Mara Schwerdtfeger
Entry #1

An attempt at making a video score as a literal interpretation of water in the ear.


I am returning to a practice I began in early 2020, that I have summed up as water in the ear. Using four points of reference - the ear; architecture (environments); water; ritual - I started collecting exercises and ideas through sound, text, and video. To me these four elements are linked for their crossovers in vocabulary, structure, association, and communities. Using methods of recording, documenting, and listening I want to re-organise sound (time) to speculate on possibilities of landscapes, histories, and communications. It’s a semiotic practice with sound.

During my time at Bogong, I am beginning to re-centre these ideas by attempting compositional routines – repetitive processes that provide harmonic outcomes. These practices involve trying to f ind repetitions that allow myself to listen to the same sounds differently; beginning processes of composting, or fermenting, composition through rewriting and processing; and thinking of score making away from the visual and how that encounters feedback loops or polyphony. There is a balance of ingesting and vocalising emerging.

Before making my way here I had a series of conversations around the possibilities of improvising with yourself and how the use of technology to do this leads to a disparity of learnt improvisation e.g learning your backing track / gear / fallback gestures. In response to this I have started attempting to improvise with memory. In the mornings I record a short viola improvisation which I then duet with the memory of in the evenings. Later, I listen to the two parts layered together on my computer. It is improvising with a silence that at another time holds a polyphony. I have to wait and “work silence into my environment productively”1, in order to perform the complementing voice. Next I will transcribe and clarify these exercises into cohesive pieces –though often this additional process of refinement takes away something.

I have been walking for hours each day, practicing my listening. Walking puts everything into a rhythm: there is the panning of the river occurring with the winding tracks; volume automation when I pull my hood down; and my internal rhythms contextualising everything. Seeing my microphones as additional ears, they let me hear from different angles and let me share with you too, but those ears aren’t like mine. I am often recording from chest height or even resting on the ground, lower than my ears are. I am trying to find other ways of documenting this listening, with “ears finely cut, f lexibly moving”2, building a vocabulary.

I am wondering if ingesting (and digesting) the sound rather than, or as well as producing, can offer some possibilities. “Each of us carries in our veins a salty stream in which the elements sodium, potassium and calcium are combined in almost the same proportions as in sea water.”3 That’s our affinity with the sea, but I am with the freshwater. It made me think again of inside and outside, when those lines are blurred, and how consumption and vocalisation play with that line. Perhaps through using this present sound world as a method of score making, dialogues between environments and those who occupy them can occur. This type of score requires speculation, imagination, and complete interpretation. This sort of score would require a physicality of place, of engaging internal and external ears. “As opposed to the visual, which stops at the surface of theeye or the body, sound opens up in the resonating body and goes beyond the materiality of it.”4 The score would then also become a performer.

I am thinking about the white water, white noise. About if the river is linear or cyclical. About audio as architecture and what architecture means to comfort – sound becoming walls and warmth. I am thinking of other ways to share sound. And then I must practice restraint to not sing while I walk ‘alone’ along the tracks. I am thinking about how the cacophony of the river will change in my hearing if I spend long enough with it, fermenting my listening. Is it bubbling or gurgling?

There is of course a question of whose ear (whose gaze) is doing this translating. Gaps in my listening, research, and understanding are constantly emerging. I’m still working this out . . .

1 – Lana Murdochy, Relying on Silence Everyday
2 – Walt Whitman, Song of Myself
3 – Rachel Carson, The Sea Around Us
4 – Aimee Theriot, The Big Ears of Big Data