From the back of a dimly lit Berlin bar, a white hat weaves its way to the front of the crowd—its wearer, Sydney sound artist and sculptor Laura Hunt, seems unperturbed by the dissonant sounds and screams emanating from the floodlit stage.
She watches the performers with interest, somehow avoiding the grown men playfully hurling one another around in the front row: ears dutifully plugged, eyes set forward, entirely absorbed in the crashing, fantastic spectacle of chaos in front of her. As the raucous scene unfolds, Laura looks as if she is navigating a gallery space—watching on with a quiet kind of contemplation. It makes sense that her practice is concerned with the the way that sound shapes us, in both self and space. Her work deliberately toes the line between high art and music, utilizing the self-help YouTube videos so often decreed as crass, and liberating them conceptually through her art. “If an audience has the power to say that something is an artwork does it also give them the power to say that something isn’t?” she says, later pondering, “Is it always art if someone says it is?”
Her research into the art of noise; and the speculative, biological and historical ways in which sound has been proven to shape us, inform her practice as much as the self-help programs of internet hypnotists like Lollypop Rob. We caught up to discuss how music was more than sound, and the way in which the architecture of space impacts the way people experience her creative output.
Midori Takada – Mr Henri Rousseau’s Dream (0–2:27)
Nina Buchannan (2:18–8:50)
Dej Loaf – You Me and Hennesy Instrumental Remix (8:37–9:50)
Orion – Red Lights (9:51–12:43)
Various Asses – Hood Team (12:40–15:32)
Midori Takada – Trompe-L’oeil (15:28–16:40)
Enderie Nuatal – Ataque do Poder (16:10–22:05)
Jannah Quill – Accident Techno (21:24–26:30)
Catherine Christer Hennix – The Deontic Miracle, Central Palace Music (25:55–29:06)
Rihanna – Sex With Me (28:58–31:27)
Horse MacGuyver – ®†¥¨ˆ¨¥†® (31:20–36:45)
“Sound molds us from early childhood; language exposure shapes how our voice box is developed.”
You studied sculpture at University, and are currently completing your Masters in Sound: I’m interested as to how these two disciplines connect to one another. Do you shape sound in the way that you create sculptural works?
In the beginning years of art school some friends and I started a mid tempo punk band named Ghastly Spats. Playing in bands and being connected to the Sydney music scene has really shaped my practice—mainly because performing and going to shows most weekends made me needy for the type of energy that comes with live music. So I think that sound has shaped my sculptures, not the other way around.
I majored in photography but adopted sculpture as an informal major. I’ve found it very hard to stay in my lane! There was a lot of freedom and fluidity where I did my undergrad, and I felt so connected to my lecturers that it never occurred to me to transfer studios. I still make a lot of mixed media and image-based work, and recently have returned to video for my live performances.
The main link with my art practice and use of sound is in control, perhaps because I’m not formally trained I’ve always let the instruments speak to me, my early water-based sculptures were inspired by collaboration with controlled chance. My early sculptures would become percussive instruments through amplification and modulation of the dripping. There is also the potential for sonic fictions in music working with its own rules and possibilities. I like to play with those ideas in my work by making sculptures that have a life and then fade.
You mentioned that you’re interested in the way that music and sound have the power to mold us, could you tell me a bit more about that? Is this something you are attempting to do in your work?
Sound has an incredible power to drive us into a certain states, and when that is paired with technology I think there are really interesting possibilities for our future— and I find it super inspiring. Sound molds us from early childhood; language exposure shapes how our voice box is developed. I draw a lot of influence on DIY hypnosis, binaural and ASMR video sharing and how these rituals have been filtered through technology and politics.
For a long time before I started my project I was hypnotizing myself on YouTube to get over extreme heartache. Every night I’d stream Lollypop Rob, (such a gross name but really good at YouTube hypnosis!) he worked on a shitty webcam recordings out of his bedroom to hypnotize people.
I found a lot of solace in the fact that all these people were hypnotizing themselves for the same reason, potentially at the same time. There’s something really inspiring about the potential of widespread collective change on a platform like YouTube. I wish it was possible that lasting mobility and collective change could occur through the platform of the internet.
How would you describe your sound, and what (if any) particular scene or movement does it come from or is it aligned with?
It’s always so hard to describe your own music! The music I make borders a few electronic genres and I guess it’s always evolving from noise/dance to ambient. I have roots in mid tempo punk, and sludge, but I’ve always been influenced by the politics and sound of the early industrial scene. I think my experience in DIY communities has inevitably carried on into my ethos for how I produce art and music with the kind of laissez-faire attitude of trying things out.
You’re a sound artist: but you play the same sets in clubs and festivals as you do in gallery spaces. How does that work?
Space is so inherent to the way people act at shows, architecture comes with a rule-book. When alcohol is involved these rules are relaxed a little bit, but I find it interesting that the same sets could be played at different venues but the energy and regulations of the space dictate how it’s heard and also how I play because you definitely get so much from an audience. The sets I play are very fluid, there’s a lot of room to change because it crosses genres and can be adapted to the setting. Generally though, it’s the same formula regardless of the venue from gallery to club.
“I produce art and music with the kind of laissez-faire attitude of trying things out.”
You talk about the notion of being sold an image of a better self, how does your music try and engage with this idea? Are you trying to reach a level of spirituality through your music, or are you trying to highlight the way in which we are part of a consumerist culture?
I am engaging with contemporary notions of spirituality, my practice can be placed in a techno-mystic context; it sits between historical fact, and speculation. The facts lie in the un-debatable notion that technology is reshaping us biologically and psychologically and I think where we sit now is at a crossroads to a complete reshuffle in what we know to be possible, on the one hand we have gigantic technological shifts and on the other a government entwined within pan-capitalist ideologies and media that is tightening control. I’m interested in the infected neoliberal space where contemporary sonic rituals accompany en masse sonic reshaping partaken by people in online platforms. The sound pieces I compose use subliminal and hypnotic self-help audio; get rich, be better with women and increase productivity—ideas behind this audio are reminiscent of a post human desire—placed within a techno-mystical union to create sonic fictions in an electronic and ambient setting.
Does the audience determine whether or not the work is ‘art’? Obviously there is a performative aspect: is this intertwined with the sound to create the art?
Sometimes music that is assumed the art title by an audience seems to place it in the genius realm, but if it’s sound art—framed that way by theorists or artists then it’s a softer label. I don’t actually want people to have to determine whether my music is art. I really love music that is just music, I just find it hard not to overthink things and place it in a realm where it has more possibility but that’s not a prescription.
I once had a lecturer say to me that art should not be able to be understood by the general public. I vehemently disagree with this and it’s the very type of exclusivity that repels me from a lot of the art world. In terms of the performative aspect, well, that is present in both an art and musical context, to be honest I’ve never felt entirely comfortable at gallery openings; I’m being kind of tactical and moving my practice to where I feel most comfortable.
Thank you Laura, for the music and for letting us pick your brain on bending time and space. We’re very glad for serendipitous meetings at strange Berlin punk gigs.