Sound artist Felicity Mangan has launched various interesting projects under the idea of “archiving garden sounds”, utilizing field recordings of Australian animals and their interactions with flora. One of these projects is Quadra’frog’ic, which plays on quadraphonic setups by means of a transducer speaker that plays sounds through the objects it’s attached to. The project plays back the sounds made by frogs and insects to explore the manners in which certain bugs amplify their ‘voices’ through other natural elements, like the membranes of plants.
Stereo’frog’ic is its stereophonic version, an arrangement of sounds whose hybridity comes to be reflected in the act of listening – an illusory depth, an illusory song, a clear-cut rhythm that dissolves the boundaries between the experience of the sound as such and the mind’s attempt at structuring that experience (as music, as soundscape, and so on). It is both like and completely unlike standing in the middle of a field to listen to the surroundings, because it affirms both the activity of the senses and the passivity of the rationalizing process, the first of which is building, sculpting the environment, while the second is drawing it into the realm of the familiar.
This cyborg ambiguity allows the music to flow as if one were listening to a song, with its repetitive sways and melodic variations, the percussive character of a frog’s croak revealed by incisive drones that sound like the wind passing through reed, contrasted with the string-like sweep of an insect’s screech. It is not encouraging us, like field recording often does, to listen to silence as a form of music; it assumes there is no possibility of objectivity, and that all we hear is enhanced by the particular technological crossings of human devices and those used by animals and plants to let our sounds populate the environment.
Stereo’frog’ic is thus a dense 20-minute piece, building up in roughly three parts that interlock and develop from one another, its electronics blurring and being blurred by natural sounds. The first part, for instance, feels like a minimalist piece, its repetition not a result of mechanical operation but an organic one, differing ever-so-slightly in each sound’s occurrence in a way that the machinery of instruments cannot convey. They have what we would normally attribute to voices, in terms of unique register and the ‘wetness’ of their origin, and yet they are mediated not only by the tools of humans, but also by their own use of the surroundings.
Mangan has crafted an engaging, stimulating project which I hope continues giving way to recordings like this, which fundamentally question the mediations we use in order to listen, not only in terms of technology but also of the ideas with which we filter and categorize such things. We are part of the natural world, and if the planet’s climate situation is any indication, there is no reason to keep thinking that our technology is only ours, that we are able to detach it from the places we listen to and think of home. (David Murrieta Flores)
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