Liz's Portfolio

Elizabeth Nelson
Sound and Image
1 Dec, 2008

Part I
A) Initially, my interest in sound and image involved pulling images out of a sound (usually a song), probably because this is something I tend to do naturally. I was especially interested in how other people go about associating or creating images in and through sound, either in film, music videos or in daily life. My curiosity then shifted to include how people process and associate meaning with a specific sound (see original research questions below) and then, finally, to asking how far we as humans can stretch our imaginations to associate two completely different sounds and images. I think each of these questions are my attempt to understand how other people interact and associate sounds and images. Of course I see swirls of purple and green bubbles in a galaxy of deep blue when I listen to the song, The Dove’s Return (see Warm Up project, Catalyst Space), but does everyone (anyone) else? For me, this class was a space to try to delve into the extremes of sound and image associations, perhaps in an attempt to understand my own pictures and perceptions.
Research Questions:
• To what extent have people gone to in order to create a visual world in/through a song, sound or melody?
• What have we, as a culture, learned to visually associate with specific sounds (a siren, the chime at a crosswalk, etc) and how can these associations be manipulated and changed (ie, film sound effects, traumatizing events, etc.)
• How far can we stretch our brain and imagination to make sense of a sound/image combination. Could I, for example, describe to you what kinds of things I see in a piece of sound, and have it make sense to you? How far will that go?

B) From this initial curiosity, I spent hours of intensely scattered research, jumping between everything from Cymatics (something I had never heard of before, but was fascinated by), to Synesthesia. Nothing I found directly related to my research questions, but I did discover an expanding community of people involved in this world of sound and image, still unfamiliar to my International Studies background. Phil Thurtle’s presentation on deconstructing an experience by making a person acutely aware of the act of perception itself had a significant influence on my final projects. I ended up switching my research to focus on taking apart an experience of sound and image, rather than trying to make them fit together smoothly. I was especially interested in the idea of becoming more aware of an experience through a discordant, painful combination of sound and image, rather than simply a smooth put together story that numbs your senses. If it all fits together, we get sucked in and don’t pay attention to what’s actually going on (if a door closes and you hear a door close, did you consciously notice both the sound and the image? Probably not). This led to my first project of deconstructing an experience of the ever-so-familiar world around me, and the second project that focused on smoothing out the presentation and technical kinks in order to convey the idea more effectively (see project description below and video projects 1 and 2 on Catalyst Space).
Projects I and II
• This is a project focused on deconstructing an experience of sound and image as we perceive it in our daily wanderings. Because there is so much sound around us in the U District, we forget to listen or do not even have the capacity to filter through them. As a result, I find myself in a constant state of tuning out distractions, but in the process I also tune out people.
My goal in this first project was to separate out the audible sounds, making a point to listen to the conversations around me. Even I was surprised by all the random (and sometimes disturbing) things I heard, so I kept track of them and wrote everything into a sound poem. This project only represents a small percentage of the phrases I documented (stay tuned for project 2.0). I then removed any specific images (some for privacy's sake, some to keep the focus on the words themselves). This began creating a void or a space to actually become aware of the sounds in the environment. But how to present each scene so that people notice meaning? This is where I used text on top of the images to draw blatant attention to the words. It's pretty abrasive and choppy, but this is an attempt to pull you, as the observer, into a place of being acutely aware of the conversations, idiosyncrasies and bizarre ironies in the sounds around you. It's ridiculous, disconnected and confusing, but it also opens up the black box of lives and personalities.
Interestingly enough, I had to take out the sound and most of the image to bring any attention to the meaning in the sound. If nothing else, hopefully you are inspired to do some eavesdropping of your own.

C) In the end, after I had wrestled with Premier video editing software, computer glitches and rain on my lens cap, this project focused specifically on making people (and me) notice things. What is the point of making sound and image fit together in a cohesive, smooth blur if you aren’t able to stop and recognize the whole of the sound or the image? I think it’s very impressive when movies can intensely manipulate your mood through music that you, as the viewer, do not even notice. However, I wanted to deconstruct all of this (dare I call it a façade?) and begin to notice the images (trees, textures, buildings, colors, people) and sounds (conversations, real lives, crying, arguing, irony, stories) around me. I realize this was ambitious, and I honestly don’t think it was achieved in any impacting way, but it certainly opened up an entirely new way of thinking, hearing and seeing for me. It also made me an incurable eavesdropper.

Part II
Doing this research and project again, I would like to work with sounds and phrases captured directly on video, rather than trying to piece together sounds and images separately. As it turns out, having too much deconstruction of an experience can actually cause viewers to tune out, rather than try to make sense of the project at all. I also realize that as much as I can (and love) to dabble in the arts and hard sciences, my curiosity always draws me back to people and how they think and interact with one another. Given a year and some disgustingly large grant to study this, I think I would actually branch out in my initial research question of how far you can stretch the associations between a sound and an image and still have it make sense. This could include everything from case studies to controlled experiments to (most likely) long backpacking treks through various regions of the globe.

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