Dolphins in the Reservoir is an interactive and recombinant work by Will Luers, Hazel Smith and Roger Dean that employs moving images, text and sound. It envisages an emergent post-Covid society stretching into the future, through fragmented and transitory evocations of what our society is like now and how we might understand it. It confronts the many social challenges (climate, disease, authoritarianism and technological change) we face through the subjective, contradictory and often uncanny experiences of individuals. Saturated with media, the individual experiences a multimodal montage of the imaginal and the mundane, the institutional and the vernacular, the dystopian and utopian; discourses over which they have limited control.
The interface, a programmed montage of media elements, evokes a murky, liminal realm. The piece is structured in six distinct cycles, which repeat with considerable variation. V/users can click and rearrange elements in each cycle.
The screened text ranges between short narratives, poems and aphoristic statements contained in boxes of varying sizes that both complement and jostle against each other. Thematically it passes through six topics that impinge on society now and the development of future societies. These are challenges to health, the environment, and our fast-eroding democracy; our attempts to educate order out of chaos; philosophical and scientific ways of thinking about consciousness and the possibilities and challenges the future presents including the rise of AI. A separate metaphorical text about dolphins, which transmutes many of the ideas in the boxed text, consists of fourteen sections that are sequenced one per cycle and then repeat.
Animated loops with images suggesting a passing material age – container ships, tanks, oil rigs– are layered with those of another less material age – mapped and encoded models of bodies, molecular structures and virtual architecture. A single cycle of the work grows from isolated media fragments towards a dense plurality and diversity, arriving at a composition of inclusive abstraction, before returning again to the singular and fragmented.
The musical narratives move at different paces and with varying relationship to text, image and user interaction. They juxtapose environmental and machine sounds, acoustic and digitally transformed instrumental sound. They also include sound progressions that sonify the statistics of waves of Covid-19 in the world at large, juxtaposed with those of one particular country.
Thematically, the piece fits with the objectives and themes of the conference in addressing the question ‘how can e-lit promote values like democracy, pluralism, participation, diversity and sustainability’. Its juxtaposition and multilayering of text, images and sound also employs ‘polysemy and synaesthesia’ to enhance ‘multisensorial and plural dimensions of understanding’.
About the Author(s):
Hazel Smith is a poet, performer, new media artist and academic. She has published five poetry volumes including Ecliptical, Spineless Wonders, 2022. Hazel has published two CDs of poetry and numerous performance and multimedia works; she has also performed her work extensively nationally and internationally. In 2017, her collaboration with Will Luers and Roger Dean, novelling, was was awarded First Prize in the Electronic Literature Organisation’s Robert Coover Award. Hazel is Emeritus Professor in the Writing and Society Research Centre, Western Sydney University. She has authored several academic books including The Contemporary Literature-Music Relationship, Routledge, 2016. She is a founding member of the sound and multimedia ensemble austraLYSIS and her website is at www.australysis.com.
Roger Dean is a composer/improviser, and since 2007 a research professor in music cognition/ computation at the MARCS Institute, Western Sydney University. His research folds into his creative work, notably through deep learning computational models. He directs the creative ensemble austraLYSIS, which has appeared in 30 countries. With Will Luers and Hazel Smith, he received the Robert Coover Prize of the Electronic Literature Organisation (2018). He has performed as bassist, pianist and computer artist in many contexts: from the Academy of Ancient Music and the Australian Chamber Orchestra to the London Sinfonietta, and from Graham Collier Music to duets with Derek Bailey and Evan Parker. About 70 commercial recordings and numerous radio and online digital intermedia pieces represent his creative work, and more than 300 journal articles elucidate his research. Current research concerns improvisation, roles of acoustic intensity and timbre, and rhythm generation and perception. Previously he was a full professor of biochemistry in the UK, foundation CEO/Director of the Heart Research Institute, Sydney, and then Vice-Chancellor and President of the University of Canberra.
Western Sydney University
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