PORTLAND, Maine – Sound recording artist Dianne Ballon remembers the exact moment she heard the magic happen, right in front of her ears.
Swinging on the deck of a boat in the middle of Casco Bay last summer, with its headphones and microphone pointed out to sea, the ship whirled around.
And it was there.
Two separate channel buoys sounded together. We sounded a gong. The other blew a whistle blown by the wind. The two rode the tide on top of the rough sea.
“It made me cry with joy,” Ballon said.
It’s like that with sounds, for her. They are art as well as emotionally moving experiences.
Visual artists work with color and canvas, pen and paper, or cameras and pixels. But Ballon uses a microphone and sound moments to construct his images.
“You could say that I paint with sound,” she said.
The channel buoy duo is just one of many expressive moments Ballon captured near her home in Portland last summer. Normally, she often records in remote places like the Arctic, but this year, thanks to the travel restriction pandemic and a grant from the Maine Arts Commission, she has spent the whole summer recording on the coast of Maine. .
This month, Ballon will begin sharing their new Maine-based sound art through presentations at the Maine Historical Society in Portland and the Thomas Memorial Library in Cape Elizabeth. Both events will be available online.
Ballon has had a long career in sound recording, both at home and in Iceland, the Arctic and the southern Appalachians. Ten of his sound works have appeared on National Public Radio’s All Things Considered. Currently, she teaches audio production at Maine College of Art.
Ballon received an individual scholarship of $ 5,000 from the Maine Arts Commission in 2021.
Last week Ballon sat down with us to talk about his artistic process and the sound itself.
Question: When creating your art, what kinds of sounds are you looking for?
A: I think people generally don’t hear sound, although we are bombarded with it every day. Because, in a wonderful way, our brains can filter sound – so if we are on a busy street, talking with someone, we can focus on listening to the person. What I’m doing is working with that background sound, or field sound.
Question: But instead of the noises of the busy street, you get even more interested in the natural world in the background, don’t you?
A: Yes, and it’s very difficult to go out and record the sound that I’m looking for – to isolate that sound and not have other sounds interfering with it. Cars and trucks are not preferable. When I get the sound I want, I stay long and record more than I need.
Question: It reminds me of how I take pictures as a photographer. There’s a whole world out there, but I’m trying to narrow it down to what I want to frame in my viewfinder. Only do you “look” with your ears rather than with your eyes?
A: Yes. It’s exactly that.
Question: Thanks to this grant from the Maine Arts Commission, you stayed in Maine this summer while doing your job.
A: Yes. I go to the Arctic a lot – and the monetary purse would have been a good part of an airplane trip – but I focused more on the sounds at home. The pandemic really allowed me to have this beautiful concentration. I think I ended up going over 600 miles in Maine alone.
Question: Apart from the Casco Bay buoys, what have you recorded and where else on the coast this summer?
A: I took a four day trip to South Bristol and the Christmas Cove area. I also explored Schoodic Point, Prospect Harbor and Birch Harbor. I always go to ports for squeaky boats. I also registered in a lobster cooperative in Korea. I got there as the lobster fishermen were unloading their catch – with spontaneous conversations, back and forth – and the lobster boats were pulling up and going.
Question: When I listen to your sounds, especially with headphones, I immediately have images in my head.
A: With something like video, the image is predetermined and the sound just becomes the background. But the wonderful thing about this image in your mind is that you create it yourself.
Dianne Ballon will present her work online at Maine Historical Society from 6 p.m. to 7 p.m. on Thursday January 13 and at Thomas Memorial Library from 6.30 p.m. to 7.30 p.m. on Thursday, January 20.