Sonic Erosion and Radio Bodies
In addition to the fragmentation and redistribution of grains of sound via digital signal processing, the coming together and breaking apart of sound also operates in a highlighted fashion through microFM transmission and the affordances of portable radios. The field recordings that have been composed and processed through granular synthesis are transmitted to multiple radio receivers on the move, distributing the sound over a continually shifting acoustic territory. The signal is sporadically overpowered by white noise, creating an audible sense of erosion. This plays on the social and cultural significance of both radio and the ocean for islanders, whose local radio station CFIM 92.7 has as its tagline “le son de la mer” – “the sound of the sea.” It also connects to ideas on radio from artists and theorists such as Anna Friz (2011) and Ellen Waterman (2007), who emphasize the embodied, collaborative, and material processes that are involved in radio art practice. Friz describes “bodies resonating in wireless space, acting in temporary ensemble with other kinds of bodies human and non-human” (Friz 2011: 73).
Compositional Routes follows up on this notion by creating a piece that transmits the sounds of a body of water (the Gulf of the St. Laurence) through the airwaves while also creating a sonic space that examines notions of collective responsibility through the moving bodies of soundwalk participants carrying portable radios.
Two store-bought transmitters (intended to connect mp3 players to car radio systems) are used to send two channels of sound to the eight radios carried by participants – four radios are tuned to each channel. The limited power of the transmitters creates a sort of amorphous zone of reception, recalling – at a vastly different timescale – the constantly shifting contours of the islands through processes of erosion and redistribution of sand. As participants, acting as roaming sound sources, move through the forest, they continuously modulate the sonic space in relation to each other and in relation to their proximity to the microFM transmitters; at the edge of the invisible zone of reception the signal becomes too weak and dissipates into white noise. The hyper-local phenomenon of microFM opens up onto a broader vista in the soup of noise, which potentially has more in common with the ocean than the sounds of water that were recorded and sent over the airwaves. The way participants’ movements contribute to the work, navigating through the continually moving zone of reception, connects with Heather Contant’s discussion of the significance of mobility for the radio practice of Tetsuo Kogawa, where different forms of mobility bring new attention to the airwaves through what Constant refers to as “kinetic interactions with the material conditions of radio” (Contant 2018: n.p.). In Compositional Routes, participants’ mobility creates a collective space for radio sound and radio signal. Like the mobility of eroded grains of sand that is involved simultaneously in the breaking apart of the islands’ sandstone cliffs and in joining the islands together through the formation of continuously changing dunes and beaches, the mobility of participants plays particularly on the blurriness and changeability of boundaries invoked by “eroding together.”