By MICHELLE CHAMPLIN, student in the Creative Inquiry, Interdisciplinary Arts MFA program
This post was written as an assignment for professor Cindy Shearer’s CIA 7091: MFA Interdisciplinary Arts Workshop. As part of a community of artists working across art perspectives, students in this course get the chance to teach each other about their art form(s), practice, lineage and influences, and are challenged to inquire into the interdisciplinary arts as well as forms new to them.
One of the many unique aspects of the Creative Inquiry, Interdisciplinary Arts program is having an opportunity to research an art form other than my own (visual art). My choice was to research sound arts. The inspiration to research this art form stemmed from an assignment given in my “Creative Inquiry for Artists” class to create a “sound map.” There were few guidelines. We were simply to craft something generated from our personal definition of “sound map," and I happen to own a small digital recorder and decided to put it to use.
Because San Francisco and the symbol of “city” are significant in my work and in my life, I wanted to utilize the sounds of the city. I began by listening. While standing still for several minutes in downtown San Francisco, I shifted my attention to the hum of vehicles, clacking of high heels, and the occasional piece of a conversation. I then held my recorder outside my bedroom window and caught the noise of cars passing, church bells ringing, and a garage door opening. Next, I recorded myself in my space—painting on canvas and the click, click of my fingers typing: symbols of the work I am currently involved in and what I am working towards. I also happened to have a recording of my grandparents harmonizing—singing an old love song together and wanted to use it in my sound map.
I listened to everything and put something together with the help of some music editing software (I used a free trial). Suddenly, I realized a story was emerging. It was my story—my roots, my experience, my life. While listening to my own project, I began to see my work and my own perception of my work in a slightly different light. It helped me to discover the symbol of city in my art on a deeper level. For me, “city” symbolizes freedom. I knew this to a certain extent before the sound map project but listening to my work rather than viewing it creates a different kind of experience. I’m still attempting to figure out how to express how and why this is the case and I’m contemplating what makes sound art so inimitable.
Sound seems to expose reality in a way that other forms cannot. When listening to a work, we are forced to concentrate on noise—something we are accustomed to ignoring. There are so many sounds happening in our environment constantly and we are not often aware of them on a conscious level. Stop, close your eyes, and listen for five minutes: You will be amazed at how many sounds you hear.
I’ve discovered interesting aspects such as soundwalks, sound sculpture, and soundscapes. Delving into the world of sound art has inspired me to connect it to my own work. I’ve recently begun thinking about how I might link sound elements with visual arts and have been experimenting with adding film to my sound map. Many fresh ideas are sprouting into my mind every day around these interdisciplinary concepts. I know that my research and experience with sound art has been a significant resource for me as an artist. It is contributing to my work now and will continue to inspire me in the future.