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Sensuous Psychogeography

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What kind of knowledge is disclosed when one navigates a city with the nonvisual senses? Developing the practice of sensuous psychogeography, I explored how these senses might spark different personal, social, and political resonances over multiple passages through Ōtautahi Christchurch, New Zealand. I hoped this would reveal what could otherwise remain literally overlooked in the regular patterns of experience in our visually dominated society.

Multisensory Meander – one of the walks with the public through the city of Ōtautahi Christchurch

Over three months I set out on multiple sense-focused walks in which the visual was subordinated to our other senses. This reversed the usual sensorial mode used to move around the city, and was guided by non visual cues that emerged. These could be an intriguing sound far away of close at hand, following a breeze, homing in on a smell, or – as in the walk led by forager, Peter Langlands – led by the wild foods growing in the city’s streets. I called this method, sensuous psychogeography.

Sensuous psychogeography is a new method of creative enquiry, and means of encouraging people to make different, and perhaps deeper connections with their local urban spaces. This draws on the Situationist idea of psychogeography. In his Introduction to a Critique of Urban Geography, Situationist, Guy Debord, defines psychogeography is “the study of the precise laws and specific effects of the geographical environment, consciously organized or not, on the emotions and behaviour of individuals,” (Debord,1955). It was concerned with the urban environment’s psychological effects, challenging the capitalist system through creating actively lived situations to counteract passive image-dominated consumer culture. Sensuous psychogeography particularly embraces the Situationists’ critical walking practice, the dérive (drifting), a playful exploration of urban space that redirects pedestrians away from well-trodden paths to alter awareness of their environments.

Urban Scent Walk – inhaling the sad smells of musty post-earthquake dereliction

Sensuous psychogeography also emerged from the creative research of my recent arts PhD. In this I investigated the aesthetic and emotional dimensions of sensory interactions and how these related to place, both imagined or real. For example in my Risonanze di Vino project, I investigated how the nonvisual senses of winemakers connected them to both their product and the land their grapes were grown on.

As an artist who previously made works responding to the changing environments of Christchurch during the destructive earthquakes over a decade ago and their aftermath, I sought to re-engage with the city’s current unique phase of urban transformation after recently returning from four years overseas. The city’s recent challenges have seen its inhabitants repeatedly forced to diverge from familiar paths due to natural and human disruptions, which resonates with psychogeographical techniques. 

The ongoing COVID-19 outbreak has also seen residents living much of their lives on screens, some affected by a lingering unease about re-entering urban spaces. This makes a method that encourages such sensory immersion both challenging for some, but also liberating as articulated by a number of those who participated in walks with me.

These sensory excursions took many forms. Some were undertaken alone, sometimes gathering materials en route that I would then use to create the project’s final works. These ranged from the sounds that I recorded, fragrant plants I went on to distil, as well as textural objects, and included following the nonvisual elements of the Ōtākaro Avon River from the city to its mouth at the Pacific Ocean (pictured above). I drifted with individuals from the fields of urban ecology and planning, architecture, music and foraging. I also meandered with members of the public, local iwi and the blind and low vision community.

A walk with the local Blind Low Vision community led to an empty screen emitting rumbling sounds

All the discoveries made were expressed through the project’s ultimate multisensory artworks that I created. These use interactive combinations of sound, olfaction, taste, and touch to answer the central question posed by the project, “What might we find when we stop looking?”, also the name of the exhibition which runs at The Arts Centre Te Matatiki Toi Ora, Christchurch, New Zealand between 18-29 May, 2022.

This project was undertaken during Te Matatiki Toi Ora’s 2021 Arts Four Creative Residency Programme between May-July 2021. It was, supported by Creative New Zealand and Stout Trust, and proudly managed by Perpetual Guardian. Scented support from Fragrifert and Fragranzi. 

Bass Affects Exhibition

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In Bass Affects, Jo Burzynska invites an embodied and multisensory engagement with the emotional resonances of low frequency sound, which can be listened to, or remain unheard. Its installations stir and lull through their exploration of the nexus between the exciting and disquieting effects of the bass spectrum. Created largely from field recordings Burzynska has made in recent years of external low frequency phenomena, the sounds used are drawn from nature and human-made sources. These include the Pacific Ocean and electrical storms, to Lulworth Wind Farm, and Sydney Town Hall’s Grand Organ that possesses one of the world’s lowest pitched (8 Hz) pipes.

Low frequencies (below 200 Hz) are a much mythologised and misunderstood region of the sound spectrum. These frequencies – that are felt in the body as much as heard with the ear, and as infrasound (below 20 Hz) often on the threshold of hearing – move in mysterious ways. Bass tones are present in our body, in respiration and the beating of our hearts. In nature they emerge from the surf, and in the rumblings of seismic activity and storms. They’re emitted by machines in the industrial world. Humans actively use low frequencies in spiritual and cultural practices from bullroarers and church organs, to the beats of music we dance to. Attempts have also been made to harness them as weapons.

Yet historically, public research into the effects of low frequencies on humans remained limited. This deep void came to resonate with the repetition of findings from unreliable studies, misinformation, and far-fetched anecdotes, amplified by their regular repetition in sensationalist media coverage. Much of the purported physiological effects have now largely been disproved, with relaxation effects emerging as more likely than adverse health impacts. However, low frequency sound has become newly weaponised in attempts to discredit wind turbines, fanned by the fossil fuels industry. Such emotional manipulation and its psychological effects appear more forceful than any previous endeavours in sonic warfare.

From the sublime to the annoying, the wondrous to the threatening, context has come to direct more emotional power than the bass vibrations themselves. In Bass Affects, low frequencies from natural, devotional and industrial sources combine and converse, creating an expanded contextual spectrum that encourages a more open low frequency listening.

Jo Burzynska would like to thank Grace Kar Man Chan for making the Grand Organ roar; Malcolm Riddoch for his assistance with the recordings; and Sydney Town Hall and Lulworth Farm for providing access.

At: Audio Foundation
4 Poynton Terrace Auckland New Zealand
Opens: Friday 6 August 2021, 5.30pm 
Hours: Tuesday – Saturday, 12 – 4pm
Closes: Saturday 4 September

Talking about wine and sound

Over the past year, I’ve had the pleasure of talking to a number of broadcasters about my work and research into wine and sound. Here are links to some of them here:

I spoke to Annaliese Redlich for her fascination All Ears podcast series that explores the ways music challenges, comforts and connects us. I’m the second half of this programme.

It was great to go into some detail with Emilie Steckenborn for the Bottled in China podcast.

A little earlier I caught up with Daniel Brennan for Vintage Stories during my Osmic Resonance audio-olfactory art exhibition at Sydney’s Accelerator Gallery.

I’m currently working on lots of exciting multisensory projects which I will endeavour to share on this site in the weeks to come. If you want to sign up to my mailing list, please contact me here.

Risonanze di Vino – book published

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Risonanze di Vino cover smallRisonanze di Vino:
Exploring the Sensory Terroir of Rural Italy

Editor: Jo Burzynska
Contributors: Jo Burzynska, Gaetano Carboni, Leandro Pisano
Publisher: Interferenze Book Series

Risonanze di Vino, a book documenting two of my wine and sound projects in Italy, has now been published as part of the Interferenze Book Series and is available to purchase here.

About Risonanze di Vino
Risonanze di Vino explores the multiple connections made through a series of artist residencies in rural Italy that unite the senses, culture, and nature, as framed within discussions of the Anthropocene. It documents the residencies – conducted as creative sensory research – through which the multisensory artist Jo Burzynska, identifies and tunes resonances between sound and wine through an interlaced sensuous system that she calls sensory terroir.

Credit: Daniela d'Arielli / Pollinaria

Credit: Daniela d’Arielli / Pollinaria

Organised by the Interferenze art research platform in the Irpinia and Sannio regions, and the Pollinaria agricultural residency programme in Abruzzo, the projects were oriented by the artist’s immersions in cultural and personal sensory experience within these agrarian environments. The residencies resulted in sense-focused artworks in which soundscapes – created from field recordings of the winegrowing environments – play in crossmodal harmony or conversation with the local wines.

IMG_5851The projects are contextualised within current discourse around the Anthropocene through the curatorial contributions from Interferenze’s Leandro Pisano and Pollinaria’s Gaetano Carboni. If the Anthropocene is a sensorial phenomenon, sound art could be well placed to expose symbiotic coexistences and initiate resonances that shift perceptions.