The Mine and its Sound: in search of murmurs

La mina y su sonido [The Mine and its Sounds] is an initiative aimed at reappraising the importance of murmurs, noises and echoes. In this article we define the project and speak with some of the participants.

Published: Jul 25, 2013
The Mine and its Sound: in search of murmurs

The Candin Mine in La Felguera. Photo: LABoral

1. INTRODUCTION

It was only a few weeks ago that various friends and I asked ourselves a rather interesting question (and somewhat sombre): if we lost one of our senses, which one of them would we prefer to lose: vision or hearing? Almost everybody replied the same: we would choose being able to see rather than hearing even though this would deprive us of aspects as vital as music.

I believe the reason for this choice is simple. Society today is excessively influenced by visual culture: we are used to seeing, observing or looking and we rely on what our eyes transmit to us. Yet when we are presented with sounds, we feel helpless if there is no visual support. We have little sound memory and feel afraid when we hear an unknown sound that we don´t know where it comes from.

Possibly aiming to give more value to the sense of hearing, last year the first edition of El arte y su sonido [Art and its Sound] was held. For this initiative various artists were invited to make a sound portrait of the LABoral centre when its rooms were open during the exhibition of sound art Visualizar el sonido [Visualising Sound]. Those who took part recorded not only the echoes, murmurs and everyday whispers at the institution, but also the sounds that were emitted from the works on display in the show. The final pieces were not exhibited but kept as a sound document worth listening to.

Following the success of the first edition, this year they wished to repeat the initiative but, in this case, under the title The Mine and its Sound: the four participating artists wanted to move away from the cultural centre to visit places with a deep-rooted tradition in Asturias, the coal mines. They sought to compose pieces with sound recordings of the actual mines and their surroundings - pieces which will be exhibited in the show Aprendiendo de las cuencas [Learning from las Cuencas].

The Sotón Mine, El Entrego. Photo: L. Arias/LABoral

To gain a more in-depth insight into this project, I wanted to take the opportunity of interviewing some of the people involved in it and find out their opinion. I hope you enjoy it.

2. INTERVIEW WITH JOSÉ MANUEL COSTA

Costa (Madrid, 1949) is a critic and visual and sound art curator. He began his career in radio programmes and since then has organised important exhibitions and contributed to many specialised publications.

Thanks to his great interest in sound art, he has been the coordinator of two editions of this project along with Juanjo Palacios. I encourage you to read and enjoy this.

We are in a world where seeing dominates our senses. In view of this situation, what happens to sound?

I think we can start by denying the validity of this: whether we are aware of it or not, sound (natural or more often than not artificial) is much more omnipresent than image. More than a hundred years ago the reproducibility of sound was introduced. This had done nothing other than to progressively take up spaces which range from waking up to the radio to spending the whole day immersed in sound and noises. I think that, due to the mere force of the facts, we are increasingly becoming more conscious of this.

The project supports the creation of works that can be found within the soundscape genre. How would you define this term for those who hear it for the first time?

The term soundscape was used by R. Murray Shafer at the beginning of the seventies. And it is very easy to explain: a soundscape is basically a sound landscape. In general, it is a distillation of many hours of recording at a more or less limited location (a room, a small valley) or over a very large area (an entire city, the course of a river such as the Danube). This material is later put together following certain criteria, which can vary but generally tends to create an atmosphere or a sound flow based on the original.

The first edition was made last year – how did the idea come about?

El arte y su sonido [Art and its Sound] started as a workshop but very quickly turned into a project. The possibility of recording the sound of an art centre when it is sonically activated by a sound art exhibition and the professional and artistic quality of the people taking part in it somewhat raised the ambition of El arte y su sonido. Effectively, the four final pieces which make up the project, as well as the re-mixes sent later by many of the best Spanish musicians, confirmed that this approach had been the right idea.

What was the experience like during the first edition?

Fantastic, I have to say. We had quite long meetings where we set the stage and framework of the work, absolutely everything was posted on the project’s blog and the cooperation between the different artists was unlimited. It showed how you can achieve great results with very limited means when you have a clear roadmap which was discussed and taken on by some participants who act with enthusiasm, sensitivity and intelligence.

This year the activity is repeated but this time in a different place. Why did you choose to visit the mining sites this year?

El arte y su sonido took place at the same time as Visualizar el sonido [Visualising Sound]. This wasn´t the main intention, but the idea also worked as a complement to the exhibition. This year we were asked to work on the basis of the exhibition project Aprendiendo de las cuencas [Learning from the Mines]. And the truth is that we didn´t need to think long: the mine and its environment offer enormous potential in the field of sound. We could even say that, if Aprendiendo de las cuencas hadn´t been created, the mine was one of the first themes we would have addressed.

What are the main objectives this year?

To try and capture the sound and that of the surroundings of four mines with very different characteristics and of which two are working and two are closed. The final result will be a CD with four pieces that allow you to hear the four mines plus four sound installations at the core of Aprendiendo de Las Cuencas.

How did you choose the artists who participated?

Asturias is one of the places in Spain, perhaps along with Galicia, with the greatest activity in the domain of sound landscape. In this edition two of the artists from El arte y su sonido (Mind Revolution and Oscar Ávila) have continued to take part, and another Asturian musician (Daniel Romero) and one of the most interesting Spanish phonographists (Edu Comelles, who presently lives in Valencia) have joined the project.

Are there any standards or rules that they have to follow when making their pieces?

Yes, very simple and agreed by everyone.

A) The recordings themselves must not be changed by using filtres or other treatments. What’s there is what has sounded.

B) All the artists are free to organise their recordings within their 15’ composition. Each one of the pieces has a meaning on its own, yet also is also part of a common work.

Would you like to continue this initiative in the future?

That would be magnificent. In Asturias (and other places in Spain) there are still many themes to be addressed from this point of view, ranging from the ports to the factories passing through the cities themselves, the festivals...

3. INTERVIEW WITH THE ARTISTIC COLLECTIVE MIND REVOLUTION

After José Manuel Costa, I also believe it is essential to hear the opinion of one of the artists who participated in the project this year. Among all the participants, we could highlight the collective Mind Revolution, formed by Eugenia Tejón and Ángel González in 2010 with the goal of exploring new sound spaces.

During the recording process. Photo: Mind Revolution.

We are in a world where seeing dominates our senses. In view of this situation, what importance do you give to sound?

In a world dominated by images and which is moving very fast, sound - and as a consequence sound art- needs special dedication and attentive listening, it needs time. It is another way of seeing the world and lifestyle.

Additionally, in terms of exhibitions, sound has almost always been in second place taking on a role of creating atmospheres or as a narrative or descriptive accompaniment to image. However, with The Mine and its Sound it is intended that the sound pieces which form part of the exhibition have an independent character as sound art works. At the same time they represent as another element of the research work on the cultural landscape of the Asturian coal basins, which is the goal of this work.

What motivated you to take part in this initiative?

Our previous collaboration with the project Art and its Sound was a really enriching experience. The idea of José Manuel Costa and Juanjo Palacios to create a sound space based on the sounds produced in the exhibitions seemed to us to be a necessary initiative in an art centre. The fact that they have invited us to take part in both editions has marked our identity as a group given that phonography has become an essential factor in our compositions and concerts.

In this edition, different artists were asked to collect sounds from various mines. What interest can you see in these places?

The fact that myself and another member of the group were born in the coalmining areas made us especially interested in the historical aspect of the time we are reflecting. We are recording sounds that capture a way of life on the brink of extinction and which meant one of the most important developments in the history of Asturias. Each day that we spend working on this project, we can´t help feeling sad about the loss of a world which we have lived very close to.

As for artistic interest, the work is part of the project Aprendiendo de las Cuencas [Learning from las Cuencas] which, from September at LABoral, will show the way that the different landscapes in this area of Asturias converge and interconnect with each other. The curators have selected four mining shafts so that each one represents one of these landscapes. The mine is the most emblematic symbol of Las Cuencas and it was logical that it was present not only from an architectural and visual point of view but also from a sound perspective. However, there will possibly be an element of surprise since the sound that we all imagine a mine should have is not what in point of fact we are finding, taking into account the state of dismantling and closure that is taking place.

Eugenia Tejón, the Candín mine. Photo: Mind Revolution.

Why did you choose the Candín mine shaft?

The mine shafts were assigned to artists following some fact-finding visits at the start of the project. Personally, this shaft interested us for many reasons: for sentimental reasons as Ángel is from this area, and due to the rich variety of nuances and tones that we appreciated from the first moment. The Candín mine shaft represents an urban landscape because it is in the very heart of Vega in La Felguera, but it also offers a great natural and rural richness along with industrial sounds of a nearby company, of the train that regularly passes by and the human element of the people living in the neighbourhood and the social housing located in the actual mouth of the mine.

How was the process of conducting your recording?

We started recording in May and it is still underway, even though we have started the composition phase. Taking advantage of being in the area on a regular basis, we have been gradually collecting field recordings, resulting in a slow and relaxed process. We walk around, listen and then we decide which sounds identify the place and make them different from the rest.

Ángel González, the Candín mine. Photo: Mind Revolution.

What problems have you encountered during the creative process?

As a matter of fact, instead of problems we should be speaking about surprises, of unexpected sounds produced by the weather or by unforeseen events, such as alarms going off when you are trying to record other things or people who speak to you when you are taking a shot. Possibly the biggest difficulty arises when we try to record casual conversations of people in the street: if they see the microphone, everything goes silent.

Finally, what do you hope the spectator to feel in the presence of your work?

Our aim is to awaken an interest for sound art as an artistic expression at the same level as other disciplines and that listening to the work produces an evocative and pleasurable sensory experience in the spectator.

Following these lines, all we need to do now is cross our fingers and hope that this activity is repeated in the coming years and in this way highlight the importance of the sound that surrounds us.

 

 

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