Programme Review

Listening to absence: Sound archives of (non-)empty rooms

22 May 2024

Audio installation programme based on field recordings collected in Kyiv and nearby during 2011–2024

The war continues and we continue to witness it, to register it: given the millions of phones and phone cameras in existence, this is probably the most widely documented war in history. But a phone is a sound recorder, too, and the war is an intense sound event, among other things, a space of transgressive sound. Long, close listening to the sound of mortal danger, the sound that signals someone’s death, the sound of grief conditions our hearing just like listening to a lack of sound does: we are surrounded by a mass of silenced sound spaces, empty rooms.


This small installation programme consists of three parts that differ both in terms of the timing of the collected recordings (Kyiv before the full-scale invasion, Kyiv after it, and Kyiv in the moment of transition) and in terms of the way the recordings are treated.


The peaceful pre-2022 Kyiv, which has now disappeared, is the subject of the Kyiv Eternal audiovisual installation by Oleh Shpudeiko. Here fragments of field recordings work as points of entry into certain states which are further built up, developed via artistic techniques (such as ambient composition) that form ‘memory cycles’. A tram from the Vidradny neighbourhood, Shuliavka in winter, minibus drivers luring their passengers like rare birds do — along with more typical birds singing in the Botanical Garden, lonesome night strolls through  the city, the Silpo grocery store and the Landscape Alley, the metro rides — Oleh moves around his memories of the city using all the available means of transportation. The installation uses a video work by Kachna Baraniewicz and Maryna Osnach, mapped by Illia Kovalenko / ctrl-i.


Kyiv after the invasion is the subject of the Death in June, an audio documentary by Ian Spektor, based on his field recordings collected in Kyiv, Chernihiv and Volodarka. It is dedicated to Ian’s four friends who were killed in the summer of 2023 near Bakhmut, in Orikhiv and near Kupyansk: Gena Kolesnyk, Kostia Kuzin, Bohdan Mazurenko, and Anton Petrochko. Even though the work  features many city sounds, it is not an ambient piece; there are also no additional musical elements composed by Ian in the tracks, as he only worked with cuts and overlays. About half of the play consists of fragments of conversations overheard and then recalled; at times one can make up every word, but often the voices are drowned in the noise of other memories. Almost all of the voices here, apart from those of priests, commanders and hospital patients, belong to friends or neighbours. It is a private diary of loss, but at the same time a sound imprint of Kyiv in the spring–summer 2023, where birds are still singing and children are still playing in the parks, but moving around the city often means moving with a funeral procession.


A transition between these two Kyivs is a small archive of home audio recordings made in the spring of 2022 and collected by the Ukho agency. It is an inherently musical material: sound testimonies of private conversations between a person and their instrument in an emptied city, during the battle for Kyiv and right after its end. 

Text: Sasha Andrusyk, curator (the Ukho agency).

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The events of the DOCU/SYNTHESIS Interdisciplinary Art Programme will be held in Zhovten Cinema and the House of Cinema on 31 May–6 June. The exclusive partner of the programme is ArtsLooker, a bilingual media outlet about Ukrainian art. The partner of the programme is Suspilne Culture, a Ukrainian public broadcaster and online media outlet about contemporary culture.

The 21st Docudays UA is held with the support of the Embassy of Sweden in Ukraine, the US Embassy in Ukraine, International Media Support, the Embassy of the Kingdom of the Netherlands in Ukraine, the Embassy of Estonia in Ukraine, the Polish Institute in Kyiv, Institut français d'Ukraine, Danish Cultural Institute, the Czech Centre in Kyiv, and the Embassy of Hungary in Kyiv. The opinions, conclusions, or recommendations do not necessarily reflect the views of the governments or organisations of these countries. Responsibility for the content of the publication lies exclusively on the authors of the publication.

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