Upcoming Event: Liar Lyre Sat 6th May

2 May

liar lyre wellcome trust

As part of the Remaking Nature drop-in weekend at Wellcome Collection, PASSENGERFILMS is running a free live event – at 12-1.30pm and again at 2-3.30pm – on Saturday the 6th May. It brings together experimental geographers, musicians, field recordings, multi-media artists, poets and composers to play with alternative ways of sound-tracking nature documentaries in live collaborations.

The weekend as a whole is designed to reassess ideas of nature, as the exhibition Making Nature: How We See Animals comes to a close and in advance of a follow up, publically curated exhibition, A Museum of Modern Nature (“If you built a museum of nature in the 21st century, what would it look like? What objects would you collect and display? What purpose would it serve – and should we be putting nature in a museum at all?”). For our live session, we’ll be considering some of these ideas of modern and alternative natures, and in particular challenging some of the ways it has been spoken for or spoken over in soundtracks. Nature has a huge amount of media strategists, and this event will ask us to look again/listen again to the photogenic and mediagenic natures we see beamed into our homes in nature documentaries – such as the famous clip of David Attenborough and the titular lyre bird, captured here imitating the sound of camera shutters.

Each performance will be a re-scoring or re-setting of an existing nature documentary extract, wiping the sonic and narrative norms (stagey; cinematic; sensory; moral; sentimental; gendered; hyper-real; exotic), and replacing them with a newly written, synthesised, or improvised performance. A short introduction at the beginning of the session will highlight what these ideas and performances mean and are about – in terms of the technologies and ideologies at play, and the traditions by which the sounds of nature in its twentieth and twenty first century documentary incarnations have been culturally produced and imagined (but also erased). The first-time collaborations brought together uniquely for this event will include innovative pairings across scenes and disciplines, from Alison Blunt’s improvised violin to the mediatized natures in the performance art of Mark Peter Wright, each bringing attention to and subverting the norms of our usual ways of listening to and/or narrating nature – from the prudish anthropomorphications of Disney’s True Life Adventures series, set to symphonies emphasising seasonality and order, to the lascivious and psychedelic “eco-jazz” of Jean Painlevé’s surrealist underwater cinematography, to the ambient or droid-like futures of science-fiction and Gothic sound effects in insect documentaries of the early 1970s. How do these diverse sound scripts mark out certain nonhuman natures as, say, vulnerable, sexy, villainous, eerie, secret, garish, compliant, alien, chaotic, unpredictable, or even (in insomnia aids) soporific? What do they have to do with longer standing traditions of nature and its characterisations in literature, music, and science? How can we rewrite or remix these scripts, and why might we want to?

The film clips will range from the re-scripting of iconic moments from “nature’s nickelodeon” to the further reaches of what constitutes “nature” on screen, including lichens, shape-shifting slime moulds, or long takes in which the subject matter is simply a line of fog. Running from slow eco-cinema to experimental time lapse, and from foley recordings to lo-fi transmissions of extinct animal voices, this programme explores some of the weirder avenues of nature documentaries and their soundtracks – which turn out to not be so familiar after all.

Performances by Alison Blunt, Douglas MacGregor, Sylvia Hallett, Justin Hopper, Sterling MacKinnon, Sally Ann McIntyre, Mark Harwood, Mark Peter Wright, Angus Carlyle, Postcards from the VolcanoSonia Levy, Izzy Galleymore, Drew Milne, Timothy Thornton, and Amy Cutler; curated by Amy Cutler, Leverhulme Early Career Research Fellow in GeoHumanities, and partly inspired by her third year Geography module Cultural Imaginations of Nature; supported by the Wellcome Collection and the Leverhulme.

Saturday 6th May @ 12-1.30pm and again at 2-3.30pm, the Williams Lounge in Wellcome Collection, 183 Euston Rd, Bloomsbury, London NW1 2BE. Facebook event here.

Poster (above) and screen-printed artworks on the day created by Max Bondi.

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