First Meeting – 1st Day of the Artist Workshop
3.3.2018 @ Floating Projects, Wong Chuk Hang, Hong Kong
第一次會面 | 藝術家工作坊首日
2018年3月3日 @ 據點。句點，黃竹坑，香港
With the theme of ‘Writing Sound’, the 3rd Mentorship Programme had the fortune to have Catherine Clover, a Melbourne-based multidisciplinary artist, and Chan Sai-lok, a local Hong Kong artist and art critic, as our artist-mentors. They brought with them a number of important dimensions with which to provide local context for the workshop.
On 3 March 2018, we held our first meeting with eight local artist-mentees from various backgrounds, ranging from a musician, a sound designer, visual artist, theatre director, researcher, and journalist. Catherine’s introduction to her artistic creations illustrated some general ideas about writing sound and how this could be converted into artworks.
“As our mentees are all bilingual speakers of Cantonese and English, I could learn about and from their experiences of working with two or more languages, such as their considerations when navigating between the different languages and their unique relations with each language,” said Catherine.
Catherine also talked about Rambling, her performance in Hong Kong in late 2017. Rambling focuses on the voicing and speaking across different species, especially the vocal connections between humans and birds. This performance inspired the artist-mentors and -mentees to start a discussion on bi- or tri-lingualism, based on their own backgrounds. Catherine shared her experience of speaking English and French as a British-native before she moved to Australia. She observed that Australians mostly speak English, Italian, or Greek, and Hong Kongers speak Cantonese, English, and Mandarin. Besides these dominant languages in society, both places have long been cradles of various other languages and dialects. Hong Kong, for instance, is home to a vast variety of local dialects, and Australia has an impressive range of indigenous languages, among which over 300 are now extinct.
“‘Sound’ is a kind of physical presence that does not carry ‘meaning’ in itself; on the other hand, ‘writing’ has a semiotic presence that exists to represent something else. ‘Listening’ is the reception of acoustic waves, but our brains are too accustomed to sort words by sounds and neglect the meaning and the act of listening itself,” says Donald Chung.
We live in an environment with a mix of sounds, while language has been continually evolving according to social and cultural changes since the beginning of time. To a certain extent language is not always reliable, despite its authority and authenticity. Catherine therefore encouraged the artist-mentees to pay and call for more attention to the sonic properties of language and words without being bound by the usual linguistic barriers such as spelling, grammar, and sentence structure. The process of writing sounds should embrace the dysfunction or deconstruction of linguistics.
The first workshop concluded with an evening soundwalk along the river, under the Ap Lei Chau Bridge. The trail provided a mix of the urban and the natural, with blocks of industrial buildings on one side and planned green space on the other. The sound walk was not only a listening exercise focusing on paying attention, but also a creative one. We interpreted our surroundings by switching between languages and ways of communication, translated the sounds we heard into homophones, and avoided judging the meanings of sounds based on our common comprehension. In our initial attempts to accurately record sounds with words, we realised how insufficient our writing ability was. Apart from the lack of a suitable Chinese vocabulary, our documentation was a double simplification – we might have already forgotten half of the sounds as we struggled to write them down, leaving us with only a general impression. During the listening process, sometimes we even mixed up some sounds. For instance, how much did the “gib-gib” squeak of the squash players’ sneakers sound like bird calls, or was it that the birds were mimicking the squash players?
Throughout the Mentorship Programme, every artist-mentee kept a sound journal to jot down their creative responses. This included writing four texts on sound and drawing four sound maps – two in Hong Kong and two in Kuala Lumpur. After their glimpse into the ideas of writing sound on the first day of the workshop, the artist-mentees started to develop their own visuals, their languages, and strategies to solve this conundrum in the following workshops.
「藝術家學員都能以廣東話及英語作雙語溝通，因此我可從他們身上了解有關運用兩種或多種語言的體驗，例如他們遊走於不同語言時的考量，以及他們跟每一種語言所產生的關係。」Catherine Clover 說。
Artist Workshop led by Catherine Clover
3–7.3.2018 @ Floating Projects, Wong Chuk Hang, Hong Kong
2018年3月3日至7日 @ @ 據點。句點，黃竹坑，香港
Throughout the 5-day workshop in Hong Kong, Catherine led eight local artist-mentees to explore the possibilities of writing sounds, in which everyone began to develop their own languages to write, draw, and annotate the flux, the breadth, and the dimensionality of sound. In response to Catherine’s conceptual and creative practices with birdcalls and interspecies communication, the workshop was designed to re-create her creative practices through practical approaches, such as via daily soundwalks in Hong Kong, and touring around to the industrial area of Wong Chuk Hang, the Youde Aviary in Hong Kong Park in Central, the Tsz Shan Monastery in Tai Po, and the Yuen Po Street Bird Garden in Prince Edward. Every soundwalk was followed by a sharing session on the participants’ listening and writing experiences, the uniqueness of every site, and the correlation between visual and sonic elements. How did the artist-mentees, as bilingual speakers of Cantonese and English, perceive the choices and relations of using or switching between languages when writing sound?
“With my conceptual focus on the potential of interspecies communication, listening to voice without searching for meaning is an integral means through which I explore language across species,” said Catherine Clover.
To write sound “effectively”, Catherine guided the artist-mentees to transcribe the writable part of the “sound”. The journey of sound, as she explained, is the transmission of vibrating waves through a certain medium—which is air most of the time—to a receiver: our ears. We can hear passively or listen actively. When we listen, we always make a mental or rational choice to shift our focus, so as to search for or understand the meaning behind the sounds. In fact, we often treat sound the way we treat language; however, when we subtract the cognition of listening (meaning), we then become aware of the ecology of sound/soundscape – to identify a place with a keynote, using a sound signal to map out the view, and a sound mark to identify a particular sound in a space.
「我的創作意念著重不同物種間溝通的可能性，而在發掘物種之間的語言中，『不求甚解』地聆聽是很重要的一環。」Catherine Clover 說。
為了「有效」地書寫聲音，Catherine引導藝術家學員解構究竟「聲音」裡有些甚麼是可以被寫下來的。她解釋聲音是一個傳送的聲波震動，它透過某種媒介——大部分時候是空氣，傳到一個接收點——我們的耳朵，我們可以被動地聽見或是主動地聆聽。聆聽時，我們常帶有一種心理性或理性的選擇，把所聽到的「焦點」轉移，並嘗試尋找或理解每段聲音背後隱藏的意思；很多時候，我們其實以看待語言的方式來看待聲音。可是，當我們去除聆聽（意思）的這個認知後，我們便能察覺到聲音 / 聲境裡的生態——以基調（keynote）來辨認一個地方，以聲音標誌（sound signal）來陳列出前景，和以聲音記號（sound mark）來清晰分辨出空間裡某種特定的聲音。
“I encouraged the artists to write/draw/compose in the journals, searching for some way of drawing correlations between the visual and the sonic that made sense to them and their particular interests. Rhythm, repetition, and metre proved to be helpful ways of approaching how sound could be written via mark-making,” said Catherine Clover.
Because of our expectations or assumptions in different locations—especially our various associations for an urbanised context—location affected how we understood the sounds heard. Take the birdcalls in everyday life, for example: they have been reduced to an impression that is generally understood as negligible, because not much information can be obtained from them. This cognition in our listening implies the level of comprehensibility, which affects our sensitivity to different sounds, within which lies a kind of connection between the sound and our senses. This five-day workshop in Hong Kong set off from our imagination of the visual forms of sound, moving onto sketching the images out, and then converting them into a record of the traces or a representation of the creative onomatopoeia. Through unlearning our preconceptions, the artist-mentees became something like foley artists but who recorded and created with their pens.
「我鼓勵藝術家學員留意讓他們感興趣的聲音，嘗試將之與視像連結，並在手記上書寫、繪畫或創作。在書寫聲音上，著眼節奏、 重複出現的部分及節拍是很好的記錄方法。」Catherine Clover 說。
Research Trip @ Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
考察之旅 @ 吉隆坡，馬來西亞
Three weeks after the Artist Workshop in Hong Kong, the artist-mentors and -mentees met again in another city – Kuala Lumpur. During this one-week research trip, we immersed ourselves in an environment of extremely diverse languages, which offered a rich multi-lingual and -cultural context for further discussion on languages, and exploration into the different sonic properties of the everyday life of various sounds.
The engagements and conversations with the local artists, curators, and communities not only allowed for a better understanding of the art circle of Kuala Lumpur, but also sparked our curiosity on the said topics on sound. Our workshops, gatherings, and discussions took place in RAW Art Space, a 5-storey tong lu located near the China Town District. RAW Art Space is also home to other art spaces, including Lostgens’ Contemporary Art Space, and Moutou Art Space. Apart from the café and traditional vegetarian restaurant on the ground floor, there is an authentic Indian restaurant around the corner. What we heard during our everyday commutes between RAW and the neighbourhood, from the people we met at our meals, the radio broadcasts, the music played, the languages spoken by other diners… all these spontaneously triggered countless interesting conversations on language. During the trip, we also visited Rimbun Dahan, a private art centre running an international artist residency programme, and Zhongshan Building, an independent art and creative hub where we met with several creative initiatives including The Ricecooker Archives, Rumah Attap Library, and the Malaysian Design Archive. All these fruitful encounters allowed us to learn about the arts communities and ecology of Kuala Lumpur through the different perspectives from local artists, musicians, designers, filmmakers, and researchers.
完成香港舉行的藝術家工作坊的三星期後，藝術家導師及學員再次聚首於另一個城市——吉隆坡 — 展開一星期的考察之旅；我們沉浸在一個語言如此多樣化的環境裡，讓我們在豐富的文化語境中延續較早前各樣有關語言的討論，同時在這充滿不同聲音的日常之中探索不同的聲音元素。
與當地藝術家﹑策展人和群體會面及交談除了讓我們更深入了解吉隆坡的藝術生態外，更重要的是激起我們對於上述有關各種聲音主題的好奇。在吉隆坡舉行的工作坊及其他聚會及討論，都於RAW Art Space進行。RAW Art Space位於唐人街附近，是一幢樓高五層的唐樓，當中還駐有其他藝術空間如Lostgens’ Contemporary Art Space﹑Moutou Art Space。地下除了咖啡店和傳統的素食飯店外，街角還有一間地道的印度餐廳。幾天以來，我們從往返RAW和鄰近社區時所聽到的，或用膳時遇見的人﹑廣播中的電台﹑所播放的音樂所使用的語言，都自然而然地引起我們和當地人之間跟語言相關的無數有趣對話。我們也參觀了營運國際藝術家駐留計劃的私人藝術中心Rimbun Dahan，以及獨立藝術及文化集中地Zhongshan Building，在那裡我們會見了創意單位如The Ricecooker Archives﹑Rumah Attap Library和Malaysian Design Archive，這些都是使我們獲益良多的相遇，讓我們能從當地不同藝術家﹑音樂人﹑設計師﹑電影製作人及研究者的角度中多方面了解關於吉隆坡藝術群體與生態。
While Hong Kongers like us are probably accustomed to living in a multi-lingual society, we were still amazed by the dynamics of using four or five ‘main’ languages in Malaysian society. A local artist shared a very interesting point about the locals’ habits of communication: locals tend to blur the language boundaries by borrowing and mixing vocabularies/phrases to substitute what is ‘lacking’ in another language. To a certain extent, they are breaking down the languages while re-creating them, based on their backgrounds, communities, and the recipients of their messages. There is no single standard for the use of language and every switch between language marks the unique choice of every individual.
These exchanges have been incredibly insightful for our later discussions on ‘writing sound’. We went for another soundwalk in the KL Bird Park – an enclosed aviary that houses more than 3000 birds, from over 200 species, among which 90% are local birds and the rest have been brought from overseas. When we were drawing a sound map of the KL Bird Park the artist-mentees also learnt to blur the boundaries between textual and visual languages by borrowing the sound of a word or an alphabet, or the form of the character itself to associate with the subject/object and the sound it made.
“…to imagine the unimaginable content of bird calls from their tone, frequency, emotions. These calls, to my surprise, could tell the physical characteristics of space, like big or small, near or far, open or closed, high or low. I slowly realised how I could apply these experiences on my understanding of space…”, said Fizen Yuen.
Besides the enormous number of birds, the most impressive experience of this soundwalk (compared to the one in the HK Zoological and Botanical Gardens aviary) is the distance and relationship between birds and humans. Different species of birds wandered around, stood still, flew by a hair’s breadth away from us. Visitors were no longer beholders but became one of the species that was being observed in the aviary. Species in different zones and corners of the aviary sent out frequencies that vibrated in the air. The artist-mentors and -mentees jotted, paused, drew, and walked. In such an environment of “nature”, sometimes they listened to a sound unseen, sometimes they closely observed the movement of the birds to find out how they created their small voices.
這些交流都為我們後來有關「書寫聲音」的討論帶來很多啟發。此外，我們還在KL Bird Park進行了另一場聲音漫步，在這封閉的觀鳥園內養有二百種多個品種、合共超過三千隻雀鳥，當中近九成是本地品種，其餘則從外地進口。當我們在KL Bird Park進行視覺圖像的描繪練習時，藝術家學員也學習模糊文字和圖像的界線，借如文字或字母的聲音，或是文字本身的形體來對主題或物件和它所發出或產生的聲音作聯想。
除了數量龐大的鳥群，跟在香港動植物公園內的觀鳥園所進行的聲音漫步相比，這次經驗最難得之處在於雀鳥和人類這兩個物種之間的距離和關係。KL Bird Park的觀鳥園內，不同品種的雀鳥在的四處漫步，有的靜靜站著一旁或是非常近距離在我們的身邊飛過。遊人不再只是參觀者，他們彷彿也成了園內的被觀察的其中一個物種；觀鳥園內散聚於不同區域與角落的物種也在空氣的迴盪間發出不同頻率的聲音。藝術家導師和學員一時作記、一時駐足；一時描繪、一時漫步。在這「自然」的環境裡，有時他們聆聽著看不見的聲音，有時則會近距離觀察雀鳥的行動，細心發現雀鳥們怎樣產生那些微小的聲音。
Kuala Lumpur Research Field Trip – Artist Presentation
5.4.2018 @ Raw Art Space
吉隆坡考察之旅 – 分享會
2018年4月5日 @ Raw Art Space
The end of this fruitful research trip was marked by a public presentation at RAW Art Space on April 5, 2018. Artists and curators in Kuala Lumpur were also invited to share the discoveries of the artist-mentees and give their insights.
Wayne Choi and Jacklam Ho showcased their pieces in the sharing session. Wayne played a mix of sound recordings made during the week and samples from a local radio programme via a local radio channel; and Jacklam transformed the birdsongs written in words of another language by ‘google-translating’ and mis-translating them. From the beginning of the programme, we had discussed how humans could or could not pronounce or imitate the sound of another species – such as the sounds of the birds. We had been trying to understand and describe the sonic properties like pitches and frequencies, as well as the feelings and emotions behind them. The pronunciations formed by the artificial intelligence or computer sounds were very different from the original bird sounds, but Jacklam’s piece demonstrated the use of different media to write and read sounds, exemplifying the nuances of the interchangeability between sound and signifier.
Sean Wong captured the visual rhythms and found objects in the cityscape via photography and used the lines and shapes of these found objects as signals for writing and documentation. JC Jessie considered the visualisation of sound as a process of internalization and expression. The process was not about how accurately writing could record the sound, but more about how she received and understood a specific experience or audio clip through the documentation of the soundscape.
“We can only start to get closer to the true meaning of sound when we learn to forego meaning.” – This “unlearning” process has been the most inspiring part of the mentorship programme for Fizen Yuen. Only when we depart from our established understanding of sound, language, and words can we begin to discover the intricate differences of sound.
是次豐富的考察之旅由2018年4月5日於RAW Art Space進行的公眾分享會畫上句號。吉隆坡當地藝術家及策展人也被邀請前來，聽聽藝術家學員在旅程之中的發現和分享他們的觀點。
Post-Research Trip Artist Workshop led by Chan Sai-lok
9 & 17.4.2018 @ To Kwa Wan Studio, Hong Kong
2018年4月9及17日 @ 土瓜灣工作室，香港
Artist-mentor Chan Sai-lok was facilitator for the discussions throughout the workshops and field trips. At the two post-research trip workshops on 9 and 17 April 2018, he contextualised the idea of “writing sound” in the Chinese and Cantonese languages with the mentees, and introduced different readings from Chinese literature as guides to exploring the different possibilities of sound and words as signs of documentation.
“The surreal tranquillity of bowl breaking in Yank Wong’s Cracks of Borscht left me in awe,” said Li Hiu-wa.
Apart from the established representations, we wondered what other meanings words could serve. Sai-lok led a writing exercise using a local Kuala Lumpur newspaper as working material, and invited artist-mentees to select vocabulary and phrases from the newspaper and re-compose a new piece of creative writing using them.
The seven artist-mentees eventually concluded this year’s mentorship programme with the public workshop “In One Ear and Write Out the Other”. Through sound walks and various listening and writing exercises, artist-mentees guided participants to expand the understanding and imagination of collecting sound and learned to convert words and images into hearing and listening experiences.