This film is best watched with headphones.
Sound artist Ilona Sagar, together with Doug Haywood, were commissioned to create a piece of work for Saturated Space: their film, Eupnea, explores the colour-space of healthcare environments in Britain, which to this day are guided in their design by colour analyses from the 1950s.
Here they explain how that project came about.
Can you tell us a little about how Eupnea came about and how you both work together?
IS: I was commissioned by “Saturated Space”, a research cluster at the Architectural Association to make a film which responds to the use of colour in architectural space. Eupnea focuses on the connection between colour, health and well-being through its manifestation in the design of hospitals. Healthcare environments can be seen as the site of a collision between internal and external languages in design, cognition and the human body. The external syntax of technical and functional systems clashes with an internal language which is messier, more visceral and emotional. I invited Doug to collaborate on this project as a commission from AA because of how successfully we have previously worked together and our shared interests.
DH: We both take a parallel approach to exploring the relationship between audio, image and experience. Our collaborative work often touches on the experiential and observational aspects of a situation, location or culture. At the time, we had both coincidentally been researching clinical institutional interiors. Ilona, studying the effects of colour and space, while I was capturing the audio atmospheres of public spaces; examining the reality versus the expectations of hospitals, libraries, public transport and art galleries. Having spent time researching as observers as well as patients, we were both struck by the architectural, design and atmospheric details that contribute to the experience of such spaces.
IS: I think both our practices are very much research lead. The aesthetic of Eupnea originates from Faber Birren’s 1950s functional colour chart for hospitals, schools and factories. Still in use today, this colour palette was originally intended to stimulate, heal and break up the institutional aesthetic, but is now commonly perceived to have the reverse effect. The film includes the anonymous interviews of ex-patients, health workers and architects, relaying their experience of the hospital environment. These monologues capture recollections of colour, form, texture and the subjects’ personal discordant relationship to the space.
What is your interest in working with both digital and live sound?
IS: The invitation to take part in Concrete Fragments for MCAAL was a great opportunity to collaborate with the choir Force Majeure, Directed by Mary Cork, Lauren Kinsella and Ben Crawley. We have wanted to work together for a while and this was a challenging project to work together on. Collaboration is a key part of my practice, I have previously collaborated with people from a range of disciplines. I enjoy the challenge of trespassing on other forms and approaches to producing a written or performed work. Both the soundtrack to the film and the live performance features Force Majeure. The choir reacted to their recorded, manipulated and edited voices, creating new compositions in relation to what they heard. Force Majeure took on the role of an ‘organ’ or ‘organism’ both as musical construction and a body of people. Key to the design of a health environments is the visceral body, both as a passive and active agent. The sounds produced by Force Majeure range from abstract and onomatopoeic to the more familiar strains of traditional music. They represent a mute and stuttering dysfunctional language within design, but also in the body.
DH: It is this ambiguity of edited and controlled sound, be it layered, looped, filtered or panned that interacts directly with the audience’s perception of the audio and subsequently the film, space and the artwork as a whole. Live performed sound throws a playful spanner in the works of an intricately composed and fixed edit.
I was excited to be invited by Ilona to utilise a choir as not only was I sure that Force Majeure had a real understanding as to the abstract nature of the work but that they could form a type of collective human instrument, given guidelines and limits to sounds they would produce. Mostly my work uses found sounds that I control and manipulate as opposed to live elements. The edited soundtrack not only involved atmos and field recordings but incidental recordings of the choir in rehearsal. Force Majeure were then left to interact with the composition and film imagery, embellishing it with their own live interpretation.
Why is sound important to you?
DH: The immediacy of audio immerses the viewer within a given space – atmospheric field recordings marry with the filmed image to manifest as a real or imagined space. Subtlety and detail within an audio track can be massively evocative, triggering memories of events and giving substance to an image. What you can hear beyond the frame of the screen is left to one’s imagination and subjective interpretation. These hospitals and clinically institutional environments are places of contrasts: the Daylight Green, Dust Yellow and Muted Blue washed walls and diffused lighting, designed to be calming, are yet married with a soundtrack of irritant electronic beeps, high frequency mechanical hums, anonymous footsteps and the occasional leaking of birdsong through an open window. Lifts, telephones and muted voices flow together as a constant. Sound accompanies and can evoke memories of specific environments and can alter one’s live perception of them.
IS: The quality of the audio output was crucial to the live performance and why we were so happy to be working with Bowers & Wilkins again. Working with 802 Diamond speakers allowed us to really blur the line between the recorded sound and live choir. The range and detail that speakers were able to produce was utterly amazing. The audience was immersed in sound. The quality of the sound gave the performers a lot to work with and respond to. It was unclear if they were hearing the manipulated sound design from the film or the singer standing behind them.
Sound has always been a key element in my practice. Audio acts as both a dislocation and a connecting element which has a profound impact on our physical and cognitive experience of the world. Audio and recording sound has always informed my approach to editing film: in Eupnea we have taken this to an extreme. The soundtrack is able to guide the audience through the work, giving them something to hold onto and position themselves within, or it can be a schism, creating a disorientating and unsettling experience.
Visit www.ilonasagar.com for more details