On Thursday the 27th of August I took a 10” vinyl record to the shingle shore of the North Sea at Cley in north Norfolk (N 520 57’ 41”, E 10 3’ 47”). With a single-side of unrecorded silence, the record plays nothing for seven minutes before spiraling into the looped shush of the run-off groove. The flip side, the b-side, is smooth and blank, except for the etched details of a return address.
The tide was going out.
I removed the record from its sleeve, walked to the edge of the sea and threw the silence into the waves.
The tide was still going out.
On Thursday August 27 2015 an announcement appeared in the Lost and Found section of The Times newspaper (No.71687). It read:
Silence lost in the North Sea at Cley, Norfolk. If found
return to: S. Hegarty c/o The British Library Sound Archive
The record lost was one of four such silences, one for each of the seas surrounding the coast of the UK: the North Sea, English Channel, Irish Sea and Atlantic Ocean.
Each record is cut with a silent groove. Without input or original signal, the record is not a record of silence, but rather a period of space and time during which nothing is recorded. If ever found, the audible harm of the damage done to its surface, becomes a record of its disappearnce and return.
The release of each record will follow the same process: at four different points along the coast of the UK one of the four records will be thrown into the sea. The silence of the record will not be recorded and its loss will not be filmed or photographed. An announcement placed in the Lost and Found section of The Times, will act as documentation. This will ensure that the loss of the silence will be recorded and held in the archives of the British Library. The British Library Sound Archive kindly agreed to the use of their address for the return of the silence should it ever be found. This has been etched onto the b-side of the record.
Perhaps this silence is not lost but rather discarded or surrendered? The lack of physical evidence and documentation undermines control, suggesting surrender. As the silence enters the unknown, control is lost and time and tide are allowed to compose a journey and determine survival. The silence is lost in terms of its geography: I have not calculated the currents effect upon its movement or used GPS to track its position. Whilst the address etched into the record, anticipates return, indeed asks for return, surrounding the discarded and surrendered silence with a sense of loss and of being lost to.
The lack of concrete documentation may call into question the existence of the record, truth of the action and site of disappearance (if ever it did disappear). Like the silence of its surface the record and its loss addresses the unknown and inaudible, it turns our ear toward sounds imagined, forgotten and ‘unstruck’: a silence lost to audition but not to our listening.
rain choir: the St James Variation Live performance at St James Hatcham Gallery, Goldsmiths, University of London
On the 5th May I took part in a small concert as part of the opening of Sound / Place, an exhibition curated by Tom Tlalim & Sandra Kazlauskaite, at St James Hatcham Gallery, Goldsmiths, University of London. The concert, which included performances by Yiorgis Sakellario, Istishhad Hheva and John Garcia Rueda & Ella Jane New, took place in the Listening Box, also known as the Sonics Immersive Media Lab (SIML). The immersive qualities of this technological space seemed to share a concern with the manipulation of sound present in the architecture of the Cathedral. I am interested in how the performance of the choir offers an opportunity for a continual recomposition within the dynamics of another place. Each recital introduces variations of acoustics and pattern, producing a form of sonic palimpsest: a murmuration of rainfall.
rain Choir: the St James variation (edit) | mp3 | 2015
The St James variation of rain choir draws on the field-recordings of the original site-specific sound installation for the crypt of Winchester Cathedral. These recordings explored the acoustic qualities and rhythms of rainfall as it fell through the gutters of the building. The choir also included sounds created by dissolving fragments of the Cathedral walls in acid. Echoing the percussive qualities of rainfall and the effect of its polluted chemistry, this naive chemical reaction releases a Palaeolithic and audible air of effervescent CO2, from the fossilised skeletal remains which form the Limestone.
In his autobiography of sight loss, John M. Hull describes how the sound of rain, ‘throws a coloured blanket over previously invisible things; instead of an intermittent and thus fragmented world, the falling rain creates ‘a continuity of acoustic experience’. For Hull, rain reveals place, presenting ‘the fullness of an entire situation all at once, […] actually and now’. He continues: ‘If only rain could fall inside a room…’
The rain then falling inside St James sounded out place. The original voices of the choir and those coloured by the acoustic of the cathedral crypt were joined by a ‘live’ dissolve of limestone fragments from the crypt and walls of the Cathedral. In an arid, invisible downpour, the choir immersed the audience in the dynamics and architecture of the Listening Box: an acoustic rain simultaneously describing and being described by the present site of audition.
Sound Place continues until 13/05/15 at St James Hatcham gallery, Goldsmiths, University of London.
foraminifera: acid dissolve (sketch for wednesday) | 03:16 | 2014
23/07/14 | 19:00 | The Railway, Winchester | SO22 5AE
after the rain: a live set of dead sounds
for field-recordings, found voices, foraminifera, ammonite and dinosaur shell.
I will be performing a live set of dead sounds as part of Fluviology; an evening of experimental music, organised by Joe Evans, founder of runningonair records. The evening includes performances by Delphine Dora, Sophie Cooper and Joe himself. The word fluviology is defined as the study of watercourses or rivers and all the sounds performed at the event will have some association with water. For my own part I have used the opportunity to listen through the damp corners of my archives; not only the fields I record but also the found sounds of discarded cassettes and obscure discontinued vinyl records. Strangely a number of the found recordings feature people talking about the weather and in particular rainfall. More abstractly, my own recordings have a deluge of watery substance from the submerged yelp of a forlorn jetty, and the traction and rattle of steam trains to the effervescent dissolve of an ancient ammonite. As I discussed in my previous post, water and sound share a sort of ‘substantial nothingness’ (Bachelard) a dynamic materiality that exists on the edge of tangibility, water and sound are continually escaping form and permanence. I want to maintain the dynamics of this fluidity in the performance for Fluviology. after the rain, will include a ‘live’ recomposition of the sound installation, rain choir, based on the original field-recordings and later recordings coloured by the acoustics of its installation in the crypt of Winchester Cathedral. As discussed in a previous post, the ‘live’ performance of field-recordings is always slightly problematic. The history and act of field-recording is associated with preservation and conservation; from the field-recording of folk music, to the ‘capture’ of animal noises and environments (soundscapes) threatened with extinction or destruction. In this way field recording is at odds with the dynamics of the substance it ‘preserves’. The act of recording tacitly entombs sound in the past; a moment removed from the essential fluidity of the present. For me field-recording has an innate relationship with failure and loss, the sounds I collect and keep are fossilised shells, dead sounds buried in the taxonomy of my archive. Performing them ‘live’ would seem to just augment their loss. But are there ways that these dead sounds may be reanimated? The collision and collage of juxtaposition creates ‘unique’ and vital sound fields, specific to this moment. The use of analogue recording equipment introduces its own vitality of decay, we can hear the damaged memories of harm as sounds age and corrupt; sound engages with the present by voicing disappearance: making loss apparent also animates.
In a previous post I mentioned how the sound of water and in particular rainfall evokes a strange sense of isolation and reverie. In the films of Andrei Tarkovsky, the acoustic (and visual) presence of rain quietly soaks the viewer in a sensual intimacy full of memory and reminiscence. I think this mnemonic quality of rain comes from the dullness of its voice. Consistent and uneventful, we are drawn into the conversation of its vacancy, listening ever closer, to the pattern of drip and tonality of drop.
‘Nobody started it, nobody is going to stop it. It will talk as long as it wants, the rain. As long as it talks I am going to listen.’
Thomas Merton in, David Abram, The Spell of the Sensuous
Water is a mysterious element […] it can convey movement and a sense of change and flux. Maybe it has subconscious echoes — perhaps my love of water arises from some atavistic memory of some ancestral transmigration.
I was recently invited to contribute to If Wet at the Flatpack Festival in Birmingham. Devised and organised by Sam Underwood and David Morton, If Wet normally takes place in Callow End, Village Hall and is ‘part test bed, part salon; a place for artists to showcase their latest sonic works and research’. It is not an event exclusively concerned with wetness, its title coming from the traditional English retreat indoors in response to a sudden downpour. However, for this urban excursion, If Wet focused (eponymously) upon the sound of water, bringing together a babble of soggy voices. Beginning with a short history of MortonUnderwood’s “water instrument” and included a gorgeous and possibly erudite recital upon said instrument. I say possibly erudite because, as a new instrument, a definitive method of playing is still to be discovered and the full vocabulary of its wetness yet to be heard. Prof Trevor Cox introduced some awe inspiring acoustics from his Sonic Wonderland, instruments and spaces, which operate at the intersection of human endeavor and natural phenomena: from the disconsolate (Tom Waits) moan of a Wave Organ to the longest reverberation in the world, formed in the vast emptiness of Inchindown oil storage tank, Scotland. For my own part I chose to consider and discuss the relationship between sound, memory and water using three of my dampest works: four walks around a year, ˈtʃɔːk: eight studies of hearing loss and the installation rain choir.
In his book The Strange Familiar and Forgotten Israel Rosenfield questions the idea of memory as a fixed system of storage and retrieval. Proffering a dynamic model, Rosenfield writes:‘We understand the present through the past, an understanding that revises, alters and reworks the very nature of the past in an on-going, dynamic process’.
Sound too is dynamic; a space ‘without fixed boundaries…[auditory space] is always in flux, creating its own dimensions moment by moment’. Water shares this state of flux, just as sound is coloured and formed by the present situation of its audition, water borrows its form from its current place of occupation. For Gaston Bachelard the substance of water is ‘full of reminiscence and prescient reveries’. Metaphorically we also lend the substance of water to memory; our memories have fathomless depth, they sink, submerge and rise to the surface of consciousness. Four walks around a year: winter, the final perambulation of a soundwalk quartet through the wet-lands of the winnall moors reserve in Winchester (UK), begins with an archive recording of city residents remembering the flooding of the moors in the years before and after ‘this last war’. These voices, which flood the landscape with history, emerge and submerge beneath the crisp, slowly thawing soundscape of winter. That which was then solid now melts, the sound dissolving not only the landscape, but substance itself.
Chalk (mirror) dissolve: after Robert Smithson
As part of If Wet, I performed a live dissolve, immersing various fossils and fragments of chalk (microbiological fossils) in vinegar. This process of sublimation, explored in ˈtʃɔːk: eight studies of hearing loss, makes audible a flight from substance, as the effervescent pre-historic CO2 escapes back into the present air: like a breath held in matter for millions of years, now quietly exhaled. One of the chalk fragments dissolved was ‘borrowed’ from an incarnation of Robert Smithson’s Chalk Mirror Displacement (1968). This was not intended as an attack on art history, but rather a sympathetic homage to Smithson’s occasionally visible Spiral Jetty. In counterpoint to this sublimation of matter, Trevor Cox, acoustic engineer and author of Sonic Wonderland, introduced us to the Great Stalacpipe Organ in the Luray Caverns, Virginia, whose ‘pipes’ have slowly dripped into solidity and stone: a precipitation into (sonorous) form.
A ghost of previous rain: recomposed version of the rain choir for If Wet
The sound of rain evokes a strange sense of isolation and reverie. In the films of Andrei Tarkovsky, its acoustic (and visual) presence quietly soaks the viewer in a sensual intimacy full of reminiscence and memory. As a wet conclusion to my talk I composed my own ghost of previous rain. Based on recordings of and from my site-specific sound installation rain choir, exhibited last year in the crypt of Winchester Cathedral, this acoustic shower mixed the drip drep and drop of gutter recordings with the live dissolve of limestone fragments taken from the walls of the crypt. Water can dissolve and dissipate, but it may also combine and associate. In his autobiography of sight-loss, Touching the Rock, John M. Hull describes how the sound of rain: ‘has a way of bringing out the contours of everything; it throws a coloured blanket over previously invisible things [and] creates continuity of acoustic experience […] The rain gives a sense of perspective and of the actual relationships of one part of the world to another.’
Yet this ‘perspective’ remains acoustic, in that it is fluid and dynamic, place emerging and disappearing in sonic detail, ‘moment by moment’ without the concrete solidity of visual form. In his book Water and Dreams, Gaston Bachelard recognises this ability of water to simultaneously dissolve and unite: ‘The first to be dissolved is a landscape in the rain; lines and forms melt away. But little by little the whole world is brought together again in its water. A single matter has taken over everything. “Everything is dissolved.”’
Just as the sound of CO2 escaping from a dissolving fragment of chalk, quietly announces the immanence of nothing in everything, so too the sound of rain remembers the ‘substantial nothingness’ of water. For John Hull, listening to the rainfall, extinguishes the borders between himself and the wet landscape, as if each raindrop were falling in his brain, he becomes one with the rainfall, a drop of rain at once present and disparate, substantial and not.
O soul, be chang’d into little water-drops,
And fall into the Ocean – ne’er be found
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.
set: to seat: to place: to put: to fix: to put, place, or fix in position or required condition: to apply: to cause to be: to plant: to stake: to put on eggs: to put under a hen: to spread, lay cover, as a table: to compose, as type: to put in type: to embed: to frame: to mount: to beset or bestow about: to stud, dot, sprinkle, variegate: to form or represent: to imprint: to make to become solid, coagulated, rigid, fixed or motionless: to begin to form: to regulate: to appoint: to ordain: to assign: to prescribe: to propound: to present for imitation: to put upon a course, start off: to incite, direct: to escort: to put in opposition: to posit: to pitch as a tune: to compose or fit to music: to sharpen as a razor: to indicate by crouching: to lease or let to a tenant: to become befit: conversely to appear to advantage: to sit: to hang in position: to be in session: to go down towards or below the horizon, to decline: to offer a stake: to become rigid, fixed hard or permanent: to coagulate: of a bone to knit: to settle down: to begin to develop as fruit: to dance in a facing position: to acquire a set or bend: to apply or betake oneself: to have or take a course of direction: to begin to go.
This section from the set of my live: dissolve, was performed as part of a Sunday afternoon of experimental sound at We Are Collective (Chapel Arts Studios) with Joe Evans (runningonair) and Dirty Demos and organised by Tom Mortimer & David Dixon.
Here, beneath the ancient carbon dioxide of a dissolving ammonite, lies a redacted recording of Andrei Tarkovsky’s film Nostalghia (1983), from which all dialogue has been removed. This silenced landscape of absence and gesture, is employed here as a form of unwritten script for the other sound events that overlay it. This includes the drone and attack of air passing over wire fences stretched out between the beaches and reed beds of Cley Marshes in Norfolk. Synchronised by ear and a graphic score, a wildlife record of birdsong accompanies the host of birds, which escape from the robes of a statue of the Madonna del Parto in the opening scenes of the film. Later, the time-signal of BBC sound effect records introduce a damaged sequence of closing doors echoing in the emptied cinematic spaces of Nostalghia’s vacant landscape. The piece concludes with a chorus of alarm calls as a herd of Cranes is released sonically into the acoustics of the chapel, remembering the escape of birds from the robes of the Madonna.
In recording this set, I place the live moment in digital aspic (a word whose ancestry recognises the fatal consequences of such attempts at permanence, evolving as it does from the Old French basilisk: ‘a serpent…said to kill by its breath or look’).
In contrast the graphic score, although setting the sounds in a determined sequence, also provides the potential for error, variation and change: it prepares for use and sets in motion, events that are otherwise solid.
set: to put somebody or something somewhere; to become, or cause something to become solid; to cause something, or somebody to begin doing something, or begin to do something; to become permanent or fast; to arrange, place, or prepare something to be used; to portray something as happening in a particular place or time period; to heal up and become solid after being broken; to cause somebody to sit somewhere; to fit in a particular way; to come to a gradual end and pass into eclipse or obscurity; to move below the horizon.
Although in my earlier days, performance art (also known latterly, as Live Art) was my main form of communication with the outside world, more recently, reclusive tendencies have conspired to isolate me from direct, immediate contact with a living audience. I have withdrawn to the acousmatic anonymity of ‘recorded space’, the obscured spatial and temporal flux of radio, and the intimate originality of the sounding object.
As much of my work is concerned with time, place and remembering, such a retreat into recorded places might seem appropriate, but it is also contradictory.
Sound is essentially temporal, emerging moment-by-moment, and insistently coloured by the present site of audition. Memory itself should not be considered a fixed recording of past experience. As the excellent writing of Oliver Sacks, Israel Rosenfield and A. R. Luria suggest, memories are anything but permanent or fixed, and remembering is an active process where past and present coalesce.
‘We understand the present through the past, an understanding that revises, alters and reworks the very nature of the past in an ongoing, dynamic process.’
Israel Rosenfield, The Strange, Familiar and Forgotten
Working with field-recording, sound objects, found tapes and discarded voices, would therefore seem problematic in relation to the essential ‘temporal presencing’ of sound and the dynamic process of remembering. Certainly the live performance of recorded sound would seem at least incongruous if not oxymoronic.
The sounds I collect (and by that I primarily mean, the sounds I record) seem to emphasise not only their belonging to a particular location and time, but also their displacement from it. And it is perhaps the inherent loss and absence of such spatial and temporal disruption, that allows the dynamics of sound and remembering to emerge: producing an original, live dialogue between the moment present and past.
It is this originality of the sonic moment that seems to be essential to the live performance of sound. Such originality welcomes indeterminate elements that are open to the unexpected, allowing sounds ‘to be themselves’ (Cage). Does it not also require some form of loss; that something should now be missing from the present? Towards this end and in preparation for the concert, I purchased a pre-historic fossil: an Ammonite that once lived in the now deceased Jurassic seas covering Somerset. As one element of the live soundscape, these remains of a life now extinct, shall be heard escaping substance: a chemical evaporation from presence, an audible disappearance into silent air.
That this disappearance should take place beneath the canopy of Chapel Arts Studios seems totally appropriate, the live soundscape, dispersing and dissolving amongst the cemetery of hush which surrounds it.