Darsha Hewitt (CA/DE) High Fidelity Wasteland II: The Protoplastic Groove

2021, sound installation

High Fidelity Wasteland is a trilogy of sound-centric works that wade through generations of decomposing material waste produced by the global music industry.

High Fidelity Wasteland II: The Protoplastic Groove is an immersive sound installation consisting of a 1950s era record player that devolves the audible timescale of music from the past. The work amplifies and inhabits the impurities, noise, and biological origins of shellac records – the precursor to vinyl as we know it today. Rather than rapidly spinning these classical compositions and nostalgic hits at the standard 78 rpm (revolutions per minute), this work slows everything down to a mere 16 rpm and stretches sound into an encompassing somber landscape.

The first form of widely collectible music was inscribed on the byproduct of an insect survival strategy.

Whereas High Fidelity Wasteland I: 100 Year Old Quicksilver Cloud (2020) sonifies the toxic high-frequency environment of vaporized metals inside a vacuum tube – a technical component pervasive throughout early radio and communication transmission technology – this work revolves around the hidden ecological origins at the foundation of recorded music.

The shellac record was the first ever disk-shaped recording medium which allowed people to own, collect and listen to music on a gramophone in the domestic setting. And although, as a material, it looks and behaves like any other plastic, this dark resin is in fact an organic bio-adhesive – one that is excreted by the tree dwelling lac beetle as a protective shelter for her offspring. Chemically similar to synthetic polymers, shellac is considered a natural form of plastic – one that was rapaciously harvested and commodified throughout the 20th century for the global music industry. Although produced on a massive scale, shellac records signify a short-lived transition towards the plastification of music at the outset of our throwaway culture.

The second work in the trilogy was inspired and supported by the German Phono-Museum St. Georgen, which was made possible through a residency at the Kunstverein Global Forest e.V. in Saint Georgen in the Black Forest. High Fidelity II: The Protoplastic Groove was realised within the framework of the European Media Art Platform EMARE programme at KONTEJNER with support of the Creative Europe programme of the European Union. The artist gratefully acknowledges the support of Daniel Stigler, Irene Pérez Hernández, Studio Alex Rex, Olsen Wolf, Jürgen Weiser and the German Phono-Museum St. Georgen.

Darsha Hewitt (CA/DE)

Darsha Hewitt’s art practice is situated across new media and sound, and grows out of material based research and experimentation with obsolete technology. She makes sound installations, electromechanical works, performances, video, drawing, and photography. Her studio practice takes a media-archeological approach to art making, where hidden systems within technology are de/re-mystified as a means to trace out structures of economy, power, and control embedded throughout Western culture. Her artwork is presented internationally, with recent exhibitions at the Hong Kong City Hall (CN), Halle14 – Centre for Contemporary Art (DE), MU Artspace (NL), The Museum of Arts and Design, New York City (US), HMKV Hartware MedienKunstVerein (DE), Gaitée Lyrique (FR), Modern Art Oxford (UK), transmediale (DE), CTM Festival Berlin (DE), and WRO Media Art Biennale (PL). She has been awarded numerous commissions, grants, and awards for her work, including an International Production Stipend from The Edith-Russ-Haus for Media Art and a fellowship at the Berlin Centre for Advanced Studies in Arts and Sciences at Berlin University of the Arts.