There are two particular visual ideas underpinning my Assignment 2, which is about music triggering memory:
- Sound waveforms
- Negative space / unusual framing shapes
I will take each of these in turn and look at how other practitioners have incorporated them into their work. The counterpart post on unusual shapes is here.
In this first post I will examine how sound has been incorporated into still photography. I specify still photography to exclude the most obvious combination of audio and visuals, namely video. I don’t intend to look at how sound is literally incorporated into artworks, but rather how it is included in a more unusual or innovative way.
How does one evoke sound (a ‘moving’ phenomenon that requires a passage of time long enough for the human ear and brain to interpret the input) with photography (a ‘static’ medium that is created by interventions normally lasting a tiny fraction of a second)? Moreover, how do you suggest the sensation of sound in a silent, still photograph – one you could literally hold in your hand? How do you make sound appear purely visual?
I found a number of different approaches being used.
Incorporating sound visualisations: intentional
This is pretty much the approach I’m taking for my assignment: using a visual representation of a sound (such as a waveform) and incorporating it into the photograph of a related subject.
I’ve only found one example of this so far, and it’s another OCA student, by the name of Karen. She’s done a couple of experiments that are essentially along the same lines as mine: overlaying sound waves as masks over photographs, albeit different subject matter (landscape/wildlife) and colour palette (black negative space rather than white).
Karen’s experiments seemed to closely aim to match the exact sound clip with the moment of pressing the shutter – my approach was somewhat looser, in that I chose the overall song the subject was singing but not necessarily an extract that exactly matched the exposure timing. A little artistic licence (or at least leeway) on my part…
Incorporating sound visualisations: serendipitous
Daniel Temkin has a series of projects under the umbrella name Glitchometry (2011–) where he puts digital image files through an audio editor application and adds ‘sound effects’ (delay, flange etc) to colour channels. the end results are abstract and somewhat trippy.
Though I quite like the visual effect, on digging deeper I was slightly disappointed to find that the underlying images are simple geometric shapes; I think I’d have found it more interesting if they were photographs with some kind of relevance, as without such a contextual underpinning these come across as purely formal exercises.
Fellow OCA student Stéphanie d’Hubert did a project with a vaguely similar ‘data-bending’ ethos but to very different effect. It’s similar in as much as the photographs get distorted by the introduction of external code into the digital file, but in Stéphanie’s case it’s the lyrics of the song in question rather than an actual sound wave.
The Digital Havens project (2013) is a series of portraits of people listening to music privately on headphones, with a ‘straight’ portrait presented alongside one distorted by inserting the lyrics into the text code of the image file. The effect is reasonably subtle compared to the abstraction of Temkin’s work.
Photographing the creation of sounds
Some artists have aimed to actually photograph sound occurring, in one way or another. There is a technique known as Schlieren Flow Visualisation that essentially photographs the bending of light rays that occurs with air flow movements caused by sound. However, this works far better as video than still photography, and even then holds (for me) only scientific rather than artistic interest.
More obviously photographically, Fabian Oefner produced the project Dancing Colors (2013) to answer the questions What does sound look like, and how can you make it visible? He mounted coloured crystals on speakers then using very high-speed exposures captured how they physically formed a wave shape in the air.
I get much more of a visceral sense of sound being made tangible from these photographs, and the aesthetic effect is pleasingly abstract. However, the sounds themselves are (I understand) short, primitive blasts of sound types rather than anything meaningful such as music or speech. Still, they’re probably the most beautiful images to look at in this research so far. An interesting curiosity, if a little shallow conceptually.
Imagery that resembles sound waves
I want to close this section with a couple of images that are not overtly about sound at all, and only really come into this research because I as viewer interpret something auditory from them, even if that was not the artist’s conscious intention (both are images from people I know and I have spoken to them about the works, so I have a reasonable idea what they believe their own work to be ‘about’) … but from a Barthesian point of view, if I see something different in the work, then my interpretation is as valid as theirs!
Both are of water reflections, which creates a mirrored horizontal effect that resembles how sound waves form. In the first the blue tones added to the effect in my mind, as I associate ‘blues’ with a genre of music. In the second example, the title and the image combine to give me a sense that the scene is of sound tailing off to blissful silence. The negative space to the right enhance this effect.
I reckon that without realising, one or both photographers had some subliminal inkling that the scene had some auditory element to it.
Daniel Temkin danieltemkin.com/Glitchometry (accessed 29/01/2018)
Stéphanie d’Hubert https://stephaniedhlearninglog2.files.wordpress.com/2013/12/1-assignment_a5_dpp_dhubert_510429.pdf (accessed 06/12/2017)
Schlieren Flow Visualisation npr.org/…563606/what-does-sound-look-like (accessed 29/01/2018)
Fabian Oefner http://fabianoefner.com/projects/dancing-colors/ (accessed 29/01/2018)