The Opposite of Wilderness

Throughout November/December 2013, Clay Gold's piece 'The Opposite of Wilderness' was installed as part of GV Art's 'NOISE and whispers' exhibition of Sound Art, in Marylebone, London.

'NOISE and whispers' exhibition of sound art (Press Release)

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“I should be doing something.”

So says a gentle, uneasy voice on Clay Gold’s work for headphones. I imagine a figure sat in a living room, poised awkwardly on the edge of a chair and absently ingesting the birdsong that trickles in through a window overlooking a garden, while a faint, clock-like tick counts every second of his stillness, gathering up each moment of his procrastination until it casts a towering shadow over its subject. Hearing is so often perceived as a secondary sense to the extent that the act of pure listening – with no visual accompaniment to pocket the sound into a picture of significance and reason – can often be read as a form of dormancy; a temporary lapse into death and nothing, casting one’s self into the void without the lifejacket of movement, either instigated or visually perceived. “I should be doing something” – the sense that stillness is combatant against the quest for endless sensory ingestion, and that the act of listening (particular listening to the world as it is, without a notable event protruding from stasis and equilibrium) does not qualify as sensory nourishment. ATTN:Magazine 04.12.2013

My interest in language, speech and communication, leads me to define Noise as the sum of all information, the sum of all humanity's interpretation; its language output; big, confident, unconditional, published and projected. News, Headlines, Publicity and Propaganda, is Noise.

Whispers are private, intimate, devastating; suggestions and rumours; unconfirmed, unconfident, confidential and conditional communication. The inner monologue is a Whisper, a word beyond our ear.

Before World War ll and for a short while after, we lived in a world of Whispers. The 'Walls Have Ears' Campaign exemplifies the need for secrecy which was felt in Britain. People got on with their jobs and only gossiped when they felt sure that no-one was listening. More recently, society has evolved into a community dominated by Noise. We are now encouraged to tell stories, initially “around the photocopier” and ultimately on a social platform or blog, to reveal our deepest thoughts publicly and speak out. Advertising sells a fake back-story for products, encouraging us to become emotionally involved. Companies are desperate for their brand to be a part of our lives, to live with us and transmit to the next generation. Even governments are not safe as we progress to the logical conclusion of this behaviour: NHS 'gagging orders' have been issued to prevent hospital horror stories emerging; official secrets are leaked. People, having been drawn into sharing their positive stories, can no longer be relied upon to keep quiet about their negative experiences or nagging conscience.

In an effort to escape the noise of newspapers, advertisements and all presumptuous audio broadcasting, many people turn to their headphones for privacy, for escape. To blot out the noise which demands that we understand it, which demands that we play a role and relate to it, some seek privacy in personal entertainment, which demands nothing, no participation. They push away Noise, consumed by a useless media, a peddler of fantasies which leeches on basic emotion, whispering sweet nothings. They are free on a cloud of self-satisfaction, without responsibility; detached from Noise on a wave of Whispers.

But then comes alienation. Then comes the Wilderness. And there lies doubt.

There lies the space in which to realise that Reality has been substituted for Fiction.

If the space allows for it 'The Opposite of Wilderness' should comprise 2 x traditional 'Tannoy' PA speakers, such as those used in railway stations, diffusing a mix of simultaneous voice announcements and broadcast media; 1 x full frequency range (hi-fi) speaker and guitar amplifier delivering a loop of channel-hopping TV station stutter; 1 x sub-bass speaker of indistinct low frequency emissions, subliminal music and language, as though originating elsewhere; 1 pair of enclosed-ear headphones, which the visitor to the installation may put on to isolate themselves from the Noise. They will then hear instead a quiet ambience and a gentle voice repeating, every few seconds, the phrase:

I should be doing something.”

The golden headphones, presented by a golden mannequin-hand mounted upon a block of wood, attach religious or ritualistic symbolism to the act of escaping from Noise. Noise: the sum of cultural signals of our creation. Escape: an attempt to hide from the by-products of capitalism in much the same way as we manage to ignore sweat-shop slavery and homelessness, because our silence is bought by cheap products and entertainment. “I should be doing something”, but what? Nobody supports an alternative to capitalism, so we roll along with it. We bury our heads in the sand. Or we put on headphones. Or we go on holiday.