Kochi: Blindfolded, the participants were asked to listen to the various sounds around and engage intensely with their nuances. That was one way American-artist Michael Northam sought to explore the potential of ‘sound as art’ at a workshop alongside the Kochi-Muziris Biennale.

Through a series of exercises, including deep listening and making a general survey of different modalities as well as applications, the travelling artist gave the trainees an idea about certain subtleties around different sound-designs and avant-garde music. “The idea was to introduce people to a new way of listening to sounds we generally dub commonplace,” said the 48-year-old expert at the ‘Sonic Art’ event that concluded at the art room in the Cabral Yard venue at Fort Kochi today.

The March 5-6 workshop focused on creating special sound effects and going for experimental music using found objects that are common too. They conjured up sonic surprises for the participants.

Michael’s work is based on his “continuing fascination for what makes an environment an experience”, as the artist explains. “We first study the essential sound components of a particular experience in an environment. I listen to multitudes of sounds — from stuff gathered from nature, or translated through electronics, or through instruments and found objects). That is to find what is ‘alive’ within them,” pointed out Michael, who has conducted similar workshops in West Bengal’s Santiniketan, Ashoka University near Delhi and Vaayu Waterman’s Village in Goa.

With basic technology such as mobile phones and handy recorders, the participants learnt how simple tools can help re-contextualise sounds. Michael guided the participants in small improvisations that helped explore more of one’s immediate sound environment. “The idea was to discover how we might use sound in our artistic practices,” said the master, who has examined the essence of experience through sounds for over three decades now.

Michael, a visual artist who did a residency at KHOJ Sonic Arts Program at Delhi in 2006, has been travelling since he was 18 years old. For the past two decades, he has been exploring sound art. “I have been trained as a visual artist, actually. But then, I always had a deep interest in different types of sound. That compelled me to explore it further,” explained the artist, who has composed and performed ‘surround sound’ for ‘The Way of Light’, a site-specific installation in Mumbai.

At the biennale workshop on Wednesday, Kriti, a participant, said she never knew how much the effect of sounds can impact a person. “I’ve never been to anything like this before and didn’t initially know what to expect from this workshop. From the moment I walked in, I experienced peace,” she added.

Aarthi, another participant, said the workshop taught her ways to exploring different kinds of sounds. “We understood how to employ deep-listening techniques and learn how to play with the sonic environments we inhabit,” she noted.

By Manoj

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