My background was in music, both in terms of what you would normally call music and also what you might call noise. I went to graduate school hoping to study cognitive anthropology or linguistic anthropology. I started thinking of signification in terms of language and its relation to thought, but before long I was thinking about the ways that non-linguistic sound does and does not signify because of my interest in music and sound. That led to me doing field work in India. One project involved looking at the way bell sounds function in the context of Hindu ritual in a particular temple in Tamilnadu. From there, I looked at the different roles of amplified sound in public city spaces—how they carve up social spaces and the connections between those amplified sounds and other sonic practices going on in the culture. I was making recordings, but at that time I thought of them primarily as illustrations for my academic writing. This dual background ultimately led me to the Sensory Ethnography Lab. Lucien [Castaing-Taylor] in particular was of the mind that it would be useful to have someone who thinks of sound first rather than image, in terms of training and helping people to be aware of that aspect of the work. I could bring this to bear, that sound should be one of the first things people think about before going out to record. Because that’s really when you need to think about it—not afterwards.Ernst Karel, 2013 (Moving image source interview)
Ernst Karel works with sound, including electroacoustic music, experimental nonfiction sound works for multichannel installation and performance, and postproduction sound for nonfiction vilm [film/video], with an emphasis on observational cinema. His recent solo projects are edited/composed using unprocessed location recordings; in performance he sometimes combines these with analog electronics to create pieces which move between the abstract and the documentary. Recent sound projections have been presented at Sonic Acts, Amsterdam; Oboro, Montreal; EMPAC, Troy NY; Arsenal, Berlin; and the 2014 Whitney Biennial.
stereo audio, 32 minutes
Mycological is an audio piece which takes as its subject certain aspects of human encounters with fungi, including DNA analysis in a laboratory, historical specimens in an herbarium, and forays with the Boston Mycological Club.
4K CinemaScope, 5.1 surround sound, 23 minutes
Single Stream takes a close look at the problem of waste, through a visual and sonic exploration of a recycling facility. The title refers to the “single stream” method of recycling in which all types of recyclables are initially gathered together, and sorted later at a specialized facility. With Single Stream, viewers enter one of the largest of these materials recovery facilities in the US. Inside a cavernous building, a vast machine complex runs like clock-work, sorting a steady stream of glass, metal, paper and plastic carried on conveyor belts criss-crossing the space, dotted with workers in neon vests. The interwoven movements of human and machine produce sounds and images that are overwhelming, but also beautiful, and even revelatory. Blurring the line between observation and abstraction, Single Stream is a meditation on our society’s culture of excess and its consequences.