How do you listen and what do you hear? These questions and more were posed by A Space Made By Listening, an exhibition by sound artist Dan Scott. As our featured artist for March, Dan also completed a five-day residency at No.34 wherein he invited five people whose professions are closely connected with listening to collaborate with him. As his residency drew to a close, Ideas Test sat down to talk to Dan and more importantly, to listen…
Until you stop and think about it, it’s easy to underestimate the significance of sounds. Like all the other senses humans can possess, there are sounds that affect us and appeal to us all in different ways. Where you live can have a huge impact on this and it’s certainly interesting to think of all the interesting sounds to be heard in Swale and Medway. Which, incidentally, was what Dan asked us to do as part of his drop-in workshop on March 11. Dan brought a number of listening scores with him – short, instructional print outs inviting the public to investigate new ways of listening such as cupping their ears or walking round in circles. Dan also encouraged people to draw sounds they recognised around the town and between ambulance sirens, tweeting birds, purring cats and railroad tracks, Sittingbourne’s something of a symphony!
This isn’t the first time Dan’s work has brought him to Sittingbourne, however. In 2011, he worked with Trish Scott on a project titled Change Management over at Milton Creek. Even now with the Country Park full of life, there’s bound to be a difference in the soundscape of the two places. ‘It’s been nice to be on the High Street,’ Dan commented, ‘Seeing life go back and go forth from the window’. No doubt hearing life too – No.34 is positioned perfectly to catch all kinds of conversations!
What is listening, then? Is it something active and if so, is it always artistic? The meeting of eyes and the tilting of heads, the nodding and gesturing and commitment to the conversation. If anyone’s going to know the answer, it’s Dan. ‘I’ve been doing a PhD for the last few years all about listening within sound art and also listening within wider community arts and socially engaged art’, he informed us. This level of studying led to the development of his residency here at No.34. Completed over five days, the purpose was to interview people ‘who use listening in their work, who aren’t necessarily artists or sound artists’, Dan explained as we asked him to briefly describe the thought process behind his residency. The motivation was to access a number of professions for whom listening is highly significant, with a line up consisting of many careers, including a therapist, a Catholic priest and a dancer. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the interviews Dan conducted were ‘quite intimate’ because ‘talking about intimate things around listening’ is incredibly interpersonal. Whereas more visual artists occasionally find the Gallery Space to be a little atypical in comparison to other galleries, for Dan ‘the space worked really well actually because we were interviewing here in the Gallery Space and that acted kind of like a studio’.
Pinned up in our Window Gallery, at the very front of No.34, are nine of Dan’s screen prints. For people just passing by or popping in, the prints might look like a ‘weird set of instructions’, Dan acknowledged. In reality, the prints are little excerpts from various texts about listening, giving snippets of advice on how to be good at it. There’s also some influence from Pauline Oliveros, an artist who has ‘written a lot about listening and techniques called deep listening’, as well as other sound artists.
The high level of interest Dan possess for these varying commentaries on listening is demonstrably clear. With ease he identifies how the phrases can act as ‘forms of advice or directives’ and how ‘individually some of them are quite odd’ because they are so physical and so gestural. Dan has a particularly keen eye for noticing the way in which listening is conducted and he noticed a very fair comparison in the length, tone and intimacy in the interviews conducted for his residency, compared to the more concise, almost methodical interview we at Ideas Test had with Dan. In order to document each artist’s involvement with Ideas Test, it’s important for us not only to listen in the moment, but to capture our listening too, for use later on (such as this blog post!) This is by no means a new phenomenon, though. In fact, as part of his drop-in workshop Dan even brought in a number of vintage cassette recorders for people to test out by vocalising sounds from the town, then playing with the pitch and the speed each time they listened to the playback.
Going forwards, we asked if coming to No.34 had inspired Dan to create any future work. ‘It’s given me lots of ideas’, Dan expressed encouragingly, ‘How to have these discussions and also about different ways of displaying the work’. So now the task of listening is handed over to you!
The exhibition will be on display until March 31. To discover Dan’s other work, visit his website www.danscott.org.uk