Situating
sound

Performance and Media Arts

Situating sound -

Poetic and immersive sound installations

Sound artist Rachel Shearer uses sound, space, technology and time to create new aural environments.


Sound understood as physical matter – as energy vibration and resonance – is one way to imagine sound and approach sound composition outside the realm of traditional music terminology. The invisible but vital force of material bodies and their energetic movement occurs everywhere and in everything, from earth tectonics to economic trade to the growth of a flower to the noise of our cities. Through this conceptual framework, sound artist Rachel Shearer explores what the vibration forms of ‘ideas’ might be, and how these can be translated into immersive sound installations.

Shearer (Pākehā, Ngāti Kahungunu) takes a bicultural approach. By working with Māori worldviews and understandings of whakapapa, she weaves genealogies and recitation of physical and metaphysical ‘histories’ alongside western concepts and concerns with science and technology. Her interest in whakapapa as a compositional tool was ignited after she completed a pair of site-specific installations at Albert Park and Wynyard Quarter in Auckland – Imperceptible Degrees (2010) and The Flooded Mirror (2011) respectively. Both pieces drew from histories and meanings inherent in the site, using sound to expand awareness of a larger story.

Her current research builds upon these, but instead of responding to an existing site, her PhD work investigates more abstract cultural concepts. Generative poetic images lead to experimentation and a new approach to composition. Sounds recorded from the environment and sounds generated from objects – musical instruments or electronics – are digitally manipulated, processed and edited to create crafted textures and configurations. These abstract soundscapes are then presented as an immersive, spatial experience based entirely on the vibrations of new acoustic forms.

Summary

Project name

PhD thesis, The Whakapapa of Phantasms

 

Department

Art and Design

Researchers

Rachel Shearer

Rachel Shearer

Lecturer School of Art & Design

Rachel Shearer’s practice has three branches: as sound artist, experimental musician and sound designer for moving image and live performance. She studies sound as matter and energy through a practice encompassing composition, performance and installation, building distinct spatial presences based entirely on the vibrations of acoustic forms. Shearer completed a Master of Art and Design in 2012 and is currently working toward her PhD.

Shearer (Pākehā, Ngāti Kahungunu) takes a bicultural approach. By working with Māori worldviews and understandings of whakapapa, she weaves genealogies and recitation of physical and metaphysical ‘histories’ alongside western concepts and concerns with science and technology. Her interest in whakapapa as a compositional tool was ignited after she completed a pair of site-specific installations at Albert Park and Wynyard Quarter in Auckland – Imperceptible Degrees (2010) and The Flooded Mirror (2011) respectively. Both pieces drew from histories and meanings inherent in the site, using sound to expand awareness of a larger story.

Her current research builds upon these, but instead of responding to an existing site, her PhD work investigates more abstract cultural concepts. Generative poetic images lead to experimentation and a new approach to composition. Sounds recorded from the environment and sounds generated from objects – musical instruments or electronics – are digitally manipulated, processed and edited to create crafted textures and configurations. These abstract soundscapes are then presented as an immersive, spatial experience based entirely on the vibrations of new acoustic forms.

Shaped in response to a poetic idea or cultural memory, I find voices and tell stories with sound that can resonate with people and place.

Rachel Shearer

Wiri

One example of a ‘resonant image’ that provides a guide for Shearer’s sound work is the concept of ‘wiri’, referring to the quivering hand movements of Māori dance. The trembling motion resonates with the idea of a world of vibratory processes and with ‘tanerore’ – the shimmering of heat that can be seen on a hot summer’s day. She has recorded cymbals and then processed the sounds with a focus on the transient sounds rather than the initial percussive impact. Questions such as: ‘How can I get the sound to tremble/quiver?’ and ‘Does it evoke the visible immateriality of tanerore?’ provoke a deeper investigation and exploration of the idea’s potential.

These guiding poetic images are informing a series of sound installations, which she has recently workshopped in Auckland, Prague, Tokyo and Los Angeles. For the culmination of her PhD project, they will be presented through multiple speakers to create a 3D ‘cinematic’ experience. By organising sound in a similar way a film director might arrange moving image material, she tells a story that is then interpreted or visualised by the audience. Without being anchored by a screen or seating, the audience is then free to move around the space to experience the physical and emotional qualities of the work.