Alexandra Spence is an artist and musician from Sydney, Australia. She makes performances, compositions and installations based on (everyday) sound and listening. Alex's practice draws from phenomenology, psychogeography, and acoustic ecology to examine the ways in which our individual notions of place and identity are shaped and mediated through sound. Through her practice she reimagines the intricate relationships between the listener, the object, and the surrounding environment as a kind of communion or conversation. Her aesthetic favours field recordings, analog technologies and object interventions. (she holds the pseudo-scientific belief that electricity might actually be magic)
Alex has performed and presented work in Australia, Canada, Europe, and Asia, including the Vancouver Art Gallery; Late Junction on BBC Radio 3; SoundCamp Festival, London; Ausland, Berlin; Contemporary Musiking Hong Kong's Sound Forms Festival, HK; Ftarri, Tokyo, JP; Museum of Contemporary Art, the NOW Now Festival, Firstdraft Gallery and Liveworks Festival with Liquid Architecture (forthcoming) in Sydney. Her debut album Waking, She Heard The Fluttering, recently released on Room40, received critical acclaim in The Wire Magazine and The Quietus.
All sounds heard on Immaterial (excepting one recording of clarinet) were recorded in Hong Kong between April and June 2019.
Composed, performed, recorded and mixed by Alexandra Spence
Additional percussion by Karen Yu
Mastered by A.F. Jones at Laminal Audio
Earlier this year I spent a two-month period on residency in Hong Kong. I was instantly drawn to the colour and vibrancy of the city, as well as to certain materials and objects that kept reappearing on my explorations.
Billowy, gauzy construction cloth that covered spiny bamboo scaffolding, the devastatingly-inviting colourful-sheen of single-use plastics, discarded durian husks, the deep blue night-time sky made hazy/dreamy/luminous from neon lighting, lush and vibrant green foliage…
I was thinking about the small variations in the repetition of these materials, as well as the repetition of certain images and sounds.
The phasing on/off flash of orange construction lights lining long stretches of road; the rhythmic phasing of multiple pedestrian crossing beeps heard simultaneously. the overhead circling of the kites (seabirds) in the sky; the below-water circling of plastic bags in the harbour.
For a little while now I’ve been cultivating an obsession with the relationships between sound, material/object and texture. How feeling can inform listening, how listening is feeling, and how this felt-listening can alter our perception of things as we are taught to ‘know’ them. For me listening is acknowledging the intrinsic connections between our surroundings and ourselves.
If we acknowledge the vibrancy and resonance of everyday objects how might this change our actions and thinking around them.
"My hunch is that the image of dead or thoroughly instrumentalised matter feeds human hubris and our earth-destroying fantasies of conquest and consumption. It does so by preventing us from detecting (seeing, hearing, smelling, tasting, feeling) a fuller range of the nonhuman powers circulating around and within human bodies." Jane Bennett in Vibrant Matter
It occurred to me, whilst writing this and listening back, that not only are materials amplified in Immaterial but certain sounds appear almost material in themselves, such as the squeak of shoes on basketball courts, and the droplets of rain on foliage. These sounds seem not to belong to shoe or court, rain or leaf, but are formed in the entwining to become a thing in themselves. It is this connectedness through sound that I am fascinated with. Through sound unequal forms can be connected: mic distortion disguises itself as crinkling plastic bags that blends into the crackling sound of shrimp underwater.
Sound waves traverse through our bodies and our surroundings, forming knots and vibrations and connections and confusions. In sound material blends with the immaterial and new imaginaries can be made, for me this is a way out.
Immaterial was composed in parallel to these thoughts.
Like silky-soft milky tea tasted alongside a crispy-sweet pineapple bun.
(voices in the background) Here! Here!
(uncle) Walk after the 2nd team pass!
(voice in a speakerphone)
I want to ask if I can have reports from other colleagues.
Your colleague’s there. Hurry up.
What’s fucking wrong with you?
You sure you don’t want it, Brother Tong?
No! I’m seeing my daughters now. I am walking, on my way to see them.
(a man probably talks about drinks)
(the other man) How about yourself?
(woman’s voice in a speakerphone) Please speak.
(This probably is a phone conversation between two construction workers)
Hey (a name) tell me when you find it.
Buy in Yau Ma Tei where they sell that stuff.
…Yeah, yeah. Tomorrow, I’ll…
You do your search and I do mine. Now Kyun Kee said it was fine being a little bit short. It won’t be a problem if you tuck in the aluminium tube, otherwise it will be fucking ugly.
You do your search and I do mine. Whoever finds it makes a call, alright?
(music: Love in Deep Autumn by Alan Tam)
…the love is dead and lingers in my heart. Reminisce myself in the memories...
See if you go... yeah, see if you go by the east or by the west.
I’ve been there once a long time ago…
Thank you to Karen Yu for playing some percussion heard on this track, and for taking me on a Chinese-gong shopping trip. Thank you to Nerve and Wendy Lee at 20α (Twenty Alpha) for their support and loan of quality time with an Arp 2600. Thank you to Fiona Lee and to soundpocket for sharing thoughts on field recording, and taking me to special locations. Thank you to龢wo4 and Li Yan Chung for their English translations of the Cantonese overheard whilst field recording. Thank you to the Hong Kong Arts Centre, Asialink Arts and Create NSW for granting me this residency. And to Remy Siu and Contemporary Musiking Hong Kong for introducing me to the local scene via Sound Forms Festival. Thank you to my relatives Luke and Sarah for allowing their recorded voices to participate on this track. Thank you to the HK music+art community and to the new friends made. Thank you also to my friends, family, partner and cat. The week I left Hong Kong was the first of protests that are still going. I support Hong Kongers in their determination for civil and political rights.