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Q&A: Lisa Greenaway on her sound ritual for MPavilion 2018

Lisa Greenaway. Photo by Anita Banano.

Responding to Carme Pinós’s majestic design for MPavilion 2018, sound artist Lisa Greenaway created a spatial sound experience that can be heard every day at the opening and closing of MPavilion as part of our MPROJECTS series. Drawing on recordings of the natural and urban rhythms and music of the Queen Victoria Gardens, ||Reflections|| is a composition in collaboration with the environment. We asked Lisa what inspired the project and her practice. 


MPavilion: How did you come to be interested in recording and composing using everyday sounds and field recordings?

Lisa: I remember making weird abstract cassette recordings and “radio shows” with my sister well before it ever occurred to me that this was a possible career. When I began a training course at 3RRR FM in Melbourne in my early twenties, I was given the skills and then the freedom to be creative with sound for an immediate audience, and from the start my interest was in interpreting the world around me—remixing the world, I guess. The second element that really started then was the interest in storytelling and the spoken word, the musical qualities of the spoken word. Storytelling with sound becomes the focus—sounds are great conscious and unconscious triggers, and finding ways to tell stories through the responses we individually have to a sound is fascinating to me.

MPavilion: Can you explain how the ||Reflections|| sound ritual at MPavilion is composed—what were the creative and technical considerations?

Lisa: Part of the reason this piece is called ||Reflections|| is because it emerged from a process of reflection on the sounds of a place. It has been a unique challenge because I was in Budapest when I composed it, a long way from the place. So, I took time before I began putting any sounds down, to call up my aural memories of Melbourne, especially the area surrounding Queen Victoria Gardens. Because I have spent so much of my life listening actively to Melbourne and recording Melbourne, I found it quite easy to slip into that atmosphere in my mind. I drew on all that recorded material to compose the work, beginning by finding the rhythms, melodies, in the birdsong and the sounds of traffic, trams, helicopters, bicycles, bells, and of course (this is Melbourne) the weather, and through reflections, contrasts and counter-rhythms, built the environment.

I also spent time reading about Carme Pinós’s work and the design of her pavilion. The spaces this architecture creates defines and reflects its environment, and I imagine the way that different frequencies will reflect within the space. Technically, creating work like this is a challenge of balancing many different depths and qualities of sounds, using frequency processing and placement to create a spatial dynamic, whether that is to move the whole piece—and the listeners’ attention—to a specific place, or to create an immersive environment into which the listener can really dive. The aim is to create something that both tells a story and allows space for listeners to interpret and create their own stories within it.

Outside installations are particularly challenging, and exciting, because you are composing in collaboration with the sounds that are already there. This work is really intended to collaborate with its aural environment—my hope is that the actual sounds around the pavilion at the time the piece plays add to the composition. So part of the challenge in creating it is to leave space for that to happen.

Image courtesy of Lisa Greenaway.

MPavilion: The ritual responds to the philosophies of our 2018 architect Carme Pinós, who designs to connect people with surrounding nature, with the universe. Connection through sound and music is obviously a significant aim of the ritual. Why is this important to you?

Lisa: I feel a strong connection to Carme’s philosophy, in that I hope to connect people—to reconnect people in many ways—to the environment in which they live and move. Especially in big cities we are overwhelmed with sounds every day, often discordant, loud and interruptive sounds. We have learned, to a large extent, to shut those sounds out, as a necessity. In doing this we can become less attuned to really listening, which is a powerful thing to do. Hearing is a very subconscious, subjective, and deeply affective, sense. Whether or not we are aware of it, sounds affect us on a deep emotional level, especially sounds that are peripheral to whatever we are focused on. To actively, and deeply, listen to our environment is to become more present and aware, and I believe that this is a powerful step towards being more mindful of environment and people around us.

With my work I aim to encourage people to hear their world, including the absences, the silences. My belief is that in order to live sustainably, we must reconnect with the fundamental rhythms and balances of Earth. And to live together in harmony, we must learn to listen to each other.

MPavilion: What is ‘deep listening’ and how do those of us less ingrained in sound art begin to approach it?

Lisa: Because hearing is so often a subconscious sense, the act of focusing your listening is a really powerful act. The term ‘deep listening’ has multiple meanings and origins as well as modern uses in fields from creative work to counselling and faith, so it is no one specific practice that I refer to. The Australian Aboriginal practice of dadirri has been described by Miriam-Rose Ungunmerr-Baumann as “… inner, deep listening and quiet, still awareness”. It is a way of tuning in to nature, to the world around you, and it is also a way to deepen learning, show respect for the stories and teachings and experiences of others.

Musician Pauline Oliveros has been an influence on me through her descriptions of the practices of ‘deep listening’ and ‘sonic awareness’ enhancing sensory perception and focusing attention in the process of composition, especially collaborative composition. Practicing ‘the art of listening’. My interpretation of deep listening also draws on philosophies of meditation and deep ecology, the conscious awareness of the global natural system of which humans are one part. These ideas are central to the work I am doing currently with the 4DSound spatial sound institute in Budapest, which is studying and exploring through art and experimental sound, ‘new ecologies of listening’ for both healing and performative outcomes, as well as practical developments in areas such as architecture and living design.

Having said all that, it is important to me to not talk or write of these things as in any way inaccessible practices or practices intended only for the creation of art, since to practice deep listening is one of the easiest, and constantly available, ways to ‘tune in’ to the world and to ourselves and those around us. Most simply, if you take an extended moment to pause, to be silent, and to actively listen to the environment you are in (wherever that is) and focus on the different sounds, the different textures and qualities of movements of sounds around you, you are tuning in to a powerful creative force of empathy.

Hear Lisa Greenaway’s ||Reflections|| at the opening and closing of MPavilion every day of the season, from 9 October 2018 to 3 February 2019.