A digital silence

Martin Walch in bed with Pillow Songs

Poonkhin Khut, Pillow Songs

Poonkhin Khut, Pillow Songs

Pillow Songs is amongst the most powerful installations I have experienced. Entering the installation through a light trap I was immediately immersed in a darkened space, an aura of deep blue incandescence emanating from the single light bulbs hovering above three simple beds. As I lay down and my head came to rest on the pillow, an oceanic space rippled by sonic waves rolled out before my closed lids, and began to gently propel me across its textured surface.

I was hearing a subtle blend of the synthesised and the found. Extreme long fades in and out (mostly beyond immediate detection); modulations of pulses and beats, time-signals and thunder; the sounds of a radio tuned to the warbling between stations; a dog barking in the fog of winter dusk; sounds I had not encountered since I lay as a child with my first transistor radio hidden under my pillow long after my family had gone to sleep; drifting in and out of consciousness, hearing a voice, a passage of music, the rain on the roof and the hiss of off-station static.

Aware of the subjective nature of my response, I could also sense the broadly recognisable character of many of these sounds. My dreaming was but a single current stimulated by the stream of the artwork in which I was immersed.

Poonkhin Khut has been working with sound, installation and performance since 1987, and graduated from the University of Tasmania in 1993. Pillow Songs exemplifies his clean, minimal approach. Significantly, Khut makes conscious use of the space between sounds to define their quality, and to animate the role of silence as a sonic texture in its own right. His use of digital sampling and recording enables him to retain a “digital silence”, and this in turn facilitates his manipulation and layering of what he characterises as “wet” and “dry” sounds. Samples are bounced from DAT to computer and back until the right texture is attained, and these tracks are then edited onto CD.

The gallery installation realised an interesting alliance between low and hi-tech in that the computer mastered CDs were played through three conventional CD players programmed to deliver a selection of tracks that were re-mixed each day. These signals were then channelled to each of the three beds. Much of the success of Pillow Songs can be attributed to the consistent strength and individuality of these primary tracks, and the generous acoustic space which Khut allows to exist between the combined tertiary elements. The mix manages to maintain a tension between the mysterious and the recognisable whilst remaining open and suggestive.

Pillow Songs, an audio installation by Poonkhin Khut, Sidespace Gallery, Salamanca Arts Centre, January 16 – 30

RealTime issue #24 April-May 1998 pg. 46

© Martin Walch; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

1 April 1998