Aural Transposition, Psychogeography and the Ephemeral World

Katt Hernandez

The first literal transposition of space onto space I saw was made by another Boston arts collective: The Living Room Concert Initiative. As more and more cultural spaces fell to the axe of gentrification, this group would come to however small of an apartment you lived in and fill every corner of it with performances, visual art, music, dance, films or installations. One such event featured a tiny, cramped kitchen, whose drawers, cabinets and cupboards had been left a little ajar, and filled with fistfuls of cheap, tiny speakers, all plugged in to a single mini-disc player with tiny cables. These were playing back field recordings of the entrance hall at the Library of Congress - a vast marble room with a long echo. The kitchen was entirely disorienting, and the cramped little space was transformed into a grandiose arcade by that primitive transposition. But it was only some years after I arrived in Stockholm, which is unusually full of facilities built for multi-channel music, that I remembered that evening, and wanted to elaborate on the simple technique that was used. 3 With speakers there is the possibility to build architectures and landscapes literally out of thin air. You don't need to be a real estate developer. You don't have to be an urban planner, flanked by viciously successful architects.

Transposing one place onto another place using something like a surround apparatus or an array of speakers in a sound installation utilizes sonic representations of space built from the symbols of representational space, imprinted with field recordings and other recognizable cues. In a concert setting, it can effect impossible traversals, science fiction-like, through space and time. Those who work with spatialization share qualities with the very field many psychogeographers seek to circumvent: architecture. And spatialized sound is a convincing way to build an ephemeral place; one which is and is not present, compelling a listener to experience the sonic works as places. Sound installations and music for surround arrays alike can transpose place onto place.

In The Production of Space, Henri Lefebvre outlined the production of space in a constantly interacting triad of processes:

spatial practice– space as defined by societal norms and structures: daily routine, urban reality

representations of space– space as designed: maps, models, plans

representational space– space as imagined by its users: ideas, imagination, visions [4]

Lefebvre's railing rants, intricately intertwined with the philosophical treatises about the production of space that the book advances, against the self-same forces which have removed so many creative spaces, kind places and community gathering points from cities I loved, drew me to his work recently. But artists, artistic researchers and psychogeographers alike have a particular, if sometimes contestable, ability to wiggle into each of these three suits, by means of the ephemeral, the mercurial and the subtle. And it is the aim of much of my work to show that really, most anyone else can, too – through the memory traces and signposts I do not intend, but often find I have unknowingly placed, into my work for others to find; through the egalitarianism of the improvised music movements I came of age in; through city traversals that any and all may embark upon.

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From 1998 to 2000, I was part of a collective of dancers, musicians and film-makers called the Outside Art Collective in Boston. There is currently no reference material or documentation of this ensemble's activities available anywhere online or in my own archives. [1] The group rehearsed and developed material outside, in various points across Boston, transposing a park, a river, a construction site, a playground and other places onto the former Mobius venue’s stage. [2] It was the only such actual, wholly transpositional work I had seen or participated in then, as a 24 year old freshly arrived on the east coast. Our activities culminated with a performance at the Mobius artspace. For the music, we filled a municipal trash can with water, like those we'd seen full of rain in the park, and set microphones around it, playing both the water and the trash can with bows, cymbals, bowls and other objects, together with our instruments. Allisa Cardone, who was one of the founders of the group, had spent time working with Min Tanaka at the Body-Weather Farm in Japan. She took on the material of the dragonflies we had seen, transposing that aspect of the river in the Jamaica Plain neighborhood onto her body in the manner of the "shape-shifting" that is a part of that practice.[3]



Transposition of space onto space in my practice is a meditation on the loss of a myriad of beloved places to gentrification and other ills of hyper-capitalistic developments in every city where I have ever lived. The psychogeographical wandering I have done for much of my life, often with violin in hand, is a search for a door in the wall, some remaining trace of community, creativity or magic, some potential to see the city where I live open to those possibilities again in some new way, in some new space.

A Background to my Work with Transposition

In my own set of practices, transposition is a psychogeographical pilgrimage after sites, places and cities through sound; a search for the space between the ephemerality of the acoustic, meeting the bone-dwelling sense of place. It is one of the most essential actions of my daily life to wander the city. At times I bring my violin, which becomes a mercurial recorder whose traces are hidden in my hands. This was a secret practice for me for many years, which I began in Boston in the late 1990s. I took my violin and played it in all manner of places, finding I was more driven to find new materials if I was always on edge, wondering if I would be asked to stop or leave, in places where I didn't belong or was not allowed. I played with the ventilation systems in the basement of MIT; I played with squirrels and sailboats along the Charles River; I played with the silver boxes mounted by traffic lights that give off a pleasant hum; I played with the crowds and mechanisms of the subway; I played under bridges, on rooftops, with errant open doors, and in classrooms through the city's 90 colleges and universities. I only shared this practice with a small number of my closest friends and confidants, and then only sparingly. I learned about psychogeography later in life, from a friend who was trying to teach me Swedish by joining me on those walks, starting with words like flanör, when I arrived in Stockholm. It was an epiphany for me, giving back articulation, fellows and focus to these life-long, solitary practices.




Sometimes I have been asked if this is a kind of "busking". It is very important to note that this transposition practice, as I practice it, is not at all this. Busking is a live performance, for people traversing the street, park, square or transit station where it occurs. It may even be a live performance for oneself, done where the street can listen to you – literally or conceptually. In many cases, it is also a trade – an ancient trade – practiced by every sort of musician from beginners to virtuosos. Most often, the busker is playing music to enhance the traversing public's day enough to earn some nominal amount of money in the cup, case or hat they set out. Even when it is not conducted as a money-earning activity, busking is still a performance for an audience, even though it is a moving, transitory audience - even if the ultimate audience is the busker him- or- herself. I have certainly done busking myself! But transposing real world sounds with my violin has been a private act of individual psychogeography in all the years I have done it, not at all performed for a live audience of any kind. I seek out places where the fact that I am playing is not obvious, searching for places without too many – or any – by-standers. I also do it in practice studios with field recordings, traversing in memory through these after-the-fact imprints. Because, contrary to busking, my practice of violin transposition is reflective, not performative. It is not concerned with performing, but with listening and reception.

The Angel of the Waters, Boston. Photo: Katt Hernandez, 2013.

Boston. Photo: Katt Hernandez, 2009.

Big Dig construction site. Photo: Aaron Reinhold, 2000 CC BY-CA.

Ward Pond, one of the sites the Outside Art Collective worked at in Boston. Photo: "Markin Boston", Year Unknown, Public Domain.

Flier from a performance with butoh performer Zack Fuller around the same time. Fuller’s work is a strong influence on my own transposition practices. Flier and Photo: Katt Hernandez, 2000.

Flier for from Secret Hippies collective tour of site-specific performance. Photo Katt Hernandez, of a silk screen Print made by members of the Dirt Palace Collective, 2004.

Jerry Smith, Boston area busker who played Irish folk music in the subway system, on the streets and in the Boston Common. Photo: Katt Hernandez, of a Photograph on display at the Zeitgeist Gallery in Cambridge, 2003.

Diorama made from objects found around Boston by myself and others from the Zeitgeist Gallery. Photo: Katt Hernandez, 2003.