contemporary art, sound art

Chris Watson and Iain Pate, HRAFN; Conversations with Odin (2013)

January 23, 2014

Two myths converge in an evocative piece by a sound recordist and a producer. The first myth concerns the most powerful Norse god and the second myth could concern you.

HRAFN will be staged in Kielder Forest, Northumberland, with support from the Forestry Commission. The artists reveal that Odin owned two pet ravens: Huginn and Muninn.

These two tame harbingers would sally forth at daybreak and observe goings on in the wider world, much like a pair of spy drones would do in this day and age.

Upon their return they would sit on Odin’s shoulders and tell him all that they had seen and heard. It intrigues me that such a major god was not already omniscient.

The ravens were web-like prosthetics. Huginn related to thought; Muninn to memory. Odin once said: “For Huginn I fear lest he return not home, but I am more anxious for Muninn”.

Chris Watson and Iain Pate have also been waiting for ravens. They’ve been waiting for the birds to return to roost on the site of a forest in the North East. The birds predate the trees.

The duo will take a group of art and nature lovers away from the car park, over a stone bridge portal and into the heart of the forest where they promise 2,000 of the birds.

But this is myth number two. Inspired perhaps by Loki, the god of mischief, the team are to engineer a 21st c. raven-based hack to achieve their desired effect.

And so, hidden speakers will pipe the birds’ cawing down from a canopy, from the vault of abundant conifers which have been compared to columns in the hall of Valhalla.

The birds will arrive with the darkness, a situation which has been restaged to disorienting effect at Jerwood Space, when the film comprising their proposal blacks out.

Now you wait, blind and anxious, until you hear the ravens arrive. There is a mood of conversation between these birds, both palpable and comforting.

You can even imagine, in the polyphonic soundscape, that you have a bird on either shoulder: one of them helping you think; one of them helping you remember.

For your benefit, I made the sound recording below. If you’re interested in the amazing work of Chris Watson, try this documentary about his work with David Attenborough.

This work together with pieces by Semiconductor, Amanda Loomes, Adam James and Juan Delgado can be seen in Jerwood Open Forest, Jerwood Space, London, until February 23.

BREAKING: Since writing, I’ve been told that the film was just a proposal. So congratulations to Chris and Ian who, along with Semiconductor, have won a commission from the Jerwood Open Forest initiative. Their project will now take place in September 2014.

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