“And then nothing turned itself inside-out”. This is the title of Rae Begley’s upcoming exhibition exposing the impact of ‘human interference’ in the Khumbu region of Nepal that is “unleashing the fury of the mountain gods”. Begley travelled to the Ngozumpa Glacier and Gokyo Lake in 2016 to document the decline of these magnificent and sacred terrains. What she came back with was moving and darkly poignant. The images she captured of the melting glaciers and surrounding areas take us to dark parallel worlds imagined by Lynch, they make us think of Miyazaki’s socially and ethically charged representations of humans versus nature… it’s almost fabled. Except that it’s not. It’s very real, and Begley wants to move people to consider what we are doing to our planet. An easy feat this is not. So to create an immersive experience Begley collaborated with Erik Omen’s Greg Mullins and Jeremy Hansen to create a sound piece that would accompany her photographic and film installations. We spoke to Begley and Erik Omen on their collaboration and why sound is so integral to the bigger picture. Preview the soundscape below.
Rae, first tell us… why sound?
RB: “I really wanted the show to be an immersive experience and I loved the idea of evoking all the senses so sound was an important element to include. We live in a very visual world now with a steady stream of imagery on our phones and computers every day so I have found a new appreciation for the purity of sound. I love radio and playing records as well as listening to music through earphones as all of these things shift our focus to just listening.
The experience of sound in the Himalayas is very different than city life, there is so much silence that you really notice the nuances of sounds. For example, yak bells became rhythmic and soundtrack like when walking each day in the mountains. I wanted to communicate the sacred mountain culture of the local people and sound felt appropriate alongside the photography works to achieve this.”
Rae, what made you approach Erik Omen?
RB: “I love the music of Erik Omen and how they play with ambient sounds and a DIY aesthetic. Greg from the band was part of the process from the beginning in December of last year when I first started editing the works; I had a vision from this time to collaborate with Erik Omen to make an ambient sound piece for the show. It evolved rather effortlessly to collaborate with Greg and Jeremy to create the work as their was trust on both sides throughout the process.”
Erik Omen, did you say yes right away?
EO: “Sure did. We loved the idea of interpreting Rae’s work through sound.”
Rae, what was your initial brief? You’ve mentioned before you were influenced by Yo La Tengo…
RB: “My initial brief to Erik Omen was to make an ambient work that evoked tragedy and beauty. The show is about the affects of climate change in sacred mountain landscapes through glacial melt so the sound needed to have a darkness to it as well. I wanted the sound piece to feel spiritual, like a meditative soundtrack and fill the COMMUNE space but also to be quite sparse at the same time. I briefed Greg and Jeremy with examples of sound that resonated with me and included links to sound enlightenment videos and music including the ambient work of Brian Eno, Alice Coltrane, Floating Points (in particular the Reflections album recorded in the Mojave Desert) and Moby’s Calm Sleep music. I also sent them all the video works I shot in the Himalayas so they could use the sounds from the region in their sound work.
I only listened to two things whilst on the expedition, a mix called ‘Holiday’ by Amsterdam based DJ Tako and Ben Leinbach’s, the Spirit of Yoga for sleeping; I’m interested in the memories we attach to sound and music used for healing and decreasing anxiety in the modern world.
The poetry of American jazz composer and cosmic philosopher Sun Ra and American indie rock band Yo La Tengo inform the works messaging for the exhibition. The works are inspired by the Sun Ra quote, ‘…At first there was nothing…then nothing turned itself inside-out and became something’ which led to the title of the show ‘And then nothing turned itself inside out’ which pays homage to the sublime, sonically rich ninth studio album by Yo La Tengo.”
Erik Omen, your response? How do you even begin to capture that sense of majestic and despair in one soundscape?
EO: Rae’s brief was very open. She liked the idea of us creating an ambient/atmospheric piece, interpreting the images and subject matter through our own exploration.
We always enter the studio with very little planned, but in this instance we set up a slideshow of Rae’s photos that rotated while we worked. Having the reference at hand was key. We tried to include an element of unease throughout the piece by using white noise, drone and distortion. Interspersed throughout is the chiming of yak bells and chanting of Buddhist Monks which is audio we took from videos that Rae shot in Nepal. The piece was constructed over a weekend in a rural home studio just outside of Canberra.
Erik Omen, is there a lot of Erik Omen in this? How would you define your sound?
EO: “Absolutely. We’ve always enjoyed lo-fi, under-produced music and the beauty of imperfection. This gives us a lot of freedom in the process and is what defines our sound.”
Tell us about the process. Was there a lot of back an forth? Did you all sit around for hours at a time listening to sounds?
EO: “We simply sent Rae our first draft and agreed on some minor adjustments and that was it.”
RB: “It was important to me that the work be an Erik Omen piece so after the brief, I just let Greg and Jeremy roll with it to interpret and create something in response to my works. The result was exceptional with just under an hour of original music which will now form the entire soundtrack of the show, playing throughout all spaces on a loop. I loved hearing the sounds of yak bells and monks chanting in Tengboche that I had recorded in the Himalayas dropping into the soundscape.”
How did you consider the vast open exhibition space of the COMMUNE throughout the process?
EO: “Knowing that Rae’s exhibition was taking place at the COMMUNE was a bonus for us. Our interpretation of the work would only benefit from playing in a large open space.”
RB: “I’m so fortunate to have COMMUNE as a presenting partner for this show. I really wanted to use the opportunity by working with Erik Omen to create something that could be looped and played with volume throughout the duration of the exhibition and throughout the vast space via multiple speakers.”
Tell us about the moment you finally cracked it?
EO: “To be honest we were just relieved Rae was happy with the result.”
RB: “They cracked it first go! We were on the same page from the beginning so it was a real pleasure to be sent a link to Erik Omen’s sonic exploration of the works.”
What do you hope people will take away from this experience?
EO: “One of Rae’s prints ;)”
RB: “I would like for it to be an emotive experience for people and for them to drop (even subconsciously) into the feeling of being in the Himalayas; for the sound to evoke a sense of beauty under threat.”
by Bec Khoury
And Then Nothing Turned Itself Inside Out runs from 2-5 November at COMMUNE in Waterloo. The artist will be donating a percentage of the sales from the exhibition to The Ice Stupa Project to assist with their work fighting climate change and melting glaciers with their artificial ‘ice stupa’ glaciers of Ladakh http://icestupa.org/.