Sounding the Everglades
Sound Artist Gustavo Matamoros and an Unusual AIRIE Residency
“For the phenomenon of music is nothing other than a phenomenon of speculation. The elements at which this speculation necessarily aims are those of sound and time. Music is inconceivable apart from these two elements.” Igor Stravinsky
This quote by the great Russian composer speaks to the primary aspects of an art that uses sound as its base material. While many of us may have trouble coming to an easy accord about the purpose of music, this insight remains legitimate: whatever else music has ever meant, it is essentially the organization of sound and time—and by extension the communication of how the organizer perceives and “hears” these aspects of their world—that defines a common ground for musical creation.
This understanding must also apply to art that does not accept the familiar tropes of traditional musical form and function but is also “a phenomenon of speculation” aimed at the elements of sound and time. The controversial genre of Sound Art—controversial because of how it strives to define an autonomous status as a genre while often straddling between various lineages of experimental music practice and the visual art world—is also a communication of how its practitioners hear their reality. Sound art, however, is much less about the classic interpretive characteristics of musical communication and more about the direct experience and communication of our auditory perception and the use of technology to mediate that perception.
Gustavo Matamoros is one of America’s most important sound artists in addition to being one of the most dedicated advocates for this artistic genre alive today. This is most evident by his untiring commitment to the region of southern Florida as an artist, producer, and community organizer of Miami’s Subtropics Festival for over 25 years. His work has been presented throughout the United States and internationally. It is amongst the most innovative work using sound as its medium being created anywhere. Recently he had the opportunity of a one-month AIRIE residency in the Everglades National Park where he could apply his unique perspective as a sound artist towards the exploration and documentation of that unique auditory world.
There are several issues that characterize Gustavo’s explorations with sound. Taking inspiration from John Cage’s admonition to make art that “imitates nature in its manner of operation,” he is especially interested in how active sound making can articulate the physical and historical context of space, whether man-made or natural. He is always concerned to make projects that heighten our understanding of the unique window that an aural perception of the world provides. In his view, noise is merely sound that has yet to be made fully apprehensible. All sounds are audible evidence of phenomenal reality, and every sound communicates both the unique gestalt of its generative source and contextual environment. The “art” resides in the strategic design that can reveal these properties. Ultimately such revelations can deepen not only our sense of connection to the world but also our aesthetic awe at its beauty.
The AIRIE residency has provided Gustavo with what has been the most extended period of time in his career to simply listen to and record the sounds of the natural world. Such a listening opportunity is much more than mere recreation or an exercise in applying and solving technical issues. To place a sensitive microphone into the quietude or cacophony of nature, and amplify its details, changes the way we listen to everything and is as important for a sound artist as learning the established canon of musical precedence is for a composer. At this historical moment, it is also critical for our species. Bearing witness to the disappearing voices of the non-human world, and making them audible to others, is an act of defiance against those forces that claim no value to that world other than an exploitation that fattens the “multi-headed beasts”—as defined by Buckminster Fuller—that too often guide corporate agendas and vested power structures.
So, how will Gustavo make further use of the sounds that he experienced and collected? For him this was just the beginning of an ongoing process that will lead him to spend further time in the Everglades National Park. The CD that accompanies this magazine, and an installation version of the same material for the Listening Gallery on Lincoln Road, are the most concrete projects to date. There are also many ideas for future projects. These include a proposal for Soundscape Park and a CD of sounds representing the Everglades from a natural history perspective. It will probably be something made available as a semi-commercial product capable of contributing another, and otherwise impossible, level of experience to park visitors. Such projects exemplify the movement of the arts towards increasing our social and environmental awareness.