Quiet Contemplations was produced and recorded by Ayesha Barmania about the relativity of quiet moments.
I have been really inspired by Ad Reinhardt's 'Abstract Painting' from 1963 which depicts nine very subtle shades of black. At first glance, the viewer sees a flat black canvas. Over time, the viewer notices the subtle tone differences - one is more red, another blue, one slightly green. The viewer wonders: which is the true black?
That concept has resonated with me when I contemplate the subtleties in silence. I don't think we can ever experience true silence - we can only ever get close to it. Even if I were in an anechoic chamber I'd still hear the sound of my heartbeat and my body moving. And it poses an even greater impossibility to broadcast or podcast silence. Yet we still know quiet when we hear it, in the same way that we know a colour is black when we see it. The relativity of quiet in relation to noise intrigued me and I wanted to explore the relativity of quiet in relation to other quiet moments.
Over this past summer, I backpacked around Canada, traveling by bus, train, plane and foot from East Coast to West. Along the way I spent a lot of time being quiet and listening to the sounds around me. This piece is a scrapbook of those quiet moments, and through the juxtaposition the listener can hear the subtleties of quiet.
Inspiring Ayesha in the world of sound:
The drone and noise art community in Peterborough continues to thrill and inspire me. Artists like B.P. Hughes challenge the idea of attractive art and attractive performance with harsh and aggressive noise. His work and the artists he curates has helped me think about noise and silence.
And outside of it:
Haruki Murakami's writing inspires a lot of my ambient sound work. I love the feeling in his books of the world washing over the main characters, in some ways I have similar experiences when I go out and record the natural sounds around me.
Ayesha’s piece operates in a space we could call the acoustic sublime. The sublime feels so outmoded right now that I wanted to go back a bit and play with a wiki-Latin breakdown: sub = underneath, limen = limit or threshold. This definition moves us away from the sublime’s more bombastic connotations of ‘loftiness’, ‘grandness’, ‘greatness’ etc. That Ayesha’s piece moves from and around stillness, and rises up against silence, reveals the work’s complex interior logic.
Sorry, one more step backwards. In Edmund Burke’s Philosophical Enquiry Into the Origins of Our Ideas of the Sublime and the Beautiful (1757), Burke titles a chapter, “Why Things Not Dangerous Sometimes Produce A Passion Like Terror”. In the text, Burke positions the sublime in relation to the edges or boundaries of what is felt. And this sublime contravenes expectation; the example he quotes is moving downstairs, mis-stepping and taking a step that isn’t actually there. “Quiet Contemplations” is a journey of steps like these, a construction of tonal shifts and textures which, for this listener rouses ecological concern. A portrait of the artist at one with and distinct from nature. So more broadly, because of this particular socio-political moment, will references to nature in art always hold climate change connotations? And will this always make secondary a Romantic metaphysical reading of the work?
Pushing against this is Ayesha’s stated reference to Ad Reinhardt’s iconic black painting, Abstract Painting (1963) as an instructive communication of purity and silence with a not-always-apparent geometric structure operating below the surface. This painting was a break with a fashionable formalism of the day, and reaches for atemporality and ahistoricism through a monochromatic (or in fact colourless) endless expanse. In “Quiet Contemplations” Ayesha uses nature as the expanse and the editing of the sound wave as an underlying geometric structure. Footsteps at once disrupt and offer a guide or edge for this notion of ‘nature’. “Quiet Contemplations” could be heard as an impractical attempt to capture ‘room tone’ in the world. Ayesha signposts to place towards the end of the piece, but ultimately situates their gathering-of-nothing-and-everything simply outside or beyond. “Quiet Contemplations” is a singular and momentary meditation on nature as it drops in and out of an impossible universalism.
Ayesha Barmania is an independent journalist, sound designer and audio producer based in Peterborough, Ontario. Their work has been broadcast on CBC Radio and in many independent podcasts, as well as published in Canadian magazines and newspapers. They are the host of the Sounds Like Life audio art podcast and the Peterborough Currents current affairs podcast. Find them on Twitter @AyeshaBarmania.
Ayesha is working on a collection of spatial audio recordings that will be released as an album on Bandcamp some time in 2019. Watch their website and Twitter for those.