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(Re-)Contextualizing Meaning with Physical and Sonic Objects in the Work of Hanna Hartman

Heather Frasch

Heather Frasch


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With the incorporation of electronics and (pre-)recorded sound technologies into the musical performance situation, the sonic space expanded. A vast palette of timbral and sonic possibilities emerged. Ears were amplified and extended. It also brought about new instruments and objects onto the stage, most notably that of black boxes, or loudspeakers. Concerts of boxes instead of humans, filled our ears with complex sounds. Objects, who disembodied sounds from their sources, focused the listening while removing visual references. The hiding of the sound source inside of a big black box, started to bring about questions that needed to be answered. Artists asked themselves: what does it mean to remove an object from the stage, to leave it behind, or to bring it back. But a speaker hides, not only the sound source, but the performer of the source. So, when a human performer is present, to perform along with these black bodies full of musical richness, artists asked themselves what was the potential relationship between these seemingly distinct bodies. The performer / object relationship was drawn into question.
Electronic composer and sound artist, Hanna Hartman, has found a personal solution, which foregrounds the object, extracts its sonic properties, and creates artistic meaning with its presence on the stage. Her work connects and balances of all of these elements. Her starting point as a composer, was ‘sound for sound sake’, focusing on the purity of sounds and then re-contextualizing and revealing hidden correspondences between sounds. But her work has branched out, incorporating instrumentalists and other acoustic amplified objects. These objects are sonically rich, as well as hold strong metaphorical, yet non-explicit imagery.
In this paper, I will analyse Hartman’s work and her use of objects as electronic instruments. I will show how her objects fuse together sound, physicality, presence and meaning. Hartman’s work is a balance that allows the new electronic instruments to deepen the meaning of the composition, and change the presence of traditional instruments. Hartman’s works do not disembody or re-embody sounds, but rather re-embody the traditional acoustic instruments with the presence of her new objects. The sounds are re-contextualized through their presence, but also contain a strong enough voice that they are not overshadowed by the other bodies. The sparseness allows for the richness to be felt and heard, in all the collaborators: instrument, object, performer & sound.

EMS14 Proceedings