other mirrors without seeing their reflection… nor myself. It takes more to access the substance of this than just listening to the files or looking at the images. And it might only be accessed from the distance, when I find out what constitutes the in-between… the texture of the veil.

When in the 14th century, the Japanese playwright Zeami Motokiyo likened the flower to the notion of “substance” and its fragrance to the one of “instance” he was speaking of the Noh drama. Quite so, a field recordist performs her little dance in the depths of the forest. A choreography of gestures linked to combinations of unpredictable action and non-action. No one can see me as I kneel on the soft ground, balance on river stones, stretch to reach the highest branches. One may follow the fragrance to find the flower. One may create a “flower”, a place, a sound and has the fragrance to go with it.

I like to think of this strange, hidden-from-the-world dance as similar to one the lyre birds do. They are nature’s most gifted recordists, and certainly more graceful dancers than myself. I am going to meet them this evening, by the deserted tennis court at the end of Bogong village, still upside-down.