By Nigel Helyer, Artist-in-Residence
Specially Commissioned for the New Exhibition Listen
Listening, rather than simply hearing, is an ever-present gateway to hidden worlds of detail and narrative that are always available, always possible, requiring only our time, attention and concentration. Australia-based, internationally known artist Nigel Helyer has created a specially commissioned artwork, Talking Stick, for the new Exploratorium exhibition, Listen. Talking Stick is a beguilingly simple interactive audio work that invites visitors equipped with a stick-like speaker device to take a sonic stroll through the Exploratorium’s new Listen exhibition, to literally seek out a network of hidden sonic narratives. In the Listen exhibition there are neither clues nor visual markers to identify the location (or the underlying structure) of the sounds. The Talking Stick is the only guide. By slowly sweeping the floor, visitors gradually discover "pools" of sound at different locations, each offering a differing sonic adventure. This sleuth-like activity brings together listening, memory and spatial skills, activating faculties we frequently ignore in favor of our usual reliance on text and visual cues. Talking Stick is included in the price of admission to the Exploratorium.
Talking Stick comes in an array of heights, as varied as the heights of the visitors themselves, so that a user can place the small speaker horn mounted at the stick’s upper tip next to the ear, while the lower tip grazes the floor. The sound sources are grouped into several themes that poetically address the act of listening. The themes range from "sonic memories" to interviews about the sonic world as perceived by a profoundly sight-impaired person, to archival material used in the auditory training of Sonar Operators during World War II. Each visitor will, in his own fashion, "perform" the work, slowly building up a memory map, gradually piecing together a spatial network and a total sonic narrative.
About the Artist
Nigel Helyer (a.k.a. Dr. Sonique) is a Sydney-based sculptor and sound artist with an international reputation for his large-scale sonic installations, environmental sculpture works and new media projects.
His practice is actively inter-disciplinary, linking creative practice with scientific research and development. His activities include the development of a virtual audio reality system, in collaboration with Lake Technology (Sydney), and the ongoing AudioNomad research project in location-sensitive Environmental Audio at the School of Computer Science and Engineering at the University of New South Wales.
He is an honorary faculty member in Architectural Acoustics at the University of Sydney, and has recently been a visiting professor at Stanford University. He maintains active research links with the SymbioticA biotechnology lab at the University of Western Australia and has recently been artist-in-residence at the Paul Scherrer Institut in Switzerland.
Nigel is a co-founder and commissioner of the SoundCulture organization, was a fellow of the Australia Council for 2002 and 2003, the winner of the Helen Lempriere National Sculpture Award in 2002, and curator of Sonic-Differences, part of the Biennale of Electronic Arts Perth 2004