As the publisher of the artists’ book Silence on Loan (ISBN: 978-1-5272-3880-0), I am required under the Legal Deposit Libraries Act 2003, to deposit a copy of the publication with the British Library. This copy must be ‘of the same quality as the best copies which, at the time of delivery, have been produced for publication in the United Kingdom.’ [Legal Deposit Libraries Act 2003]
The Act applies to printed publications and excludes sound recordings. As an artists’ book in the form of a 10” vinyl record (or dubplate), the publication of Silence on Loan, poses some questions about what constitutes a printed publication. Cut with a silent groove, Silence on Loan is not a sound recording, but rather, a record of a moment when nothing was recorded. The absence of sound etched into the vinyl, ‘sets a mark upon on a surface’ and may therefore be called a print (but not a reproduction) of silence. Stored without the protection of cover or sleeve, this silent print is imprinted (again) with the plosions and fricatives of harm and damage that materiality asserts.
As a book, Silence on Loan is always being rewritten.
In my recent exhibition Various Silences, at Winchester School of Art Library, Silence on Loan was exhibited with a ‘copy’ made for Legal Deposit. Submitting the publication for legal deposit, poses questions concerning the reproduction of an original, which is still being written. Perhaps what is needed is not a copy or reproduction, but a doppelgänger: an apparition of silence. The inscription of one surface upon another, generates a silent palimpsest, a haunted silence. Visually the mechanics of rubber stamps mimic likeness whilst establishing difference: the subtle [dis]placement and frailties of ink creating unique traces with each duplication.
A letter written to accompany the legal deposit copy [apparition] of Silence on Loan, was typed on a (Brother) typewriter and duplicated in triplicate using two sheets of carbon paper. The materiality of this correspondence is reinforced by providing only physical address (no mobile number, no email address.) At the post office, silence was weighed, measured and sent (recorded delivery) to the Deposit Office of the British Library in Boston, Yorkshire.
A receipt for this deposit is pending.
I was recently invited to take part in Elemental Dialogues: air, an interdisciplinary research project by the artist filmmakers, Anna Cady and Pauline Thomas. The project involves artists from an array of disciplines, writers, musicians, poets and dancers, all of who were invited to create their own ‘interpretation’ of the short film Air by Cady & Thomas. The resulting interpretations would then be ‘re-embedded into the film’, creating new, pluridisciplinary artworks, each of which tells a different and sometimes radically unexpected story’. It seems inherent to the project that the contributors interpret not only the film, but also the meaning of interpretation.
Perhaps because of my use of field-recording and an educational diet of 1970’s conceptual art and avant-garde film, I have an inherent suspicion of interpretation. As a word it suggests a concern with the subjective and considered. In her essay Against Interpretation, Susan Sontag describes interpretation as “a conscious act of the mind [illustrating] a certain code”. This description is augmented by the Oxford English Dictionary, whose definition combines the austerity of ‘explaining’, ‘understanding’ and ‘defining’ with the superficiality of ‘stylistic representation’.
Whilst field-recording I attempt to be as transparent as possible in order to let the sound through, allowing the unrecorded present to become a recorded past with as little interference (or interpretation) as possible: in the words of John Cage: ‘let sounds be themselves’. I am of course aware that Cage was not a fan of recorded sound (see David Grubbs book, Records Ruin the landscape) and I accept that the fluff of my blimp and bent of my microphone will find and amplify certain noises, whilst excluding others, thereby interfering with the sound recorded. But an inclination toward absence remains, whilst in my practice I accept and often celebrate the flaw, blemish and failure inherent in the act of recording.
air: wire wool and battery / mp3 / 01:10
dialogue with air: composed interpretation / mp3 / 03:56
For my contribution to the project I wanted a dialogue with ‘air’ that would avoid subjective, analytical, or emotional ‘responses’, preferring an ‘interpretation’ focused upon the sensual and temporal qualities of the film. I was drawn to the ephemerality of the imagery, and began listening for moments of air when its presence drifts between the audible and silent. I was interested in listening for these temporal qualities, more than the sonic consequence of its visibility: such as the rustle of leaves in a breeze. I began exploring chemical reactions that required air to occur, moments where air is used up and sound goes out. These field-recordings included the flameless chemistry of wire wool kindled by electricity and the designed illumination of a match struck gently.
I used these recordings to ‘compose’ a soundscape in retrospect: it was important not to watch the film whilst recording or composing, to look away in order to allow the sensual and temporal qualities to be filtered through my memory. This also helped me to avoid the temptation to synchronise sound to imagery, although a simple graphic score was created, to map the geography of the composition. I also used the fixed length of the film to set the duration of composition. Subsequently, it occurred to me that this almost intuitive inclination to synchronisation created a restriction that would be neither required nor applied to an interpretation in words or drawing. It seemed more appropriate to interpret the film holistically rather than breaking it up into a code of synchronised fragments.
air struck gently (away from the body) / mp3 / 05:05
Listening to the soundscape and the original field-recordings I found the austere narrative of a match struck, was the most transparent and eloquent interpretation of the film. The temporality of each match was innate, unique and complete, whilst in the composed soundscape time was fragmented. I concluded that the interpretation should preference performance to re-composition, allowing the unique sound of each match to occur and disappear like a breath, unformed by the voice of aesthetic decisions.
I found the stillness and temporal shifts in the film, reminiscent of Yoko Ono’s Flux Film No. 14: One (1966), in which the muted strike of a match is filmed at 2000fr/sec, extending and pausing the moment of illumination. Free of a prescribed duration, I applied this process to one of the match recordings, prolonging and amplifying the sonic details of its narrative, from the rush of chemical ignition to the gaseous cackle of flame and the final intermittent creek of exhalation as the match curls up in the silent darkness of light and air exhausted: ‘Then there begins a silence that breathes’ (Gaston Bachelard)
 The safety instruction on boxes of Swan Vesta matches advises the user to: ‘Strike gently away from the body’.
An ‘exploration’ of the interpretations by artists, writers and dancers have been ’embedded’ in a site-specific collaboration at The Manor, Huntingdon, Cambridgeshire next weekend. More details here: https://talkthinkmake.wordpress.com/book/
Another collaboration will take place in London on the 7th May.
Two single-sided 10” records were made, each cut with a silent groove. Revolving at 33rpm, each record was ‘recorded’ without input and provides over 7 minutes of soundless revolve. Something strange and quietly hypnotic occurs when you place such a record on a turntable and watch as the dampened fall of needle finds the groove. The record ‘plays’ without the expected audible consequence, making silence appear to double. The lack of synchronicity between sound and action seems to cause time to pause. There is a sense of displacement, and I feel slightly transparent. But the experience is more meditative than disturbing.
In an act of microphone-less field recording, I used the two records to record the tides at Holme-next-the-Sea and Cley. On the beach at Holme, I walked to the shoreline and placed a record in a stream of seawater. As the tide came in, each wave covered the record in a layer of sand, the particles of silica rolling over the surface of the mute spiral. After seven minutes the record was rescued from the sea, tidemarks of sand appearing on its surface, as it dried in the sun. On the shore at Cley, the retreating sea pummelled the surface of the remaining record with waves of roaring shingle.
Tide: Holme-next-the-sea | sand | tide coming in | edit
Tide: Cley | shingle | tide going out | edit
Returning each record to the platter of the gramophone, the needle moves across the coast of the silent vinyl spiral, meeting and dislodging particles of sand as it listens to the damage done. The revolve of the vinyl echoes the rotation of the earth, while the needle redistributes the sand across the surface of the record, rebuilding it’s own coastline . In the surface noise of self-harm, we can hear the records memory of water, as two quiet tides of time and silence.
I now imagine a vinyl index of tides, a tidal clock, mapping the coasts of England, the rotation of the earth and the gravitational pull and push of the lunar calendar.
The Xerox machine or photocopier, is one of my most favoured drawing instruments. If time, and credit permit, I take full advantage of its ability to, replicate, generate and damage visual information. The dry (xeros) writing (graphia) process of electrophotography is of course intended to reproduce: to copy and duplicate quickly. However, the copying process introduces its own artifacts, through the mechanical and chemical degeneration of information, scratches and dirt on the glass plate, and banding streaks of diminishing ink. Such inherent loss has the potential to transform a copy into an original copy, which is both unique and singular. The forensic study of such blemishes of reproduction can actually be used to identify specific brands and models of photocopier. Such unintentional errors constitute a form of steganography or concealed writing, inscribing a hidden message, available only to those who know it is there: visual notes that only some can read
It would perhaps then seem appropriate to use Xerography as a method of creating or rather, [re] producing a graphic score. The reproduction process feels distinctly hand rendered: the touched weight and texture of each sheet of paper, the gestures of hands choreographed by the feeding and retrieving procedure. Although immediate, there is a hesitant, analogue delay, as the photo-chemically scored ‘copy’ arrives concealed, face down and late. The optional manual feed allows for the use of different (‘thick’) papers and the reorientation, repetition and layering of inscription. For me the actual labour of making the copies regenerates memories of etching and the traditional printing process.
The xerographic scores are not made in response to sounds, like some of my other graphic scores (for example, the (mono)printed, ‘drawn’ & copied score for Yvon Bonenfant’s Masz project (see below) made in response to Diamanda Galas’s Plague Mass, or the traced, Letraset score for three landscapes and a river, made in response to my own soundscapes). The copier scores are intended as a method of making sounds yet unheard, available to hearing. They offer poetic, visual organisations of sound, open to the error of reproduction and indeterminate of any prescribed sonic response.
‘My favorite music is the music I haven’t yet heard. I don’t hear the music I write, I write in order to hear the music I haven’t yet heard’ (John Cage).
Theresa Sauer’s excellent book Notations 21, explores the graphic scores of composers such as Cage, Earl Brown and R. Murray Schafer, allowing an insight into the compositional strategies of the musically adept. As a non-musician, who cannot read musical notation, the graphic score allows for a dialogue with sound in which visual and aural information enter into correspondence. The dry writings of the Xerographic scores, offer an opportunity for not only the interpretation and organisation of yet sounds yet unheard, but also an appeal to the ‘unstruck sounds’ (Schafer) available to the imagination. Might they also allow the eye to adopt the perceptual inclination of the ear? The eye, so concerned with isolating information and bringing the indistinct into solid focus, may become draw into the unlimited rhythms of attention and hesitation, more normally allied with listening: allowing the visual to take on the perceptual ‘condition of music’ (Walter Pater).
Graphic score for Yvon Bonenfant’s Masz project (detail)
Yesterday I tested three soundscapes for an event at the Theatre Royal Winchester. The event called Map Plot Plunder Possession will form the centerpiece for the 10 Days Across the City art festival.
My three soundscapes are extended versions from the winnall moors sound walk project; Winchester Cathedral; and an abstract ‘interval’ composed from sounds evoked by ‘playing’ the hanging rods of the lighting/screen system. The interval maintains the sequence and rhythm of the original ‘live’ recording, but the sounds have been layered and manipulated slightly, to create three variations on a theme, each interval separating the moors and Cathedral soundscapes. I also composed a sonic river, which will be running through the theatre public address system. The public address system provides a strange form of acousmatics, locating the sound whilst simultaneously suggesting a space beyond the visible. The system disperses the origin of the sound and creates different architectural pools and tributaries as the sound interacts with the acoustics of the space. The towering atrium space creates an immense reverberation chamber, which again hides the source of the sound, whilst in spite of the speakers actually being located at head height, suggests a waterfall of invisible rain pouring down upon our ears.
As with many of my other sound works I am interested in the problem of drawing from the sounds visually, in the form of a graphic score. As with my score for Yvon Bonenfant, the drawings are not intended to represent the sound as much as conjure up a method of translating sound into visual form, which allow others to reinterpret back into sound. Not being a musician and working with field-recording & phonography, I am using sounds that are not normally notated. However, I am interested in the synaesthetic dialogue between visual and aural material and the handing over of compositional control.
The graphic score forthree soundscapes and a river, uses old Letraset and the process of tracing and following the mapped lines of rivers, which run through the moors and around the Cathedral. The compositional drawing unintentionally mimics the digital waveform pattern of the sounds.
If any musicians would be interested in interpreting these graphic scores, please get in touch.
Went to Frieze on Friday and managed to find Carsten Nicolai at G7 (Galerie Eigen). Really liked the prints from his Grid Index and the glass stacks with random dots. Aptly, when I took a picture of the stacks you could see the grid of the Frieze tent reflected in the glass; strangely when I used the camera on my iPhone the ceiling fans slowed down as did the reflections of people passing.
I was tempted to buy one of the prints a snip at £800 Euro’s. Common sense overcame me and I departed Frieze with a DVD of John Cage Variations Vll as compensation. I also had a glimpse of Michael Stipe, who was looking ever so elegantly shy.
Some other highlights of Frieze included Ben Rivers (16mm film & shed); Roger Ackling (burning wood with a magnifying glass) & Amalia Pica’s very nice sculpture using string, potatoe & coke bottle (pic below).
Went to see Yvon Bonenfant perform Beacons at The Point, Eastleigh. Rather impressive. It was interesting how his voice became separated from his body, floating in or tearing apart the air surrounding him: reminiscent of the ectoplasm of clairvoyance. I have a thing for voice and it’s ghost.
I created a graphic score in response to Plague Mass by Diamanda Galas for Yvon’s Masz project. This was subsequently turned back into voice and sound by Yvon & Will Edmondes. Yvon then made a video for the sound, which used the fragile surfaces of my score as a visual texture. The video has been seleceted for MIX 2011 Queer Experimental Film Festival in New York.