Human / Technology

Fake logos at Hikkaduwa Market

Yahoo flip flops and Apple wallets at Hikkaduwa Market

So we’ve come to Sri Lanka, and we’re staying right by the sea, and now we’re working almost entirely on laptops with headphones. Our fellow artists here must think we’re nuts.

To be clear, there’s no way we’d be inside our laptops like this if we hadn’t already had lots of experience in Sri Lanka and with Sri Lankan culture. We just wouldn’t have enough to work from, which is why I think the other artists are so eager to explore the country. Instead, for me and Tim, our first couple of weeks in Hikkaduwa were all about recognising what feels most alive to us in our immediate experience of this town, then focusing deeper via the lens of our previous experience with Sri Lanka, and now reframing it through our artistic practice. We’re towards the end of Week 3 now, so we’re well into the graft of making – hence the laptops and headphones. It’s unusual for us to make work this fast, so it’s really pushing our practice. And we’re being ambitious with the sheer amount of new material we want to make and present, so y’know, rod for our own back an’ all that. We’re also doing a lot of collaborative exploration with some of the other artists here, which is really intriguing and already full of discovery.

Tim and I think conceptually about and use technology a lot within our artistic processes. We often use digital tech, but our practice is to think about every thing that transforms stuff, as a technology – including the humans. I remember having a conversation with Dick Penny (former MD of Bristol’s Watershed) a few years back, where he theorised that people’s frustrations with modern tech were rooted in the fact that the mechanics of modern tech are often invisible. When you can see where something is broken, you can accept it’s broken. When the internet goes down it’s just like WHHAAAAARRRSRGRRRRGHHHSGHSH I’VE TURNED IT OFF AND ON AGAIN ALREADY GODDAMMIT etc.

When it comes to art, I like not seeing the mechanics. I love the transformations you don’t see coming. The magic of those unexpected and often uncanny transformations is what fascinates me about the possibilities of tech (including the humans) – be it the visceral power of an extraordinary physical choreography, or the ability to invent imaginary worlds, or the conflation of distance via WhatsApp, or the jolt of suddenly hearing my late Mum’s voice in a field recording AIFF from Sri Lanka 4 years ago.

Here in Hikkaduwa, I’ve been thinking a lot about humans and technology and humans as technology. One of the other artists asked me yesterday how we didn’t go stir crazy having to be so constantly laptop/headphones. And the answer is that there’s a whole heap of Sri Lanka in my laptop. And because Tim and I were there, making those field recordings, they are triggers to a personal lived experience of those places and times. So many spiralling stories like ghosts in the waveforms. And outside of the machine, in every walk along the beach or the road, there’s so much evidence of how humans have transformed this landscape – from all the plastic and other detritus left as rubbish, to the fact that tourists and ex-pats from half way round the world have had so much influence on the rebuilding and shaping of this town over recent years. I’ve been thinking about human hearing as a technology for filtering out the extraneous sounds we don’t need to notice in our day to day life. I’ve been thinking about human community as a technology for managing trauma. I’ve been thinking about the difference between recording people’s stories, and holding people’s stories. I’ve been thinking about the invention of surfing and the design of surfboards. I’ve been thinking about the experience of wearing wireless headphones and the experience of being connected by wires. I’ve been thinking about the difference between music played live by humans, and music constructed by humans but not played live.

tuk tuk hip hop

Did I mention we’re making a set of kick-ass tunes from field recordings of Sri Lanka? Well, I just want to say it again, because I’ve never made an album before and everyone’s always wanted to make an album right?

This week has been all about starting to make these tunes – which means having to construct every single sound and all the instruments we need from the extensive collection of field recordings we’ve collected in Sri Lanka. The samples and loops I make for Circadial can be so much looser than what we need here. I’ve never done this kind of music making before and it is waaaaaaaaay difficult. We’re having to work fast so it’s a bit of a bootcamp; but it’s also fun and I’m learning loads for my sound design practice. Making the whole thing here, I feel like we’re very directly vibe-ing off the town we’re in, which is really satisfying. We’re aiming to have 4 tunes we’re really happy with finished and properly mastered to play out and offer back to the community here.

At some point I might write a total nerd post about the process, but for now, I’m just loving how we can make hi-hats from market scales in Hikkaduwa, and basslines from children’s squeals in Katharagama, and snare drums from the Kelaniya Perehara, and melodies from a whistling thrush on Horton Plains.

Horton Plains at dawn

Field recording in Sri Lanka
Photo: Tanuja Amarasuriya