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Carving Water Painting Voice

a sound installation

Year:  2017   ·  Duration:  22m
Instrumentation:  electroacoustic - c. 50 voices (speech and song)

Year:  2017
Duration:  22m
Instrumentation  electroacoustic - c. 50 voi...

Composer:   Helen Bowater


Several viewpoints of human migration are represented by this installation by Kazu Nakagawa - sculptor of waka ama, Andrew Caldwell - related topologies and Riemke Ensing's poetry concerning migration. The sound sculpture presents the voices of migrants emanating from the waka ama, a poetic metaphor for the journeys of humans.

The sonic component communicates an interpretation of the emotional fabric behind human migration - a flow and interplay of the voices of people recounting their personal experience of migration - stories, everyday experiences, poems, chanting and songs relating to their individual journeys, communicated by people from many different cultures in their native languages. A sense of hope, adventure, excitement and, most poignantly, homesickness are communicated. The emotion projected by certain voices cuts across cultural boundaries at an elemental level.

During the process of composing this electroacoustic piece from recordings of numerous individual vocalisations, I found that its polyphonic nature was conducive to a wide variety of rich vocal textures and timbres - moving between the emotionally charged, declamatory or contemplative solitary voice and more wavelike sound formations emerging from a vocal sea, linked by telling and playful juxtapositions.

The recordings range from narrative statements of experiences to outpourings of song from professional musicians. For instance, the singing of Budi Putra, a professional musician who migrated to New Zealand from Java in the 1990s, triggers both main sections of the piece. Budi’s first song considers flying around the earth throughout the sky and off the mountains while the second, concerning homesickness, is a profoundly moving vocal utterance. Khananla Danlil, a professional musician in his home country of Iraq also sings of the pain and sadness associated with leaving his homeland to live abroad. Songs and chant from Iraq, Algeria, India, China, Japan, France, Indonesia, West Papua, South Korea, Samoa and Aotearoa are woven into the many strands of this vocal sound fabric.

From a technical point of view - the bow and stern of the waka amplify two sound sources. The songs and speech which are broadcast from one end of the boat are countered by only the speech of migrants from the other. A serendipitous coincidence of these two perpetually playing sound sources underlines and literally ensures the vitality of this sound world.

Sound material for the piece was created from field recordings I made within Aotearoa and studio recordings made by Ku Nakagawa in South Korea plus individual recordings contributed by Kazu Nakagawa, Markus Rumbino and Katie Wilson. Combining field with studio recordings brings a certain rawness, freshness and immediacy to the listening experience.

Commissioned note

Commissioned by Sculpture on the Gulf, 2017 and The Auckland Maritime Museum, 2018

Contents note

continuous playing of two sound sources, one of songs and speech (c. 22') and the other of speech of migrants in their native languages