Ground and Background

2017, surround sound and four video screens, 10'00"
Premiered Smock Alley Theatre, Dublin, 29 April 2017.

Ground and Background was composed for Perisonic, a themed concert in which three composers reimagined the Dublin cityscape as an immersive audio-visual experience for surround sound and four video projections in three movements. The urban environment is reconsidered through the metaphor of a journey, wherein the listener is jolted through a fragmented streetscape reconstructed with audio and video jump cuts.

The work is composed entirely of audio and video recordings made in Dublin city centre in early 2017, and attempts to reimagine the city as a fictionalised space through the selective reassembling of recordings. In the newly imagined city the boundary of the real and the imagined is a fluid membrane – on one side the recorded space, on the other a transliteration, a new space occupying an invented geographical memory.

The audio part is based on the technique of 'wide-area sampling', a systematic method of sampling wide areas, or meta-spaces. In this case, hundreds of samples and impulses, recorded in dozens of acoustically distinctive exterior spaces throughout Dublin, are assembled, reassembled, and contrasted with a continuously evolving background. The listener/viewer transverses a reconstructed imaginary city in which local details become mirrored by their context – foreground details accumulate into dense gestures, and distant backgrounds condense into localised impulses.

By re-contextualising the sampled audio and video material, the work aims to decouple the relationship between the sound of the city and its original geographical context. This dislocation has the effect of foregrounding the sonic character of the sampled space, and allows us to consider the cumulative space as a larger sampled meta-space with a specific and otherwise inaccessible sonic identity.

The listener and the creator find themselves assuming the same spatial locale, and the same role, as the observer replaces the recording artist as the city’s voyeur. The city, undressed of its human presence, awaits our interpretation. The incessant motion of the point-of-view mimics the routine of travel, but the reconstructed soundscape only hints at how the absent population might navigate their disjointed environment. Whom, we might wonder, does this city serve, and how do the occupants relate to these spaces? We are not told, but we recognise their presence through the sound of their footsteps and the distant background noise of their activities.

Perisonic was commissioned by Dublin Sound Lab and produced by Sabina Bonnici. The video part was photographed and edited by Mihai Cucu. Gráinne Mulvey and Scott McLaughlin composed Perisonic movements 1 and 3, respectively.