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Adam Donovan, Aconoscill, Immersive sound art installation, 1998

Aconoscill - STRIPP, 30 Speptember – 10 October 1998

In the dark back room of Stripp, Adam Donovan’s eight six-foot tall speakers were reminiscent of surreal plants or jellyfish chattering to each other in a language of high-pitched bell sounds, clicks and fuzzy chimes.  It was difficult to perceive exactly where the sounds were coming from, as if all of these speakers were talking at once or echoing one another, trying to communicate with me as I moved into their space.  It was almost like entering a scene from an early science fiction movie.  Unlike sleep black contemporary high-tech speakers, Donovan’s speakers were more like elaborate Victorian Art Nouveau gramophones horns transmitting the soundtrack of an alien language.

The process that created the sounds was a complex but essential part of Donovan’s project.  He positioned a 1.2-meter satellite dish and recording equipment within the city and recorded sound waves from up to a kilometer away.  Donovan then filtered the jumble of waves (white noise at this stage) through a computerized spectral analysis program and edited out certain frequencies in order to isolate human voice or single sound waves that a human presence, such as the tapping of a hammer.  The sound waves were then slowed down and manipulated into eight soundtracks which were sent through the eight speakers.

Situated between and physics, Donovan’s installation was a continuation of his experimental research into intangible aspect of existence, in this case isolating and manipulating sound waves.  While Aconoscill, standing for “Acoustic-Oscillations”, sounds scientific, Donovan’s installation provided little “useful data”.  Instead, his acoustic lens focused on the aural character of a specific place, capturing and concentrating the vibrations of human existence.  Acounoscill highlighted the idea that sound is an integral part of the way we negotiate the world, its invisible waves penetrate both our conscious and unconscious perception despite our complex filtering system which tries to minimize interference while channeling coherent messages.  In capturing invisible waves and replaying parts of them, Donovan created traces of common sound waves that acted as memory triggers for his audience, suggesting familiar but not necessarily coherent sounds.

In his use of surveillance equipment and techniques, Donovan highlighted not only the easy availability of such equipment but the complicity with which we accept the idea of being recorded.  However, rather than gathering “useful” information, as in surveillance work, Donovan’s project shifted surveillance equipment into the realm of aesthetics, creating a new aural territory where coherent language was transformed into acoustic material.  In focusing or a range or slice of sound waves that stripped sound of any referential status, Donovan’s sound space did not reproduce voices speaking coherent language or structured sound such as music, but reconfigured acoustic material.  While the contemporary discourse surrounding information technology promises a clearer, cleaner and more efficient mode of communication, Donovan renders sound dysfunctional.  Rather than transmitting coherent message, Aconoscill created acoustic traces, recording humans as vibrations of intensity and returning their voices to the noise of the world.

Art and Text. February 1999, Reviewed by Danny Huppatz

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