The Occupation of Space: SoundSites (1999)

Duration: 55 minutes


SoundSites is an exhibition of 25 acoustic-moments of between 3 and 90 seconds duration, created from interviews with sight-impaired individuals about how they negotiate spaces by aural means. Each acoustic-moment presens an experience of various acoustic memories, impressions, signals and environments. A range of computer-based electroacoustic techniques were used to create these moments, ranging from traditional musique concrète, to transformations in the spectral domain. While some moments were recordings with little or no treatment others are an imaginative interpretation of acoustic reality.

Access for both sighted and unsighted audiences to the final exhibition was of paramount importance. The main access features for unsighted visitors were the inclusions of Braille text panels, Braille numbering on the walls, spoken track numbers on the CD, and headphones with small tactile indicators on a remote control. The Braille text and number panels were printed on hard plastic. Metal was initially considered, but curator Samantha Comte found that the sharp edges on the metal plates and the difficulty of mounting them on a wall meant the plastic sheets of the final version was both a more amenable and cost effective solution. Timing considerations once again meant that the panels had to be confirmed at least ten days before the final exhibition opening to allow time for printing.

The solution for providing navigational assistance around the space for visually impaired gallery visitors also proved to be a simple one. Initially, we considered adapting a rope as navigational aid, but the satisfactory resolution proved to be another lesson in how those without sight  navigate space. The exhibition environment of the first show in Melbourne was a compact, shoebox-like space. By giving simple directions and verbal cues, unsighted audiences could easily and safely move around the whole show. Invigilators gave the following instructions accordingly:

“The room is about ten metres long with a wall at the end and about four metres wide. There are no obstructions along the wall, only six chairs in the middle, if you want to sit. Its okay to touch the wall as a guide, nothing is breakable, and you won’t trip on anything. The Braille panels are about chest height, with a small, separate number for that panel on the bottom right corner. Each CD track has a number, so press ‘play’ or skip until you find the matching number. Here is the CD player. Press this button for play/pause, this is skip forward, and this one, skip back. Volume wheel is here.”

Curator: Samantha Comte

Span Galleries, Melbourne, Australia 9 – 30 October 1999
Seymour Centre, Paralympics Art Festival, Sydney, Australia 16 – 28 October 2000
SoundTravels – Toronto, Canada 9 – 12 October 2003

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