Park bei der Seepromenade
11. 7 - 30.8 '98

Divining for Lost Sound

Divining for Lost Sound is an outdoor sound installation. This audience-interactive art piece is based around the metaphor of divining, the art of finding objects, minerals or water underground. The piece was designed to be site specific: adaptable to the context of each location where the work is presented. In June/July of 1997, the work was installed at the St. Norbert Arts and Cultural Centre - the site of a former Trappist monastery, in Manitoba. The background of the ruins provided the basis for a sound-score that evoked the history and solitude of the site. Chanting monks were juxtaposed with the songs of local birds, the sounds of storms and fires that had ravaged the monastery, and poetic/electronic treatments of daily life and the choral tradition that is so important to monastic culture. By drawing the audience into a garden through the device of electronic art, the work created a space for the examination of the modern electronic form through a romantic reflection of monastic simplicity.

The traditional divining rod is predicated on the philosophy that sympathetic vibrations exist in the earth and in the dowser. These vibrations can be focused so that they resonate and provide a guide to what lies within the earth. Divining for Lost Sound connects contemporary electronic technology in the form of radio waves and electro-magnetic fields with this ancient technique of dowsing. The piece attempts to bridge time. It places the audience in the role of the dowser - a venerable and timeless tradition - while connecting them to sounds that place them in the past. These sounds are like ghosts telling stories through song, weather, and whispers.

The piece makes use of a technology and techniques developed by Leon Theremin c. 1920. Theremin created an electronic musical instrument that used the beat frequency of two radio-frequency oscillators both as a source of sound and as a measure of the musician's position. The device had two antennae - one to control volume, the other for pitch. To determine the note of the instrument, the player varied the distance between her hands and these antennae.

Divining for Lost Sound uses a similar technique. Copper antennae - buried under the earth - are used to detect the presence or proximity of the listener. The antennae become a metaphor for a virtual stream - the diviner's treasure. The antennae create an electromagnetic field that surrounds the participants. This field reacts to the presence of the diviner and responds by transmitting an audio signal that can be heard on a portable radio receiver. As the participant approaches the antenna the clarity of the sound source improves. At a distance of several feet or more, the sound becomes obscured by static, but within a few feet of the antennae the audio is clear. This change in clarity helps to guide the participant along the path of the electronic water.

For the Kunstverein Bregenz, the radio-interaction will be used as a metaphor to explore the history of radio-art/sound-art in Vancouver, and especially its connection to the Western Front. The Western Front is a contemporary media/electronic arts society located in Vancouver, Canada. It celebrated its 25th anniversary in March 1998. Telecommunications and radio-art have played an important role in its history. Over the years, many local and visiting artists have been involved in global exchanges that have used a variety of telecom and broadcast technologies, including slo-scan, narrow cast radio and TV, early computer networks, and more recently the Internet.

Peter Courtemanche and Lori Weidenhammer, the authors of Divining for Lost Sound, are part of a group of young artists who became involved with the Western Front in the late 80's and early 90's. Peter Courtemanche first entered the Western Front in 1988. He is currently the curator for the organization's artist in residence program - a program that offers Canadian and International artists the opportunity to visit Vancouver and produce new works in video, audio, or computer based media. Lori Weidenhammer is a member of the Western Front's board of directors. She is a curator of special projects, including the upcoming performance festival "Re-inventing the Diva" - a critical examination of the role of the Diva in performance art and interdisciplinary art practice.

As artists, the two have worked variously in radio, sound installation, performance, video, and interactive electronic art forms.

The sound score for the Bregenz installation is a brief historical treatment of radio and sound works selected from the archive material of "Absolute Value of Noise" and "Private Radio" - two radio projects that were produced by Peter Courtemanche between 1987 and 1996. "Absolute Value of Noise" (1987 - 92) was a weekly radio program that featured sound collage, radio art, and experimental sound work. "Private Radio" (1992/93/94/96) is an almost-annual 24 hour radio art event - a radio station that is completely devoted to live creative work and experimental audio art.

The selections from these archives are not intended as an exhaustive survey of radio history from Vancouver, but rather a group of works that reflect the artists' interest and involvement in the sound-art community from the 1980's to the present. It is a journal - a document of meeting points between the artists and their collaborators. The emphasis is on the artists' personal connection with these events - both as producers and participants.

The collaborative process in radio-art, especially on the Pacific Rim, involves a philosophy of generating shared material, or work that is often exchanged through mail-art or networking. Artists often recontextualize and manipulate their own work and the sounds of their peers when producing radio and performative sound. This tradition stems from the concept of the DJ who takes the recordings of professional musicians and re-mixes them in a new creative context. Likewise, radio artists often take these re-mixes and use them as raw material for yet another layer of sound collage. In this way the work evolves and becomes increasingly removed from its origin. By re-inventing and extending its own history, radio-art becomes a dynamic, living medium. This is the process that Peter Courtemanche and Lori Weidenhammer have adopted in their own radio work

The selections for the Bregenz installation reference the sound work of early artists such a Hank Bull, the Haters, mail-art exchanges with an international group of tape and noise artists, and network connections with Radio Radia in Banff. The work will also include contributions from a contemporary group of Vancouver sound artists who include Adam Sloan (noizi radio), Michelle Frey (leaving home), Zainub Verjee (international noise day), and Anthony Roberts (sound of reality). The sound-score will manipulate excerpts of these quoted works in a new form.