Author: Kit

Environment Poems

Sensory Integration October 11, 2018

In February 2017, I took part in a residency at Testing Grounds, Melbourne, with the art collective While the Hour. Testing Grounds is in the middle of the city, on a busy road. The loudness of the environment made it difficult for me to work there, because I was in sensory overload from the moment I arrived on site each day until long after I’d returned home to safety each evening.

Because I couldn’t filter out the environmental noise, I decided to make it the focus of my project. I attempted to notate the noises I heard – the sounds of car engines, construction work, aircraft, squealing tyres, etc. – and compile them into a glossary. Here is a snippet of the glossary:

H

haaah
hee
hee hee hee hee
heee
hee-e
heeee
heeeeeau
heeeeeee
heeeee-ee-ee
heee-eei
heeeiiie-ee
hooweek
hoowooohaawaaeeehooweeooaliiah

This idea wasn’t a new one for me. It’s a technique I’ve returned to over and over again in the last several years. Sometimes I notate the sounds without trying to make verbal sense of them, as in the list above. Other times, I try to translate the notations into English words, and use them as the basis for a poem. For example, I wrote this poem when I was living in Washington State, USA, using noises I collected on a bus journey:

Bus Hum

Out of luck you check your pockets
Hear a warning in a mutter
What a week to cheat your boredom
Other pockets always cleaner

Leech a fortune from another
What a week to take the border
Other meadows always greener
Pick a voice that doesn’t stutter

Lock it in your practised patter
What a cheek to take a quarter
Luck into a better board room
Post a bank check in a notecard

Other water always wetter
What a bore to make a fortune
Out of luck you take the border
Other voices always clearer

Hear a warning from another
Other fortunes always cleaner
Other pockets always leaky
Luck into a better bank note

Buck the fortune of your boredom
Pick a week and check your pockets
Out of luck you hear a warning
Other dollars always greener

Part of being autistic (for me, at least) is not filtering sensory information in an ordinary way. Human, social noises (i.e. speech) are not foregrounded in my perception. I have to consciously work at prioritising human communication in order to give it the socially expected degree of attention that most people can give it automatically and intuitively.

I saved this blog post as a draft, and now I’ve come back to it again, I realise I’ve described the above perceptual difference in a way that implies a deficit, a way in which I must struggle (and frequently fail) to measure up to social expectations. I expressed it in this way without even realising what I was doing, because that is the way these differences are usually expressed in our society. It’s so common for differences to be spoken of in terms of deficits that it can start to feel as though that implicit value judgement is an unchangeable part of reality, when actually it is a reality we remake ourselves each time we talk with each other. So let’s reword the previous paragraph:

Part of being autistic (for me, at least) is not filtering sensory information in an ordinary way. I have an egalitarian perceptual world in which human and non-human noises are of equal importance. Most people must deliberately and painstakingly tear themselves away from the perceptual hierarchy that prioritises social information. Luckily, it takes me no effort to realise that I am alive in a sensory universe.

I don’t believe that the above poem, or any poems like it, are literally being said by the places where I collected those sounds. I don’t believe that nonhuman entities are speaking to me in a slurred and coded English, or indeed that they are speaking to me at all in a literal, social sense. Nevertheless, these sounds figure large in my perception, and therefore they have meaning for me – just not a social or linguistic one. By turning the sounds of my surroundings into human-readable words, I can at least indicate that meaningfulness to others. I can point at my socially-implicit deficit, and tell you that it is not deficit, but surplus.

A SOUND BARRIER

Sensory Integration October 2, 2018

I wrote this essay in February 2017, as part of an artist residency at Testing Grounds, with While the Hour arts collective. My project for this residency involved an attempt to discern and notate the cacophony of nonhuman sounds I heard in that place.

TESTING GROUNDS

The traffic noise here is more or less constant. The site is in the centre of the city, where peak hour lasts all day. The noise is not altogether uniform – there are discernible, wave-like patterns in the volume. This variation could perhaps be explained by the surrounding traffic-light cycles, which compress and release the vehicular flow, creating intersecting formations that sometimes amplify and other times obliterate each other. Still, the frequency of these waves causes an overall effect of constant, unchanging noise – a dusty and supernaturally turbulent ocean beach.

When I take the traffic sounds as my point of focus, I begin to feel as though time has stopped. The consistency of the wave across the day dampens the feeling of time’s motion. Time has frozen, yet the traffic keeps inexplicably passing. I know, intellectually, that I am hearing an effect of constant change, but I feel, bodily, the solidness, the dependability – the soundness – of the sound.

I feel the soundness of the sound, but I feel it via an unsoundness of my body. I notice a turbulence in my chest and gut, an agitated rolling and juddering across my skin. I suddenly feel a desire to lie on the ground or prop myself up against a wall. I’m looking for a sounder body to lean on, to brace myself against the intangible body of the noise.

WHALES

Whales can see barely 20 metres ahead in the water, but can hear a wave crashing on the shore from thousands of kilometres away. They use their voices to communicate, and they use their finely developed echolocation abilities to find prey and to understand the contours of their environment. Where a human’s consciousness and sense of self relies heavily on visual information, a whale’s is based primarily on sound.

The oceans have become much noisier over the last century. Busy shipping routes and underwater gas exploration have contributed to what marine scientist Christopher Clark calls “acoustical bleaching” – an intense blanket of noise that drowns out the whales’ voices, preventing them from feeding and communicating.

Whales have been observed hiding behind rocks and moving dangerously close to the shore in an attempt to escape the noise of underwater explosions. Whales living in noisy parts of the ocean are thought to be suffering from chronic noise-induced stress.

WAVES

At Testing Grounds, I feel awash in noise. I had planned to spend most days working here over the residency, but in the end I found I spent most days hiding from the site.

I had noticed the ocean of noise on my first visit, and realised that I would be unable to ignore it or to easily focus on anything else while I was there. Most people I meet appear to have the ability to filter out unnecessary aural information. This is an ability I have never been able to share or to fully comprehend.

I decided that if I could not ignore the noise, I would make it the focus of my work at Testing Grounds. This tactic had worked for me in the past, ameliorating my stress by narrowing my focus.

Yet, despite my best efforts and my lifetime of finely-honed coping strategies, I felt as if I was drowning. I fled home, and I dreaded having to return the next day. The site is as impossible and inaccessible to me as if it were situated on the bottom of the ocean floor.

A SOUND BARRIER

Humans, like whales, experience psychological ill-effects from noise pollution. Noise-induced sleep disturbance can contribute to high blood pressure and mood problems. Noise can impair concentration and increase irritability, having negative effects on people’s interpersonal abilities.

Noises from traffic, aircraft and industry typically come to people’s attention only when they are loud enough to cause a disturbance. These noises are perceived as inherently bad, meaningless, or unproductive. They are an unfortunate by-product that spills out of an otherwise useful device or activity, an excess that we can accept insofar as we can ignore it in favour of more meaningful aural activities.

This is no surprise. These sounds are unpleasant, cacophonous, and unstructured. They have no meaning aside from their undifferentiated excess. They are difficult and worrisome and pointless. They are the offcuts and refuse of something more desirable. It’s hard to love trash.

It’s hard to love trash, but I think trash is still worthy of remark, for no reason other than that it exists. I think it’s worth acting as if the noise is meaningful, even when there is no meaning to be discerned. The noise is audible, and that is more than enough.

REFERENCES

Stansfeld, S. A., & Matheson, M. P. (2003). Noise pollution: non-auditory effects on health. British Medical Bulletin, 68(1), 243-257. doi:10.1093/bmb/ldg033

Jenner, C. (2017, February 15). Too much noise in the ocean for whales’ sensitive ears. The Conversation. Retrieved from http://theconversation.com/too-much-noise-in-the-ocean-for-whales-sensitive-ears-17933

Schiffman, R. (2016, March 31). How Ocean Noise Pollution Wreaks Havoc on Marine Life. Yale Environment 360. Retrieved from http://e360.yale.edu/features/how_ocean_noise_pollution_wreaks_havoc_on_marine_life

The Beige Times issue 1, January 2002: Cosmic Latte

Beige September 20, 2018

abstract, amorphous beige image, sort of like a stain or maybe outer space, with typed text pasted on topabstract, beige, grey, and yellow drawing, possibly looks like a bruise or a face, with typed text stuck on topabstract, beige, grey, and yellow drawing, possibly looks like a bruise or a face, with typed text stuck on topCCF03022016_0007abstract, amorphous, beige drawing, possibly a galaxy, possibly a spilled drink of some kind, with typed text stuck on top

Image description: a five-part collage. An abstract, amorphous, beige image, sort of like a stain or maybe outer space, made with oil pastel and wax medium on fabric. Strips of typed text are pasted on top. Text reads:

Owing to a software error, scientists initially believed that the universe was green. It is now known that the universe is beige.

In January 2002, Ivan Baldry and Karl Glazebrook from Johns Hopkins University declared that the true colour of the universe was pale green. The scientists had used data from the 2dF Galaxy Redshift Survey – a survey which measures the light coming from more than 200,000 galaxies – to determine the average wavelength of light in the universe.

The scientists wanted to know what colour the universe would look like to a hypothetical outside observer who could stand in the void and gaze at the universe from afar. Unfortunately, the 2dF Galaxy Redshift Survey was not undertaken in the void, but rather at the Anglo-Australian Observatory in New South Wales.

The universe is expanding at an increasing rate, and the cosmic bodies within it are moving apart at increasing speeds. Your perception of light is dependent on the velocity of the light source relative to your own. When a light source is moving away from you, the wavelength of light that your eye receives will be longer than the wavelength of light that was emitted by the source. This is known as a redshift. As New South Wales is situated within the universe, and the universe is moving away from New South Wales, any measurement of universal light taken from there is redshifted.

As such, the scientists needed to de-redshift the data before they could discover the externally-viewable colour of the universe.

I read Red Shift by Alan Garner in 2002, the year I first became mad, the same year that the universe was first green, then beige. Red Shift is set in Southern Cheshire, England; its story spans nearly two thousand years. The characters – ex-soldiers of the Roman Empire, villagers caught up in the English Civil War, and two teenagers in the 1970s – echo each other across vast gaps in time. The place is like a character, its personality manifest in the words, actions and prophetic visions of its inhabitants who cannot know each other, but who continuously repeat and predict each other’s paths.

A second problem in determining the colour of the universe lay in the physiology of human vision. The human eye registers colour differently in different environmental conditions. The researchers wanted to see, from a human perspective, what the data was telling them about the universal perspective. In order to do this, they needed to further adjust the data from the 2dF Galaxy Redshift Survey.

Unfortunately, the software they were using had an error in it. Just weeks after announcing that the universe was green, the scientists issued a correction, saying that the true colour of the universe was a shade of beige they had named “cosmic latte.”

On Glazebrook and Baldry’s webpage, where they discuss the science behind their discovery, there is a typo: “emailed” is spelled “emailled.” Emaille is German for enamel. In 1923, László Moholy-Nagy produced a series of paintings entitled Konstruktionen in Emaille, better known as Telephone Pictures. He describes his work process:

I ordered by telephone from a sign factory five paintings in porcelain enamel. I had the factory’s color chart before me and I sketched my paintings on graph paper. At the other end of the telephone the factory supervisor had the same kind of paper, divided into squares. He took down the dictated shapes in the correct position.

Several decades later, Moholy-Nagy’s first wife stated that he’d actually ordered the pictures in person, not over the phone. There is still some disagreement regarding the truth/relevance of this claim.

Said Glazebrook, “There’s no error in the science, the error was in the perception.”

July happenings

Happenings July 19, 2017

At 4pm on Sunday July 23rd, I’m going to be performing some poems at the Prahran Mechanics Institute, as part of the Provocaré Winter Arts Festival.

I’ve recently assembled an electronic musical instrument using a wireless keyboard and a plastic cricket bat. Sunday will be my first performance with the instrument.

You can read about the event here.

Nonhuman Stereo Network

Happenings February 19, 2017

Public Meeting (and free WiFi)

Thursday, February 23
6pm – 7pm
@ Testing Grounds, 1 City Road, Southbank
VIC 3006 Australia (click here for map)

wobbly venn diagram showing an area of sound at the intersection of two areas of noise

You are invited to attend a meeting of the Nonhuman Stereo Network. The meeting will provide you with tools for increasing the density of your present moment, without the usual hassle of having to also increase your moment’s meaning.

The meeting’s speakers are the human-made, non-human noises that you habitually deprioritise in pursuit of life as a normal human being.

There is no need to RSVP. To join the meeting, come to Testing Grounds at the appointed time and look for the instructions posted there.

It is imperative that you do not communicate with any other humans who are attending the meeting.

February Happenings

Happenings January 31, 2017

WhileTheHourOption1

I have an exciting project coming up in February. I’m part of an artist collective which is dedicated to investigating the nature of time called While the Hour. From February 6 – 24 we’ll be in residency at Testing Grounds as part of the 2017 National Sustainable Living Festival.

We’re running a series of deep time-themed events on the 10th and 11th of February in which you’re invited to draw, write, or simply rest in the fertile state between sleep and wakefulness. We’ll also be working on site to conduct our own investigations into chronosophy.

You can find more information and a full event schedule at whilethehour.wordpress.com or on our Facebook page. You can also book tickets here.

Mental Health Week 2016

Happenings October 5, 2016
b&w pencil drawing of a young woman with cat-like facial features

Image description: Drawing from “Strange stranger.” Black & white pencil drawing of a young, white woman with short blonde hair. The woman’s facial features are half-way between a human’s and a cat’s. She is supporting her head with her left hand (as seen from the viewer’s perspective), and is wearing a black & white zigzag patterned shirt with a grey bow tied at the collar.

This week is mental health week. Mind in Williamstown has organised a pop-up art exhibition of work by people who experience mental illness. The artworks have been installed in various locations around the western suburbs of Melbourne, and you can go and see them until October 15th.

I have a couple of pictures up in Ellie’s Kitchen, 42 Hall Street Newport. The other art locations are:

Sourdough Kitchen, 172 Victoria Street Seddon

Williamstown Library, 84 Ferguson Street Williamstown

Seddon Deadly Sins, 148 Victoria Street Seddon

The Corner Shop, 9 Ballarat Street Yarraville

Yarraville Yoga Centre, 36 Ballarat Street Yarraville

Spotswood Community House, 598 Melbourne Road Spotswood

Tjay’s Cafe, 10c Watton Street Werribe

Mondells Patisserie, 33 Watton Street Werribee

Odd Spot Cafe, 302 Melbourne Road Newport

Sammy’s Bakehouse, 22A Mason Street Newport

The Backyard Est. 2016,  19 Mason Street Newport

Stepping Stone, 27 Schutt Street Newport

Deli Cafe, 45 Challis Street Newport

The Granary Cafe, 2 Devonshire Road Sunshine

Hey Zeus Cafe,  81 Hopkins Street Footscray

Dancing Dog Cafe,  42A Albert Street Footscray

The Atomic Bar,  185 Nelson Place Williamstown

Novel Kitchen,  80 Ferguson Street Williamstown

The Jolly Miller Cafe, T09/100 Overton Road Williams Landing

Pitstop Cafe, 300/302-330 Millers Road Altona North

Runkle Del Rouge, 80 Pier Street Altona

Numero Uno Pizza and Pasta, 20 Pier Street Altona

Laverton Community Centre, 95 Railway Avenue Laverton

Seabrook Community Centre, 15 Truganina Avenue Seabrook

More mind

Mimsy July 25, 2016

Ages ago, I published a questionnaire (which I have since taken down), titled LOST: mind. It contained a series of (mostly silly) questions that would allow me to borrow the answerer’s mind (having lost my own, I required a mind-loan).

No-one responded to begin with, so I soon forgot to keep checking the results sheet.

I just checked the results sheet, and it turns out someone filled in the form a few months ago without me realising it. I don’t know who you are, but thank you! Perhaps you are the reason I’ve been feeling so much more focused lately – my quantity of mind has increased.

Via this blog post, I return your mind to you, my anonymous benefactor, with my appreciation. I would not want you to go too long without it.

Best wishes, oh unknown you,

Kit

August Happenings

Happenings July 25, 2016

Saturday, August 6, 4pm.

7Up at SEVENTH, 155 Gertrude St, Fitzroy.

BLUSHINGS – Vocal Narratives

For her exhibition at SEVENTH, Clara Bradley is holding an artist talk, which will include a reading event. I’ll be reading a piece called OK GOOGLE.

18 August – 2 September.

SEVENTH, 155 Gertrude St, Fitzroy.

GRIMM BUT STILL WAKEFUL by Isobel Taylor-Rodgers

I am writing the catalogue essay for Isobel’s show. Come to the opening night (Wednesday, 17 August, 6-8pm) to see her live performance, or come to see the installation until 2 September. (also read my essay!)