Ernst Karel (b. 1970, Palo Alto) 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. Sound installations in collaboration with Helen Mirra have been exhibited at the Gardner Museum, Boston; Culturgest, Lisbon; KW Institute for Contemporary Art, Berlin; Audiorama, Stockholm; MIT List Visual Arts Center, Cambridge; and in the 2012 Sao Paulo Bienal. Video with multichannel sound collaborations include Ah humanity! (2015, with Lucien Castaing-Taylor and Véréna Paravel) and Single Stream (2014, with Toby Lee and Pawel Wojtasik). Other projects include the long-running electroacoustic duo EKG, and the location recording/performance collective the New England Phonographers Union. CDs of his often collaborative work have been released on and/OAR, Another Timbre, Cathnor, Gruenrekorder, Locust, Sedimental, and Sshpuma record labels, among others. From 2006 until 2017 he managed the Sensory Ethnography Lab at Harvard University, doing postproduction sound for vilms including The Iron Ministry, Manakamana, and Leviathan, and where as Visiting Lecturer on Anthropology, he continues to teach a production class every other year in ‘sonic ethnography’.
For this project, Veronika Kusumaryati and Ernst Karel are working with archival location recordings created as part of FSC founding director Robert Gardner’s so-called “Harvard-Peabody Expedition to Netherlands New Guinea” in 1961, during which Dead Birds was filmed. This body of recordings documents an extended encounter between the expedition and the Hubula (a.k.a. Dani) people in the Baliem Valley of West Papua, in what was then Netherlands New Guinea but would shortly come under Indonesian military rule. The expedition consisted of several of the wealthiest members of New England and New York society, wielding 16mm film cameras, still photographic cameras, reel-to-reel tape recorders, and a microphone, where the microphone articulated a point of intersection between the expedition’s recordist, Standard Oil heir and recent Harvard graduate Michael C. Rockefeller, and those who inhabited the valley. Working through the resulting recordings, our aim is three-fold. First, with help from Kusumaryati’s research contacts in West Papua, where she is pursuing ongoing research on colonialism, decolonization, and postcoloniality, we are creating an edited, annotated, usable archive of recordings, which we will deliver to the Hubula people. Second, we will make a selection of these recordings for publication on CD. Finally, we are composing a feature-length sound composition/imageless work for cinema/concert. This piece, titled Harvard-Peabody Expedition to Netherlands New Guinea, 1961, aims to reflect on several facets of what was a complex historical moment: a moment in the history of the Film Study Center, a moment in the development of approaches to anthropology and to media/visual anthropology, a moment in the lives of the Hubula people, a moment in the short life of Michael Rockefeller, and a moment in colonial history in general and in the history of West Papua more specifically.