Posts Tagged ‘Silence’

Last April 2019, Sounding Out! published the two-part article, “On the poetics of balloon music,” exploring sound, listening, and the atmosphere through the object of the balloon. The first part focuses on late 18th-century balloon travels and the descriptions of silence in the upper air that constituted a staple of Victorian balloon memoirs and literature of the time. Ascending above the noise of the industrialized city, the first balloonists were constructing a sonic identity rooted in the privilege of buoyancy and constructs of the sublime, harmony, and silence that excluded other ways of sounding.


The sight of boundless space and the quietude of the higher regions of the atmosphere inspired colonial narratives of territorial expansion. Sounds produced outside this imperialist worldview were perceived as invasion, contamination, and noise. By establishing an early connection between the exploration of the atmosphere and a listening ear based on elitism, race, and class the article goes on to analyze some contemporary sound-art practices that use balloons to explore the atmosphere and that take on the challenge of creating a more inclusive relationship with the medium of air.



Against Levity: Experimental Music and the Latex Balloon

Part 2 of this article features an interview with composer and sound artist Judy Dunaway, who has been developing sculptural sonic performances with balloons for over 25 years. Dunaway’s work with the balloon as a sound producer has been the exclusive focus of several records (e.g., Balloon Music,  Mother of Balloon Music), scores, sound sculptures, solo performances, ensembles, and installations. In this interview, Judy Dunaway talks about how her balloon compositions are in active dialogue with questions relating to feminism, body/mind, ecology, civil rights, memory, and the overall creation of musical expression and lexicon that lives outside a classical heritage.

E2DA1972-C469-4AFA-B824-400EDF5E95DDAs Dunaway points out, the balloon as a musical instrument bypasses dominant hierarchies of music production, leveling the access to experimentation and sonic textures that are restricted by expensive electronic technology. Besides democratizing sound, the latex balloon functions as a resonant chamber, offering an embodied and inclusive mode of listening through the vibration of its membranes. This object duality of sounding and sensing opens up room for what the scholar Steph Ceraso calls a multi-modal listening that plays with the body, affect, behavior, design, space, and aesthetics.

“From my earliest work with balloons as musical instruments, I instinctively knew that I must limit myself to the balloon and my body.  This required that the balloon function not only as a musical appendage by which I may transmit sound, but also one that transmitted vibrations back to me through its sensitive body. (…)” Judy Dunaway, The Balloon Music Manifesto

Sounding Out! articles:

On the poetics of balloon music: Sounding Air, Body and Latex (Part 1)

On the poetics of balloon music: Sound Artist Judy Dunaway (Part 2)

*Brief review of these articles on the polish magazine Glissando: http://glissando.pl/aktualnosci/prasowka-29-04/

Carlo Patrão

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If the eye is entirely won, give nothing or almost nothing to the ear…and vice versa, if the ear is entirely won, give nothing to the eye. One cannot be at the same time all eye and all ear. – Robert Bresson, Notes on Cinematography

This episode of Zepelim sets out to make the eye impatient by presenting the sounds of non-dialogue scenes edited from 10 Manoel de Oliveira films. The cinema of Oliveira is known for its careful balance of image, words, and silence. There is a frequent use of static frames and extremely long takes wherein the characters deliver their lines while facing the camera, as if their dialogue was taking place in a play. This way, the spectator’s attention is deflected from the image and zeroes in on the words being spoken. In contrast, scenes without dialogue gain their significance as highly visual experiences – the ear tends to rest while the eye “is entirely won”. From the perspective of someone working in radio, I became interested in the auditory ambiance of Oliveira’s wordless scenes and background sounds that under normal film-viewing circumstances might blend in with the process of intaking image and either get overlooked or woven into the fabric of the image.

By separating sound from its image, Zepelim aims to explore the rich auditory dynamics of Oliveira’s non-dialogue scenes. The sounds presented in this collage are not organized according to the films’ chronology or storylines. Rather, they are grouped as much as possible according to other properties like volume, pitch, and intensity of the samples as well as by common themes like footsteps, motors roaring, wind blowing, characters breathing, wood creaking, etc. In the context of radio, these sounds become the focal point while unique new visual layers are free to form in the listener’s imagination. The sounds were taken from the following films: The Hunt (1963), Past and Present (1972), Benilde or The Virgin Mother (1975), Voyage to the Beginning of the World (1997), My Case (1987), The Cannibals (1988), Word and Utopia (2000), The Uncertainty Principle (2002), Belle Toujours (2006) and Eccentricities of a Blonde-haired Girl (2009).

Manoel de Oliveira was born in Porto (1908) to a wealthy family from the North of Portugal. His father was the first man in Portugal to produce light bulbs. The young Oliveira had an ecclectic youth – competing at the pole vault, working as a professional racecar driver, and even performing as a trapeze artist. When the dictator Antonio Salazar seized power in 1932, Oliveira was just beginning his filmmaking career. His first films were documentaries (like “Douro, Faina Fluvial“), but in the early 40s he made Aniki-Bóbó, his first feature-length film. Over the following decades, Oliveira continually pioneered new styles of cinema and eventually secured his place as one of Europe’s most prolific and important filmmakers. At the age of 80, he hit the pace of making one film per year. This year Oliveira is 103 and still going – the world’s oldest active filmmaker.

Produced by Carlo Patrão
Narrative Readings by Susana Sampaio Dias & Erica Buettner
This show was featured in the edition #407 of Framework:Afield.


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