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Stepping Stones toward Installation: Sonic Storytelling

I’ve begun to build small systems of video/sound/digital programming as a way to build the full installation of my thesis, bit by bit. Last week I created a draft of the sonic storytelling element I’m been imagining. The idea I have in mind is to have some sort of cornered off/walled off space that feels private. Perhaps there will be a comfy chair here, perhaps there will be a small screen, playing a personal film for one person at a time, perhaps it will just be an area surrounded by plants, with only the sonic storytelling happening. The point is to create a sense of intimacy. A time when one audience member at a time can experience something between them and their real/imagined environment.

I used a few different sound recordings I have of Frankie Tan (my friend/collaborator whom I traveled to Malaysia with this summer) telling a story she wrote about herself and her relationship to the jungle in Penang. I decided that as time goes on, I wanted the sense of intimacy to increase, so I started with a recording of her speaking aloud, then slowly, by the time we reach the end of the story, she has transitioned into whispering to her listener. My plan is to play Frankie’s voice/story on a small, local speaker that only the one listener can hear – so that this truly is a moment that they alone get to experience.

Then, I looped a sound recording I have of the Penang jungle at night to play through out a larger space, to really surround the listener (the individual one, as well as others in surrounding areas) with the sounds of the jungle that Frankie’s story references. 

When I presented the story to my peers (my colleagues in my Devising Experiential Media Systems course), I didn’t let them know about my goal of intimacy, and I presented it to a group of 6 people at once. I placed the Bluetooth speaker with Frankie’s story nearby where my audience was sitting, and played the jungle sounds through the whole room.

I was pleased to know that the sense of intimacy was apparent to my audience. Some of them mentioned wanting to be closer to the speaker and having the impulse to ‘lean in.’ One of my peers said that the content of the story felt like an intimate conversation between this person (Frankie’s character, Noon) and the forest.

Alex mentioned that there was more than just intimacy, but also tension – he noticed the word ‘hate.’ I appreciate this as well, because it is purposeful. So much of my thesis project in general is about this – the concept of ‘the wild,’ this simultaneous allure and repulsion that we feel about the natural world, and the behaviors and concepts we have been socialized into that create a distance between ourselves and nature. There is a love/hate present. There is an internal struggle for the Western body between desire, responsibility, and ignorance when it comes to ‘the wild,’ so absolutely yes, the tension in this story is purposeful. Intimacy does not mean a lack of tension.

Feedback that I want to keep in mind from my peers is that it was confusing, or hard to follow, or distracting when I had Frankie’s voice layer over itself. I wonder if there is a way I can either play with it more, so it feels like it’s okay that you’re not catching every word, or if I should just not layer her voice at all…

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