Sounding Symbol: Jian Cheng Junior High School Bell Tower 聲響象徵:建成國中鐘樓

超音樂・異聲驅動 Living Sound—Expanding the Extramusical at 台北當代藝術館 MOCA Taipei, curated by 賴依欣 Nicole Lai

27 April - 7 July 2019

Photo credit: Museum of Contemporary Art, Taipei

About the work:

Rising from the centre of the Japanese colonial era school building, the bell tower at MOCA Taipei stands as a silent testament to the social order, punctuality and obedience expected of the students. Tracing a direct line behind, we arrive at a contemporary echo of the historic building’s symbolism: the much taller clock tower of Jian Cheng Junior High School. Continue following that line, and you eventually arrive at the highest peak of Yangmingshan in the north of Taipei. 

Built in the 90s, the current school’s tower houses twelve large bronze bells. Having never been fitted with clappers, they too hang in silence. Rendered functionally obsolete by speakers playing synthesised bells, the bronze bells carry a potential beyond the mundane task of summoning students to class: a kind of communication that connects to ritual uses of bells over thousands of years. 

Nigel worked with students to bind the handles of sixteen mallets with personal messages to be carried on the bells’ vibrations. Two ‘soundings’ were undertaken with students striking the eight accessible bells in the tower. The symbol of authority became a vehicle for the desires, fears, and reflections of the students: reaching through the school community, across family, deep into the city and to the peaks of Yangmingshan.


Distance of the Mind’s Ear 記憶的耳朵距離

2019 Madou Sugar Industry Triennial, Madou, Taiwan

About the work:

Viewed from the vantage point of an elevated shelter, the floodplain of the Zengwun River presents an ambiguous landscape. Dense vegetation provides an infinite complexity of detail whilst simultaneously masking topographical markers of place. Sounds come to us in a diffuse blur, divorced from their point of origin. It provides an opportunity to extend this ambiguity into the realm of time and memory. ‘Distance of the Mind’s Ear’ uses sounds placed in the site to connect us to possible sonic events of Madou, past and present. Beyond the ‘possible’, we also encounter the ‘unlikely’ or the ‘implausible’. Through these introduced sounds, the present moment becomes slippery, and time stretches into hazy memories and imagined events.  


Democracy Xiangqi 民主象棋

September 2018: Site-specific installation for ‘Site of Counsciousness: Council Room’ at the MinJhih Civic Centre (formerly Tainan County Council), Xinying, Tainan.

About the work:

The first time I visited the former Tainan County Council building I noticed that directly across the road was a large park with many people playing Xiangqi under the shade of the trees. Facing each other across the road, the almost dormant government building and the casual (but serious) social gathering of locals seemed to offer a commentary on one another. I also discovered a room full of reel-to-reel tapes with archival recordings of council sessions dating back to the 1970s.

Field recordings made amongst the Xiangqi players in the park were played back on the conferencing microphone/speaker system in the formal Briefing Room on the third floor of the building. The windows of this room gave a direct view of the park and the daily meeting of players was just visible through the trees. Archival recordings of council sessions could be listened to on headphones in the same room. More importantly, the archival recordings were broadcast into the park via a medium range FM transmitter to be picked up by small portable radios from outside.


Gentle Steps Tainan

2017: Sound installation created for a hotel, The Place, Tainan

We tend to privilege sight as the primary sense for understanding the world around us. As travellers, we seek out the sights of the city, looking for the best vantage point for a photograph, maybe reading some information and then moving on. Sometimes this can reduce our experience of travelling to a series of destinations; points on a map to be collected with our eyes and our cameras. By focussing on listening, we are immediately forced to slow down: sound comes to us through time and doesn’t present its full truth in the moment. By asking ourselves “what do the sounds of this place tell me about its people, architecture, environment and history?”, we can start to discover layers of Tainan that are not immediately apparent.

Binaural recordings of sound walks made in Tainan city presented on headphones in the exhibition: