A Double Visitation

Stereoscopy, Synesthesia, and the Sound-Image

(or How I Learned to Hear Color)

Heather Marcelle Crickenberger

UWRT1104 Final Portfolio UNC-Charlotte Fall 2018Completed by instructor in paratial fulfillment of the UWP 2018 Course Redesign Award

COVER IMAGE: Heady with Backlighting by H. M. Crickenberger


“Once upon a time the forest went on for ever. It is almost impossible to imagine now how continuous that forest was.”

-Sara Maitland, A Book of Silence

Much of this project has been connected with the exploration of one sense through another--a kind of synesthesia by way of the artistic process. Artists and musicians, architects, and writers have synesthetized their subjects for millennia, so it is no great surprise that finding numerous examples of this kind of artistic endeavor was not difficult. As I initially started looking into sound as a medium and subject of study, I found artists who explored sound with visual media. I found sculptures that bent wind into shrill shrieks of music--watched the computer savvy explore the colors that music is known to make. I saw people combine earth arts with projection to help humans connect with plants through sound. I listened to hours of immersive soundscapes, searching out anything that would blot out the shrill cacophony of a suburban neighborhood full of aging trees meeting their end in the autumn rush to prune....

There were days this semester when I worked in my studio to the sound of chainsaws that went on literally all day long. As soon as they finished, my obsessive neighbor began her daily hour-long dust-blowing fest. Then when she finally hung it up, the first-time home owners across the street manicured their driveways with weed-wackers while the hobbyist in the house behind us began building a shed -- by hand -- using only nails and a hammer: tap tap tap...tap tap tap. As someone who mostly reads throughout the day with very little television to distract me, I find the suburban soundscape to be at times overly stimulating and impossible to tune out. Unfortunately, because I do a lot of my work from home, I had no choice but to figure out a solution, so I decided to make the search part of my inquiry project. I experimented with headphones, using the Beastie Boys, Charlie Parker, Miles Davis' later work, metal, Native American Flutes, Celtic Harps, Mandolins, waterfalls, creeks, crackling fireplaces and combinations of many of these along with noise cancellation technology. Because the headphones would get tiresome to wear after a while, I began externalizing the 'noise cancellation' concept, strategically placing speakers with different types of noise piped in from various electronic devices around the house. Next to my computer, I usually have a youtube fireplace going--crackling fire--perhaps more of an influence on the later parts of this project than I even realized. I'll usually have water somewhere too--I like creeks the best and even more so, I like creeks with bird noises. My conure Ziggy also seems more at ease when he hears the sound of birds singing--even if they are just recorderd. I've placed various configurations of Bose speakers Oontz, an iPad, two laptops, and a pair of noise cancellation headphones strategically throughout my studio and the rest of the house in hopes of blotting out the endless barrage of gas-powered leaf blowers and commercial grade mowers that are used to maintain this little 1960's neighborhood full of split levels with yards of less than a third of an acre each.

After three months of contemplating the sonic situation wherein I dwell, I have come to a few conclusions. First off, studying sound will make you hypersensitive. Normal people will think you're crazy if you talk about it, and you will find that it might possibly drive you crazy if you don't have some sort of outlet (artistic or otherwise) to help you escape sounds that you are powerless to control. Another thing I noticed was how I became hyper-tuned to background noise. It was the background that radiated the loudest--darkening my mood, angering me about the damages of the Campfire fire in California that was going on--the global conference on Climate Change that was the first since the US withdrew from the Paris Agreement. All around me it seemed the natural world was being eroded by floods, fire, construction, pollution, drought and deforestation. Granted, there is still supposed to be some time before it all comes crashing down--climate changes happen slowly, compared to weather changes--but when you hear the shrill panic in the voices of scientists--when you see your own childhood stomping grounds overrun with development--when you notice trends in the housing market, like smaller and smaller yards and humans living closer and closer together, it begs the question at a point: what about those of us who aren't human? Add to these thoughts the 95 decibel sound of garden tools on the other side of your window and you will find yourself feeling pretty hopeless about the impending fate of animals and the environment.

At one point, during this investigation, I did leave Charlotte. My husband and I spent some time in the Scottish Highlands where we traveled to the remote and vastly empty Isle of Skye, where Sara Maitland's A Book of Silence had taken her in her quest for peace and quiet. (I have a brief film of the journey in Project 3.) It was a refreshing break to hear wind and waves and real waterfalls and to stand out in the rainy Scottish grayness and feel really part of the landscape--in a way I never feel in a city. We finished off our trip in London for a couple of days where I was able to see the Tate Modern (where I saw the Tower of Babel exhibit by Cildo Meireles, 2001) as well as the Tate Britain where I finally made it to the William Blake Room (there is a long story connected with this journey for another time). London is the largest city I've ever visited and the sound of it is deafening. It was amazing to literally lose my sense of self in all the noise and commotion going on around me in the streets. Charlotte seemed so peaceful and quiet by comparison when we returned....then the sun rose and the first of the fleet of lawn maintenance workers arrived, eight AM, beautiful, 65-degree morning, perfect sun, birds singing...had to go inside or my head would have blown off by the noise of it all.

It was frustrating to say the least, most of all when I was reading or trying to write something. Writing is one of those things--it requires a very delicate mindset. I hesitate to write about it here and jinx it all. Anyway, after a few weeks back home, I was pretty much right where i had been in September: surrounded on all sides by nature-taming machines.

In the whirl of maintenance rituals I would sometimes find myself researching environmental issues. At other times, I would google ways of blocking out noise--or how to annoy perfectionist neighbors---sometimes I found myself on Amazon shopping for my own leaf blower, which I did indeed buy for only $25.00 (one of my "objects" i used to explore the "spaces" of Project 4). That's 180-mph wind at my fingertips for only $25. My logic was, if I had to listen to it, at least I could clean the sh*t out of something too. When the leaf blower arrived, I let several days go without opening it. I didn't want to contribute to the noise pollution. I didn't want to be such a hater of things like dirt when I was outside. At one point, I considered leaving it sealed completely and making the unopened silent leaf blower a kind of 'found art' that I could store in our utility closet. I thought about doing a sculpture with it--or replacing the fan with something else--lasers...speakers that played the sounds of birds tweeting--or perhaps some sort of perfume diffuser that smelled like all the things you can't smell when you're breathing dust kicked up by a leaf blower.

Anyway, to get to the point of it, since my medial epicondylitis that I got from my second day of using the leaf blower to blow the leaves that had fallen from our Japanese maple into a perfect little pile surrounding the tree's trunk (it is just so damned addictive) is making even typing on a keyboard uncomfortable right now and I can already tell I've written too many words: my point is that I had to start asking myself what exactly this project was about. Sure, it started with sound. I have a multi-track portable recorder I wanted to use to make soundscape recordings but that plan went out the window once I started listening to the noise that was getting picked up. I thought I would end up doing a digital sound recording thing--some sort of audio-experience, like a sonically-virtual reality-based 3D art installation--a beautiful autumn morning or the sound of a waterfall. What happened instead was I began questioning my own and my species' own relationship to the environment and its inhabitants.

I started thinking more about how humans inhabit the space of the earth and how other species like trees and animals are regarded in terms of our laws and cultural practices and general 'human values'. Plants are cut down in full blossom and fed into the wood-chipper, to make more room for life-starving grass. [the lawn guys (ours) just arrived and I measured the lawn mower at 76.2 decibles through the brick wall--anything over 60 is illegal. Sadly, this is our own contribution to the madness, too lazy to rake the leaves ourselves....

The fact is, we live in an enormously human-centered world. Animals are raised, eaten or destroyed, starved, scared off, exterminated, hunted or enslaved--all without much reservation from our society as a whole. Yes, there are those of us who do our best--many much better than me--but just being a human in this world and flushing a toilet or washing your clothes is in one way or another adding to the problem. I bring up the animals because that is where my investigation into sound led me for this project. The first thing I encountered when I began Project 1 and started doing research were articles that talked about the environmental effects of human noise and the manner in which the noise humans produce endanger and harm, all animals, including humans as well. There were multiple medical articles that referred to the way that loud noise can raise anxiety levels, blood pressure, and contribute to real physical health problems for humans as well as animals. The more research I did, the more I tried to understand the connections between sounds and life forms. I was reminded of the whales of Star Trek IV which made me consider how the media of air and water differ in terms of their delivery of sound. Whatever I found troublesome above the surface would certainly be worse below--again, we have backgrounds and foregrounds, surfaces and reflections coming up time and time again. What happens as these surfaces and depths play off of one another?

In an attempt to answer some of the many questions I've been contemplating in this quest to understand sound, I found myself returning to one of the paintings that resulted from some of these questions about how humans should relate to other life forms and their world. Now titled Crackling Woman With Hare, it was initially just called Woman With Hare. As part of the Final Project, entitled Stewardship, this painting is combined with its partner piece Deer Looking In Window.

This second painting, Deer Looking In Window is based on the surprising moment I had before leaving for class one afternoon. The day was particularly quiet. It was that perfect temperature at which no one's heat pump turns on. There were no emergencies, no ambulances, no construction sounds--and absolutely no lawn maintenance. I was sitting happily at my desk when suddenly, my conure Ziggy was startled from his perch. I looked out the window to see a beautiful six-point buck with velvety antlers staring right at me. He stayed there for a while as I watched--maybe ten minutes? All the while, he looked so peaceful, stately, protective. There was the dignity that I had painted in the hare in my first painting but it was a dignity combined with stature and with defenses other than swiftness.

After a while the deer moved on to the next yard, I suppose. In ten years in this neighborhood, I have seen deer a hand full of times. It is sad to see them in such a high-trafficked area and I wish that they would finish the greenway so these animals would have safe passage to other more distant parts of the state. As I thought about the visitation and the remaining assignments I had left to do, I decided to change the focus of my project from the human subject to another species. Those two paintings together with the three animals (and several small monsters hiding at in the corners) comprise my Final Project which takes me back here to look again at my portfolio with fresh eyes.

There are stories here--stories left out, stories saved for later, and stories told in code so they could be told with honesty--their subjects span that of death and loss and a kind of mourning, but there is also poetry and art and beauty underneath--and the amazing power of nature to regenerate and to conquer in slow time. This work here is a prayer for nature to do exactly that, in spite of all human efforts to seemingly do otherwise.

Final Portfolio Assignment: Formatting Specifications & Content Requirements___ The portfolio is due on Wednesday, December 5, 2018 at 11:59PM. ___ No portfolios should be submitted after the deadline and no material should be added to the portfolio after the deadline has passed. The deadline for the portfolio, unlike our soft deadlines this semester, is a "hard deadline" meaning you will receive a zero on your portfolio if you miss the deadline. ___ Your portfolio should be submitted in Google Site Format___ Your portfolio must take the form of a Google Site. You will submit the link to your final portfolio through the Assignment portal (not the Discussion portal) and this link should take me to a title page.___ The title page should include a title that accurately reflects your experience creating the portfolio___ The title page should have links to the following: Final Project: Title (20 pts)Project 1: Title (10 pts)Project 2: Title (10 pts)Project 3: Title (10 pts)Project 4: Title (10 pts)Project 5: Title (10 pts)___ The title page should include an introduction to your portfolio. Your introduction should be written after you have finished everything else in the portfolio. (It is impossible to properly introduce something until you know what it is, after all.) This section should do the following (in any order using whatever media or combination of media you prefer):
Final Portfolio Introduction (Different from Final Project Introduction)1-___ Set the tone of your portfolio2-___ Introduce yourself and your project3-___ Identify and engage your audience4-___ Provide any necessary background information that will help readers understand why your portfolio is the way it is5-___ Define any vocabulary/terms/concepts that your readers will need to get the most out of your project6-___ Tell the story of your portfolio's creation (how you got to where you are now)7-___ Describe your writing process8-___ Reflect on your inquiry project as a completed work9-___ Emphasize the best parts of your portfolio and where you learned the most, did the most work, and focused your intellectual efforts
___ Fonts should be legible when used (consider backgrounds as part of this legibility) ___ No part of your portfolio should require subscription to a service of any kind to access___ No part of your portfolio should require download of any app to access (use Google products for slides, documents, videos, etc.)___ No part of your portfolio should infringe on any laws___ No part of your portfolio should commit plagiarism (Be sure to document and credit all outside sources by linking or providing a Works Cited Page or bibliography)___ No part of your portfolio should directly reference the names or identities of anyone in our class, including me, unless they provide you with written permission___ No part of your portfolio or its creation should endanger or cause harm to yourself or others___ All parts of your portfolio should be visible to the UNCC community