The Sound of the Mountain
Interview with curator Anne-Laure Chamboissier on the occasion of the group exhibition Encounter in resonance.
ALC: What was your background before joining EPAS? Was sound practice something you were used to before? What has this postgraduate program brought to the development of your artistic work?
JW: Prior to EPAS I had experience as a sound designer for artists and as a musician. The field of sound was familiar to me in a certain way, but not through institutional education. EPAS has helped me develop myself as an artist by getting acquainted with different fields of sound and finding my way in my personal work.
ALC: As you know, this exhibition is focused on the question of listening. What is your personal definition of listening?
JW: I would define hearing as the mere perception of sound, while listening requires attention and an active attitude. Which is why you can hear a sound but not be listening to it at the same time. When you walk outside for instance, you will hear many sounds but are you listening to them all?
ALC: The two pieces you propose for this exhibition are based on field recordings, those of the Greater Caucasus Mountains in the Tusheti region of Georgia and those of twenty-four-hour urban seismic activity. Why were these locations chosen?
JW: No field recordings were used for either work. Both works use technological concepts related to the nature of sound itself to generate audio waves from data. For მთისხმა (mtis khma), audio waves are drawn to exactly resemble the mountain ridges in photos of the mountains—a painstaking process. In Urban Oscillations, the data's origin comes from a seismograph, an instrument used to capture the motion of the earth. These motions are then made audible. I was able to travel to the remote mountainous region of Tusheti in Georgia for a residency at AqTushetii to work on the project of extracting sound from mountains in August and September of 2021. Urban Oscillations, on the other hand, aims to uncover hidden soundscapes of urban environments, for which my home base Amsterdam was quite suitable.
ALC: Is it possible to convey an experience of a location through a field recording?
JW: I would say so—a field recording is usually a relatively accurate reproduction of what a location sounds like. Both my works, however, are focused on uncovering what cannot be listened to in these locations and expose what lies beyond traditional ways of recording sound.
ALC: In Mtis Khma, you include a voice reading in Georgian an excerpt from Yasunari Kawabata's novel The Sound of the Mountain. Why this choice?
JW: The excerpt from Kawabata’s The Sound of the Mountain was one of the original inspirations for my initial idea for the project: extracting sound from mountain ranges. The quote describes this sound as “like wind, far away, but with a depth like a rumbling of the earth.” I find it quite beautiful that some seventy years after Kawabata imagined what a mountain would sound like, I have extracted sounds from mountains using techniques that would not be possible in his lifetime, and the sound could accurately be described in the way Kawabata imagined it.
The quote was translated to Georgian as an ode to the region of Tusheti and its incredibly hospitable residents, where I was able to stay for a month and work on the project. The language and script of the language deserve special attention on their own, having no relation to any other language or script in the world.
ALC: What kind of listening experience do you invite the audience to?
JW: What else is there to listen to in the world, beyond the capability of human hearing? With both my works, I invite the listener to experience sound that would normally be beyond the reach of the ears’ capability of perception. I invite listeners to review their relations with their surroundings, by uncovering hidden soundscapes from our environment.