#12 – A part has gone missing

It has a dreamy quality: disorientating and strange. Jane Baker’s sound piece Echo Part 1 – A Neurological Soundscape is a thing of beauty, and I was lucky enough to hear it during my visit to Hobart. An intimate twenty-minute recording, it was originally produced for small audiences who wore headphones. It explores the disjointed and isolating experience of living with dementia.

While audiences usually enter a carefully curated space, with visual effects, Jane offered me a more modest experience in her office, through a laptop!

The piece is based on the daily routine of an aged care facility and the inner world of memories. It’s like living within a story. And wow, it’s emotional. You as the listener become a central character with dementia, experiencing the world around her in sounds, unsure and unclear, piecing together the voices and the noises and the dreams of the past.

What’s interesting for me about Jane’s work is how she builds a story through sound and technology. Jane worked in aged care for years. She recalled one resident saying his dementia was ‘not as if I’ve forgotten everything, but a part has gone missing.’ She used this idea in the making of the sound piece: taking out slivers of sound to unsettle the listener.

I’m viewing Jane’s work through the lens of literature, because to me she has created an immersive fiction, inviting people to enter. The auditory elements of a story opens up possibilities of sharing something of the lives of those who might otherwise not be able to express the experience. 

Jane is brilliant. You should look up her work. Currently she’s developing projects which explore the benefits of introducing virtual soundscapes to people with dementia.

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#11 – Let’s make public literature projects

Oh my. Hobart is so beautiful.

I spent my first evening at Mona, the gallery here, marvelling at the eclectic collection housed here, and watching the sunset fade sitting within a James Turrell sculpture (pic above). This part of Tasmania is fizzing with activity. Hobart looks like an olde English town, with a mountain backdrop, and tons of public art everywhere. Even the street furniture is decorated by artists.

Literature-wise, there’s a buzzing Writers’ Centre housed in an arts complex, a festival for writers and readers, and a great literary and ideas magazine called Island, which has a growing reputation. During my stay I met with the arts and communities teams at Hobart City Council, as well as with festival directors for the writing and the Ten Days international arts festivals.

Tasmania has the highest proportion of older people in Australia, and its local policies reflect that. Hobart has two really great strategic frameworks. One is about positive ageing, supporting the participation of seniors in the Hobart community. The Council runs Mathers House, a centre which promotes friendship, social connectedness and interaction. The second is Creative Hobart, a strategy to boost the arts in the city… and includes an emphasis on public literature projects, such as writers in residence schemes and community writing activities. Rock on.

With Jo and Danielle, I spent the morning considering how these two strategies interlink. We thought about the ways writers could bring their writing from a solo practice to public forums, use plinths and walls, pavements and light boxes, join and facilitate community groups, and offer readers and audiences marvellous new ways to interact with poetry and fiction.

The idea of public or collaborative or community or applied literature really intrigues me. But there are challenges, as writing is usually a private act, a solo practice. How can we elevate this form of writing equal to that produced on the page or for the stage?