Landscape Stories: A great part of your musical works and of your performances shows an explicit interest towards environmental sounds and elements, and I always thought of a deep, interesting and personal approach of yours to the definition of art as “the imitation of nature in her manner of operation”, which also John Cage liked to quote. Just to name a few, I’m thinking about the Piano Transplants , the sound maps of the rivers, and the recent score for Jitterbug . Can you tell us about your personal way of relating to the environment, to the landscape, and to nature? When and where did it begin, how did it develop, and has it changed nowadays? Annea Lockwood: I was lucky to have been born in Christchurch, NZ, the daughter of a father whose passion was mountaineering, so we spent a lot of time up in the NZ Alps, which is a deep, if intangible, learning. That’s where my fascination with rivers originated also. You learn to love the power of natural forces and the complex rhythms of their sounds. And as with many of us, I want to intensify my sense of connection with rocks, rivers, bugs, mountains, everything around me – my sense of ‘non-separation’. Mountains are still a source of well-being for me, of spaciousness, proportion and release. I spend summers up in NW Montana where I can hike in the Rockies and swim in a large lake. The rest of the year I’m near New York City, up the Hudson River, and the two places balance each other very well. The harmful legacy of sheep farming practices, in the form of erosion, was very obvious in the high country; my parents often remarked on it. It seemed rooted in that old, damaging belief in human dominion over the land; without working it out consciously, I wanted to resist that view of things. Through exploring the sounds created by natural phenomena and processes, I think I am trying to embed myself in the antidote, awareness of non-separation, much as my father did through his love of the mountains. Between 1968 and 1982 I took to placing ruined piano in various sites in a series of installations called The Piano Transplants. These, with the exception of Piano Burning, sprang from my love of incongruity and displacement, but also allowed people to watch the gradual dismembering of strong and intricate human constructions by the soft power of plants (Piano Garden) and water (Piano Drowning and the beached piano installations).
Landscape Stories: The rivers, with their symbolic and physical qualities, occupy a special place in your work. As you wrote, an aural scan of a river is very different from a visual scan. In your Sound Maps , the conceptual approach, the sensuous intimate experience of listening, and a sort of narrative seem to merge without discontinuities, immersing the listener in a deep experience which reveals new possibilities every time. Where did the interest for mapping rivers’ sound came from, and does it have any relation with their visual representations (especially through photography, and video) and with specific texts that you met? Annea Lockwood: Rivers were a beautiful and unpredictable element of those NZ landscapes. Braided rivers would change channels frequently; it was always interesting to see which was the new main channel in one particular river, the Waimakariri, for example. Rain upstream could send down a big surge of water , so river crossings often required roping up. So the environment was clearly alive and enticing. You ask if this interest is related to visual representations of water. As I think about this, I realize that most of the images on our walls in both houses, incorporate water in some way and my studio has only water – posters, photographs. The house in Montana is on the lakeshore; contemplating the constantly moving water surface is our evening entertainment. But my deepest contact is through my ears. Recording and composing with environmental sound is an intimate way of exploring this aliveness – a big reason why I use minimal processing, generally, and practically none with the rivers. I want to feel the energy flow of a river through its sound, as directly and fully as possible, and to enable other listeners to also feel that immersion, so processing tends to function as an interpretive screen, I find, and can get in the way. I gravitate towards visual artists who create detailed studies of water surfaces without obvious manipulation. I found Roni Horn’s images of the Thames, in her show, Still Water (the River Thames, for Example), with her unsettling footnotes, compelling, ambiguous. Often dark in their associations, they lingered in my mind suggestively for years and may have surfaced while I was working on the Danube some years later, when I interviewed Gizela Ivkovíc about the destruction of the Danube bridges at Novi Sad, Serbia, during the 1999 NATO bombings. That river’s human history has a dark side, as you would expect of a great natural frontier, and the way people think about the river today is of course rooted in that history. An experience in Mohács, southern Hungary, sensitised me to this aspect much more, yet it was really indirect. I was listening to a terrific gypsy trio in a bar on the river bank, and wandered over to the railing to look at the river in moonlight, very black, shining, when the band invited a singer up and she launched into I think the saddest song I’ve ever heard, a Serbian love song. That combination, the impenetrable blackness of the water, the song, brought home to me how there is this sorrowful aspect of the river, how it has been used for human violence, hence my questions to Geza Ivkovíc. And how could I forget Hokusai, the great 19th century Japanese painter, the strongest influence on my work with environmental sound for years? Especially the following text from the colophon of The Hundred Views of Mount Fuji: “At the age of seventy-three I finally apprehended something of the true nature of birds, animals, insects, fishes and of the vital nature of grasses and trees. Therefor at the age of eighty-six I shall have made some progress. At ninety I shall have penetrated even further the deeper meaning of things; at one hundred I shall have achieved a divine state in my art, and at one hundred and ten, each dot, each line shall surely possess a life of its own.” It is that final passage, “each dot, each line”, each sound “shall surely possess a life of its own” which still inspires me to work further and deeper, more than any other source. I found it at an exhibition of his paintings in Milano, years ago.