4 – Maps, circles, and descents
Csenge has put me in touch with four other professional storytellers who will tell different versions in different dialects. Ana has introduced me to a traditional Hungarian dancer, Bitó Katalin, who in turn suggests a family friend as a teller. So things are beginning to move.
The concept for the work is developing also. I draw on maps of the seven broad regions of Hungary. The idea is to use seven versions of the story; seven dialects. Csenge explains that the number seven has significance in folklore and fairytales. (There are many origins of this – one that sticks in my mind is the lunar cycle. Each of the 4 lunar phases lasts approximately 7.4 days.)
Looking at the 4DSOUND studio as a geographical space I map the seven regions, with the studio door in the south-west. To create ‘regions’ of soundscape, environments that listeners walking around the space will move in and out of. Each storyteller will be ‘placed’ in their region – from which they begin, from which they move as the storytelling progresses, in concert with the other voices.
The question of whether this is an exhibition - into which people will come and go, and move around - or a theatrical show in which people stay put and experience it in a linear way, is still moot. I discuss this with Paul Oomen. Initially, the concept of the seven regions seems to lend itself more to an exhibition, but as we discuss it my instinct is that this will be a theatre experience. I decide to wait until the stories are recorded, and I can hear them in the space, how the voices interact and how much of a linear experience it becomes. This is where the trust comes in – trust the time this will take!
We have six storytellers at this stage. I’m undecided whether to include the English version as the seventh voice. I feel as though the English language may be disruptive to the ‘music’ of the Hungarian dialects. Ana points out that the sound design becomes the seventh storyteller.
I have invited filmmaker, artist, and SSI intern Ana Amorós López to join me on this project, to document the journey for a film. We are also talking about visual projections for the exhibition in December. For the exhibition, I want to use projected light in a way that plays with the ‘edges’ of visual information, exploring the focus of listeners with low-visual input. How much visual input is distracting to active listening? The studio has LED lights that can be used under the floor, to change colours and highlight the room, but I’ve been thinking about projected light and colour since working with the projection/sound installations on the White Night projects. I’m really interested in using projected light rather than LED or bulb light, to colour a room at low intensity. There is something about projected light that I find more ethereal. It’s more conducive to a dreaming state. Most of the time when I’ve been working with projected light and video artists, the artists are too consumed with a need to make it super visual and not really capable of thinking in subtle terms or of stepping back for the audio to lead. Ana is a different kind of artist. She has the sensibility and the sensitivity to sound, especially since she is now a visual artist and craftsperson, working with 4DSOUND. She understands what I’m talking about immediately, so I think this is possible to do and I’m excited about what we might come up with.
So the journey really begins now, in the 4DSOUND studio, recording Csenge telling both an English version, and Transcarpathian storyteller Pályuk Anna’s version of the tale of the dancing princesses. Csenge’s version of the story is quite long, about 20 minutes, and has a depth of philosophy; of the significance of the events to the women themselves. Pályuk Anna re-interpreted these stories from a more feminist perspective, so there are many more layers of meaning. There is a coda to her story in which the married princess and shepherd talk about how he was able to uncover the mystery. He tells her of three pieces of advice that he got from his mother, all of which he used to make decisions that led him to the right place and time to discover the secret. This is the first - and only - mention of any mother in any of these tales or in any of my research into this story so far. That’s interesting. Where is the mother?
Csenge is going to be the “anchor” of this work, something I understand even before I record any others. Not only in her role in creating the work but also in her voice and her telling. Her voice is soft and rounded and calm. It is one of those voices that you can easily listen to for a long time, that lulls you into a comfortable state of listening. There is a smile in her voice too, and an intelligent defiance.
The second story to record is Nagy Enikő who tells a version in the Kamocsai dialect, from Hungarian-speaking western Slovakia. I record Enikő and Csenge in a makeshift “booth” constructed from the foam sound baffles in the FOH area of the 4D studio. Unfortunately it’s a bad-star day for recording when Enikő is here. We have to stop at various times for intrusive loud noises (hammering) coming from somewhere in the building below (the AQB gallery), from outside (trucks and planes), and then one of the baffles collapses on Enikő’s head! Enikő is very patient, and we’re in good humour. But it’s a challenge, just due to the location. There is always noise to deal with – often industrial noise from outside, also often internal AQB-generated noise. It becomes a part of any sound you’re working on or listening to in the 4D studio – you just kind of incorporate it into your experience. And sometimes that’s a great thing. It’s enhancing the effects of the immersive sound, and the act of active listening. Sometimes however let’s face it, it’s not ideal to have a sound studio in an industrial area. Without any dedicated soundproofed space, there is really nowhere to record safely. In fact I’d rather all of the stories were recorded somewhere out ‘in the field’ where there is a different energy. But for some it’s not practical.
I’m reading Csenge’s book, “Dancing on Blades: Rare and exquisite folktales from the Carpathian Mountains,” along with a book she has lent me, Heidi Anne Heiner’s “Twelve Dancing Princesses: Tales From Around the World,” which documents many versions of the folk tale we want to tell. Also known under titles such as "The Dancing Shoes," "The Worn-out Shoes," and "The Shoes that Were Danced to Pieces," it may not be as famous as stories like Cinderella yet the dancing princesses have a very wide reach, right through Eastern and Central Europe. The differences in the story are fascinating; my favourite is from one of the Hungarian versions in which the princesses descend to a palace in a lake of fire, and dance with devils with hooves instead of feet, and some of the older princesses already have devil babies waiting for them every night underground. The Hungarian versions really are dark.
In all of the stories, there is a series of descents. The princesses open a portal in their bedroom every night, and pass through a series of forests – forests of copper, silver, and gold (or diamond). They sometimes also drink from a fountain in each forest. They sometimes cross a lake. They always arrive at a palace, where they dance all night with princes. So we need to descend into the forests and down to the palace with them, which means using ascending waves of sound to create the illusion. I begin to experiment using a modulated synth sound, playing with EQ and chorus and phasing, trying to create an effect of it building from below, growing and filling the space as it envelops us, resonating within our bodies, and ‘thickening’ as it sweeps above. Working with the spatial delay, the reflecting ‘walls’ and the dimensions within the 4DSOUND controls, I begin to achieve the effect of descent but it’s still not profound … I find that I want it to be more physical, more of an intense sensation.
This process is interesting, building also on experiments for a White Night installation – “The Seadragon’s Lair” last year. In that work, I needed to create the illusion of the La Trobe Reading Room diving underwater, into Port Phillip Bay. In that space, I was restricted to essentially four surround speakers plus the central subs, but had the advantage of a room with immense vertical height and huge natural reverb, and I ended up using the room’s reverb and EQ mostly to create the effect. Here, you can simply create an object that emerges from deep below and grows in dimension as it rises, however there are other complications here with the diffusion of the sound once it is amplified in all speakers and especially with big diffused synth sounds and with the subs under the floor – vertical movement actually feels harder to achieve in this setting. I’m not entirely happy with it yet and need to explore other ways of creating a sense of vertical movement with an atmospheric sound.
The other fundamental movement of this work will be circular, counter-clockwise, as the traditional women dance in groups. I find that the horizontal movement is much easier to achieve in here, especially with simpler sounds. The reflections of the room, the large expanse of ceiling in particular, mean that sharper sounds on the periphery are much easier to control. The earlier experiments with voices and creating the illusion of bodies in the space are going to be the key here.
Ana takes me and the other resident artists to a regular Friday night traditional dance party in a Budapest bar. It’s the height of summer, very hot and humid, and late. As we enter the bar, no one is dancing (the band is taking a break) but the air is thick with the energy of dancing that has only just stopped. This is real, alive, tradition. Sweat, pheromones, happiness, intensity, seriousness about the dance, and pálinka! We also meet with Katalin to discuss recording her dancing some traditional partner dances from different regions of Hungary. I will record their feet. I have the idea that I can use these recordings to build up the illusion of feet dancing around us. Ana, Katalin and I plan a trip to her family’s farm, near Szeged south of Budapest. There, we will also record her family friend Irén’s version of the story of the dancing princesses.