Working on the Sound Footage

As mentioned above, when I first saw and listened to the footage from 1979, it was the sound that caught my attention. When I exhibited “50 Billion Micrograms” in Stavanger in 2015, I decided on including only the sound of the footage in the installation. I figured that showing too much (that is, the images as well) would decrease viewers’ ability to create their own images and reduce the room for active spectatorship. The next question was, how to present the sound. Should it just be played out in the space as background sound? Should people hear it through headphones? The solution that I found was to a great degree based on chance. In the garage, we had some old Tandberg loudspeakers. These had an oak finish, and they were square in shape. I researched the model and discovered that they  had been produced in 1978, the year before the hole in the ice in Swan Lake. (Incidentally, the Tandberg company went bankrupt that year.) I decided to play with the speakers as sculptural elements in the exhibition space. At the same time, it was important that the speakers literally came from the past, like relics from our recent history. The sound was conditioned by that technology and that time. I played the footage as it was, only removing some noise in the beginning.


In 2016, I worked more on the sound footage. I had been invited to show at a touring group exhibition. Since it was a group show, I decided to play the sound through headphones. This was also an opportunity to pay more attention to the details in the footage. When I started to work on the project in 2014, I tried to periodically brainstorm about things that might be relevant to the project. I remembered the Norwegian science fiction series Blindpassasjer (Stowawaythat was shown on NRK in 1978, the year before the event at Swan Lake.[1] I had a strong memory of the series being very scary. Today, Stowaway is a cult series, and has recently been released on DVD. In the autumn of 2014, I watched the series again. Re-watching it was important inspiration for my work with the sound footage. In the series, the spaceship Marco Polo is on its way home from the planet Rossum. While the crew are in hibernation, unexplainable things start to happen. When they wake up, the viewers already know that there is a stowaway on board the ship. I found the extended use of technology (such as video, surveillance technology, and even a hologram) to be interesting and striking. As with the Tandberg loudspeakers, Stowaway gave me an ability to get closer to the atmosphere (and ideas about technology) of the late `70s. The search for the meteorite in Swan Lake had nothing to do with a spaceship, but the series made space graspable at some level. The sensation of space travel and the look of the outdated ‘hypermodern’ technology from 1978 triggered the process I followed with the sound footage. 

Another important development was that I contacted the sound designer Nadine Zoghbi, whom I already knew, and began a conversation about the footage. It elicited this fluctuating thinking that I have described above in relation to my work with the cyanotypes. For example, I began to think about the similarities between a diver and an astronaut, such as the fact that they both have to breathe through a ventilator. I listened to sounds of astronauts breathing, a sound that is similar to the sound of divers breathing (except for the bubbles). I thought about the abyss of the lake and the abyss of space. I thought about ways to connect the space where the meteorite came from with  the lake where it supposedly landed. These were some of the ideas that I took to Nadine. Together, she and I removed some of the talking in the footage, inserting more silence. Our ambition was to give listeners time to take in the information and also to get into the ambience of the footage. We also had conversations about the fact that I had experienced this as a child; partly, that was the reason for adding sounds of space and space travel. We layered some astronaut breathing sounds on top of the diver’s breathing and reinforced the underwater ambience with more bubbles. However, we kept the conversation between the diver and the journalist almost intact. 

[1] I also spent some time watching the underwater diving scenes in Werner Herzog’s documentary “Encounters at the End of the World” (2007). Through the review process of this exposition, I have also been made aware of yet another Werner Herzog film that mixes fiction and facts, and features both underwater footage and space travel. “The Wild Blue Yonder” (2005) is a fictional story told through archival footage from a NASA Space Shuttle mission and Henry Kaiser’s diving expedition in Antarctica.