Doug Aitken

An astonishing film from the centre of the earth, taken from a new sonic installation deep in the Brazilian rainforest

Deep in the hills of the Brazilian rainforest, a new installation by Californian artist Doug Aitken is listening to the earth. In a hole a mile deep, highly sensitive microphones transform low-level noise and vibrations into audible sounds that are amplified in the glass-walled pavilion above. As the earth’s plates shift and groan, primal sounds from its core rise in a cacophony of harmonious melodies and sonic violence.  Aitken’s Sonic Pavilion is a permanent installation for the Instituto Cultural Inhotim, a tropical shrine to modern art set over 3000 acres in Brumadinho, southeast Brazil. The public museum, established in 2002, houses an impressive private collection of more than 600 works in small pavilions scattered around botanical parkland. Other artists whose work can be discovered under its canopies include Matthew Barney and Pipilotti Rist.

Aitken’s pavilion taps into a profound sense of wonder with the Earth that over the centuries has inspired hundreds of writers to imagine strange beasts and underground layers in the hollows below our feet. “We think of the Earth as something stable now, and that it’s us and our lives that are changing and shifting,” says Aitken. "One of the things that was important to me was to make a work that would come to life. The notion that tomorrow you might have a radically different experience to the one you had the day before captures my imagination."

Aitken has swum the Panama Canal, and once lay in a coma for four days following a swimming accident. This might go some way to explaining why his multimedia work often reflects a view of the world that is rough and violent, and yet mysteriously harmonious. He won the International Prize at the 1999 Venice Biennale for his acclaimed installation Electric Earth, a non-linear portrayal of one man’s journey through an anonymous urban wasteland. In his 2007 film installation Sleepwalkers, five interlocking vignettes of New York dwellers played by actors including Donald Sutherland and Tilda Swinton were projected on to the outside walls of the Museum of Modern Art, casting the city as a living organism fed by the desires and ambitions of its inhabitants. “It triggers a very mesmerising, haunting and destabilising sensation," says Aitken of the Sonic Pavillion. "It’s a piece that is endless because it’s tapped in to something living, in a certain way. The curved glass of the pavilion has a lenticular film on it, which I felt allowed the piece to go even further, because what’s in front of you is clear but everything else starts to become diffused. I was hoping to create a system, both sonically and visually, in which everything is becoming incredibly sharp."