The work of Hannah Rickards (born London, 1979, lives in London) investigates the translation of naturally occurring phenomena into sounds, texts and installations. For Birdsong (2002), the artist took recordings of six different passages of birdsong and lowered their pitch, creating longer musical phrases within her own vocal range. She then sang and recorded these readymade melodies before raising them back to their original speed. The resulting tunes are presented in the exhibition space alongside a typewritten text that described the production process. In reducing the sonic complexity of birdsong to something humanly reproducible, the piece not only negates the sounds' origins, but also suggests a kind of representation somewhere between replica and reinvention.
Thunder (2005) is based on the same mechanism of reproduction. A recording of an eight-second thunderclap was stretched into a seven-minute passage, transcribed and arranged into a score for a sextet by composer David Murphy. The subsequent performance was recorded, and compressed to last eight seconds. In the resulting musical storm, viola and trumpet bursts can still be heard, but like Birdsong, Thunder is not concerned with the straight imitation of a source sound but rather with its enrichment through misrepresentation. In the installation, accompanied by a text pinned to the wall, the manufactured thunderclap could be heard an average of 12 times per hour, at intervals ranging from 30 seconds to 11 minutes. Thunder can therefore be experienced as one roar, many, or none.
It is this last possibility that sheds light on the importance of textual material in the artist's practice - Rickards' texts encapsulate the essence of the experiment, summing up all the stages involved in the creation of the piece. But despite this informative content, these documents retain a strong degree of autonomy, echoing the use of the written word within Conceptualism and confronting the viewer with the physicality of the artistic process. In Birdsong, as in Thunder, there is nothing left of the original sound, as Rickards' method requires the loss of the replicated sources. Such absence is at the very core of the installation '... a legend, it, it sounds like a legend...' (2007). For this project, the artist tackled a scientific oddity: the rarely perceived sound that accompanies the Aurora Borealis, the light phenomenon that is regularly observed in circumpolar regions caused by electromagnetic solar winds colliding with the earth's outer atmosphere. Rickards collected accounts from those who perceived the sound in Alaska and Canada. Three monitors display extracts of the transcripts while the speakers play their recordings at times echoing the text, at others acting as a counterpoint. "It was like a crackling sound," says one witness, while another evokes the humming of a "lightsaber, you know, from Star Wars". Each testimony is a striking example of language's inability to accurately communicate a sensorial experience.
Rickards' project for Nought to Sixty exists within the pages of this publication, and those accompanying the September and October programmes. Unframed and un-explicated, these non-sequitur additions consider the return of language to the realm of the mythical, and the published document as a means to disseminate a sense of the ineffable. Operating between modes of perception and representation, and a slippage between what is said and what is understood, Rickards highlights the human desire to speak the unspeakable.