Written for KQED Arts, February 24, 2016
The first piece in the Feb. 21 Re:Sound Migration show on Mare Island began with a scene of water gently undulating to the sound of waves. Sound artist Daniel Blomquist kneeled on the cold concrete of a former munitions storage building transformed into a venue space for the experimental music series.
Blomquist worked quickly, as if cooking a recipe under deadline — pressing buttons, turning, switching, stopping, starting, closing and opening tapes to create an audio track that, for all his frenetic activity, had a calming effect.
“You don’t have to think about it, you just have to breathe,” I heard the art say. I can’t be sure if I interpreted this, felt this or if this is really what the art said. I had fallen into a dream-like meditative state, pulled back to the present only by the smell of fennel.
My first official sound art performance reminded me a bit of my initial experiences with meditation. I wondered if I was listening correctly. My mind was consumed by questions. Would I like it? would I understand it? What does it all mean? Traditional art shows don’t regularly induce this kind of confusion.
But when you put tape decks, field recordings, mixing boards, a projector and speakers in a room (and provide samosas) it turns out a sound art concert can be the perfect Sunday afternoon activity.
“Soundwise, space becomes an instrument,” Blomquist told me on the phone before the show. He elaborated by saying that one of the greatest aspects of working with Jen Boyd, producer of Re:Sound, is the location. “The building itself is such a loaded space,” he said.
Blomquist used field recordings of Mare Island and other locations in the Bay Area to create what he sees as a transitional piece that moves between internal and external experiences. Gathering recordings for his sound art is part of his process. “Like a sculptor would go out and find objects,” he said.
Blomquist hopes his audiences experience a transition while listening. “I want them to feel like they have gone through a form of drama — a migration of sorts.”
After Blomquist, Oakland-based sound artist Kadet Kuhne performed Resonant Shift, a sound piece accompanied by blurry video footage. The images came from Mare Island and Brooklyn Basin, where the 5th Street artist community is under threat of large-scale redevelopment, conveying a sense of loss to the performance.
During a brief intermission I spoke with students from a sound and space class at California College of the Arts. Marte Hexberg-Fitzwater, a senior at CCA, loved watching someone live mix the Re:Sound space. She agreed the performances were relaxing. “Long drawn out beats,” she said, “nothing for the heartbeat to sync to.”
After the break, John Davis performed Crossings, taking full advantage of the spacious building with 16mm film and video projection investigating sound, image and their relationship.
Migration was timed as part of the larger San Francisco Fly Away Festival, to celebrate wildlife passing above (and through) the area.
The last presenter, Jeremiah Moore, interpreted migration as being more than just about birds. “When the word migration comes onto my radar the only thing I find myself thinking about is people,” Moore said. “I have been working with material that is related to people moving through space.”
Though the artists behind last Sunday’s performances come from a variety of backgrounds, they share a love of sound. Boyd used to put her ear up to the monkey bars at playgrounds to hear and feel the vibrations of play. Moore grew up listening to his mother play guitar and autoharp.
“There is a bit of a fascination with sound and how it can evoke worlds or ways of thinking which I intuitively got very young,” Moore said. While he doesn’t want to dictate an outcome for his audiences, he told me he would be pleased if listeners came away hearing and relating to their worlds just a little bit differently.
As I drove home, I had a strange desire to take an audio recording of the gentle squeak of the car coupled with the air through the back window while I played Ella Fitzgerald — my own personal migratory soundscape.