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Framework Intro: variation for a door, a sigh and a cheap guitar.

On Thursday the 6th July I read of the sad death of composer and musique concrète pioneer, Pierre Henry. I shared the Quietus announcement of his death on Facebook and a few minutes later had a message from sound artist and Framework curator, Patrick McGinley (AKA Murmur). Patrick asked if I would be interested in recording a Framework intro for a special edition of the radio show, which would be broadcast as ‘a farewell and tribute to Henry.’ Those familiar with Framework, would know that the intro for each show is created by listeners from across the world. Contributors respond in their own way to a set of recording instructions provided by Patrick on the show’s website. Patrick needed the intro for the following day and thinking aloud said, ‘a squeaky door perhaps’. Coincidentally, on the day Pierre had died I had been recording the Lifts (elevators) on my journey to work, a sort of aural reconnaissance for a project in Southampton this autumn. Although my ear was focused on the damped shush of the Lift doors close, I unintentionally stumbled upon a normal door with an exquisite hinge: I paused, pressed record and mimed the arch of my entrance, allowing a ghost of myself to pass audibly through.


My door recording, which at the time of Patrick’s invitation seemed serendipitous, if not suspiciously portent, formed the starting point of the compositional process. In 1963 Henry used the recorded squeaks of a farmhouse door, alongside the sound of a sigh, a blocked up stream, starved pigs and other occasional off stage noises (Art Lange, The Wire) to compose, Variations pour une porte et un soupir (Variations for a door and a sigh). As a vegetarian, starving a pig seemed intellectually and morally complex, nor did I have access to a farmyard, but as I think back on the intro now composed, other elements of Henry’s variation seem to unintentionally arise, return and resonate.

On Thursday, prior to my learning of Henry’s death, I had been exploring other possible sounds for the forthcoming project. This included a Ping-Pong ball, which, at the request of the winds intermittent sigh (and the occasional impatient forefinger), rolled up and down the un-tuned strings of a cheap guitar. These aural ascents and falls seemed intended for the composition. Having recorded Framework intros before, I realised I would be required to speak the provided statement. I am always slightly uncomfortable hearing my own voice and have previously used methods to place (or hide it) it away from me, such as leaving it on an answerphone tape. In 2007 I recorded an intro with my mother reading out the Framework statement. I decided to use this recording and searched back though my files to find it. I then re-recorded her voice through the larynx of the cheap guitar strings. My mother died in 2011, and it was lovely to hear her voice, her sighs and hesitations, pronounce the air once more. This personal aural link to memory and loss again seemed appropriate for the Henry introduction. As a conclusion to the piece, I printed out the Framework statement and ‘diced’ the words into single letters and full stops. I dripped these alphabetic remains infrequently upon the guitar and listened to language disappear, plucked of meaning but still vibrating.

The premiere of Framework #606 [pierre henry] curated by Patrick McGinley was broadcast on Resonance FM last Sunday and is now available for listening and download on the Framework website. Framework is also broadcast on radio stations across the world (details here).

Thank you to Patrick for asking me to provide an introduction for his beautiful hommage and adieu concrète to Henry.

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North Sea: Silence Lost 2Sebastiane Hegarty: silence lost
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.

silence lost: announcmentsilenceCrop_w
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.

Silence lost: sleeve
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.

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out: sebastiane hegarty

Curious listeners are invited to Kinokophonography, an evening of curated sound cinema at The British Library on Wednesday 27th May 2015. Organised by Kinokophone, the evening will include one of my recordings as part of a themed programme of ‘disappearing sounds’. Inspired by the British Library’s Save our Sounds project the event will feature sounds which are perhaps becoming closer to silence than audience: sounds going out slowly.

With a title from adapted from the safety instructions on a box of Swan Vesta matches (‘Strike gently away from the body’), air struck gently (slowly going out) concentrates attention upon the momentary illumination of a match struck in air. Like the quiet choreography of the gesture that accompanies it, the sound of a match is gradually disappearing from audition and memory. Condemned to extinction by the demise of smoking and the convenient, controlled ignition of the disposable lighter, the chemical reaction of a match offers a brief, obsolete and fragile soundscape of undetermined duration. In the vulnerable brevity of its flame we can listen to light appearing and sound going slowly out.

closer out: sebastiane hegarty

closer out / 03:52 / mp3

In closer out (2015) one of a series of ‘match’ recordings has been slowed down, bringing the flame closer to our ear, prolonging and amplifying the sonic details of its narrative: a roar of ignition followed by a gaseous cackle of flame and a last creaking gasp of extinction as the match goes out.
The hysterical (pathological) juxtaposition of a flame struck in the quiet, dark paginated archive of The British Library is not lost on me. I am strangely drawn to the casual poetic threat that the heat of this endangered sound creates amongst the  libraries preserved manuscripts of silent language.

Kinokophonography at the British library is free, but places are limited and should be booked online via the British Library website.

 

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air: acoustic match / mp3 / 01:01

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.

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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[1].

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.

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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)

[1] 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.

INVITE the Manor copy

 

drop lobster
galerie_dira Prague

rain choir: the prague variation
galerie dira / Školská ul. 28 / Praha 1 / Prague
26.10.14 – 07.11.14

rain choir: the prague variation (edit) / 2014 / mp3

A variation of the sound installation rain choir, originally created for the crypt of Winchester Cathedral, is now in ‘exhibition’ at the Galerie Dira, Prague. The prague variation was recomposed in response to the particularity of this new situation: a headphone socket in the external wall of the gallery, where visitors are invited to bring their own headphones, ‘plug into the hole…and listen’.

In his excellent book Paraphernalia, Steven Connor discusses plugs as a situation of pause; a ‘lingering’ hesitation in a world more normally inclined to speed and continuous movement. This is why, Connor argues, sinks in airport bathrooms have no plugs and the electric sockets are hidden from the desperate prongs and low battery life of passengers. Running a tap and filling a sink or recharging your phone or laptop would suggest rest and intermission, an absence of progress, when the momentum of the airport requires you to proceed and go.
‘Plugs’ writes Connor, ‘plug you in to a particular locality and lifespan’, at one level this is cultural, the three prongs of British plugs are unique: an individuality that requires every UK citizen to keep an unused international plug adaptor in the back of some forgotten draw.’ But it is also a physical attachment. When visitors plug in at Galerie Dira, they tether themselves (and their listening) to a place, to this particular hole in place; whilst through this hole pours another place, an acoustic space spilling what was once here, now there. Just as the gutters of Winchester Cathedral, organise and disperse the rain falling upon its canopy, so too this anonymous hollow in Prague, transports a choir of rain from the drains of its source, through the wires of headphones to the plugholes of the plugged in listener.

Holy Trinity Church
rain through the drain of holy trinity

Sound, pipes, wires and plugs share a tangled history with place, time and substance and our attempted escape from them. There is definitely something of the H.G. Wells in the piped ‘hydraulics’ of the time travel and wet clairaudience that the rain choir in Prague presents. ‘Pipes are old-new’, writes Connor, they have an alliance with the ghosts of voice and presence. We hear voices lurking in the whispering throat of pipes just as our listening organises the chaos of rainfall into patterns of rhythm. Connor identifies the drain as a vocal space, a gullet for hidden voices: ‘The drain introduces the most striking feature of the pipe, namely its clamorous crypto-vocality.’
The delicate distinctions and rhythms of rain falling through the cloistered drainpipes of Winchester Cathedral, were some of the voices that inspired and composed the rain choir. But the voices of pipes are not always so subtle. On a dank and damp Sabbath, I took my ears to the gutters of the Holy Trinity Church. Due to the conspicuous wired dawdling of my field-recording, I was accosted as a potential gutter thief. Able to prove my lack of form and malevolent intent, I was allowed to continue getting totally drenched only to discover that the collected voice of a heavy downpour through the canopy of Holy Trinity, can transform the wet epiglottal delicacy of rain into a swirling rant of potty-mouthed vernacular.

rain fenced in

rain through a wire fence / 2014 / mp3

On my damp way home I noticed the rain falling through a wire fence. Listening to fences allows the audible to erase the fixed and limited space of vision, we can hear place dissolve and disappear. As Gaston Bachelard writes  ‘The first to be dissolved is a landscape in the rain; lines and forms melt away’.
The  rain colours the choir with a meteorological spatiality and time, a colour augmented by its reappearance in Prague. The choir becomes an acoustic cloud drifting across Europe and dissolving the solid borders of geography as it precipitates. In this precipitation of place,  water is let in through the hole of the gallery wall and the wired plugholes of listeners.

the rain choir
continues to fall in Prague until November 7th 2014. If you are near, plug in and downpour.

 

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Four walks around a year: winter
Gruenrekorder | GrDl 141

The final part of my seasonal quartet, four walks around a year, is now available from the German sound art and field-recording label Gruenrekorder Digital. Based on two years of recordings made in the Winnall Moors Conservation Reserve (Winchester, UK) the four sound walks have been slow released throughout 2013, beginning with spring in May 2013 and concluding with winter in January 2014.
Working with Hampshire and Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust, the sound walk project (documented on the project blog) was intended to not only to record the different elements of the soundscape, but also to use recording to reveal and disclose the temporal patterns and sonic qualities of the moors landscape. The resulting sonic perambulations would provide a form of audio guide that would enable visitors to walk around the moors in the acoustic company of a previous season.
Listening to the cold, empty and brittle soundscape of the winter walk, I was struck by its contrast to the present landscape of the flooded moors in 2014. Recent rainfall has caused the Itchen to break its banks and pour across the moors. The gravel paths around the reserve are now under several inches of river, with the mumbled voices of water leaking everywhere.  The previous creaking transit of footfall over a frosted and frozen boardwalk is now replaced by the splish and splash of puddles and wellington boots. Coincidently the winter walk begins with the anonymous chit-chat of people reminiscing about other winters, when the posh boys from Winchester College, would cut through the banks of the river to flood the moors with freezing water, turning them into a temporary ice rink.

WordPress allows several sound files to be played simultaneously,  which permits the initial intention of  mixing together the past and present soundscape to occur, without having to visit the moors: people may now  flood this previous winter with the dank sounds of the present inundated landscape. The sound files below include extracts from four walks around a year: winter alongside a series of recent field-recordings from the flooded moors. You are invited to use the sounds to listen and compose your own flood of winter.

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Four walks around a year: winter / dawn with sporty

Four walks around a year: winter / winter thawing

Flooded moors: wet feet

Flooded moors: Boardwalk bubbles

Flooded moors: streaming in metal

Flooded moors: broken banks

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rain choir: sebastiane hegartyw_drain_closeRain

rain choir: field recording

The rain choir is a new sound installation commissioned by the arts event 10days Winchester and taking place in the crypt of Winchester Cathedral.
The piece is based on ‘field-recordings’ of rain, as it falls through the tympanic guttering system of the Cathedral. Fragments of the Limestone walls dissolving in oil of Vitriol (sulphuric acid) and vinegar add an effervescent static to the rising damp of this motet for wet and secreted voices.
Using an array of hydrophones and acoustic and contact microphones, the field recordings explore the rhythm and timbre of the metallic guttering, as it transports rain away from the buildings canopy. The drainage systems provides a unique spatial acoustic, colouring the sound of rainfall and picking up other peripheral notes from the cloistered soundscape of the Cathedral Close: the peal of Sunday bells, the enclosed footfall and conversational echo of passers-by.

w_drain_insideacid dissolve: sebastiane hegartyrain choir: graffiti

rain choir: opening (edit)

In addition to the audible downpour of such voices, the very fabric of the building is explored as a site of unpronounced voice. Just as the graffiti covering the internal walls, creates a visible silence, a palpable but unspoken history, so too the Limestone used to build the Cathedral contains its own petrified voices. Formed from the skeletal remains of pre-historic marine organisms, such as corals and Foraminifera (“hole bearers”), the stone contains the respiration of primeval life forms and landscapes. The external walls of limestone are pitted with holes and crevices, evidence of changes in atmospheric conditions and the corrosive effects of rainfall. Dissolving small fragments of these walls in acid produces an acoustic time-lapse of the process of corrosion. Just as the acid concentrates the harm caused by centuries of rainfall, so too the noise of this dissolve concentrates the attention of the ear upon the sonic details of decay and disappearance. Through this naive chemical action, the effervescent charnel noise of ancient CO2 is made audible. Voices once ‘confined’ in stone are released from permanence and solidity, taking ‘the ear strangely’ in an occasional shower of quiet geological rain.

sebastiane hegarty: rain choir (gutter 4)
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rain choir: after the fall (edit)

The Cathedral is the final resting place of St. Swithun and was once itself in danger of collapse, through the flooding of its foundations. So the building has a metrological, hagiographical and mythological relationship with rainfall.
The proverbial saint and former bishop of Winchester St. Swithun asked that his body be buried in the grounds outside the Cathedral, so that it may ‘be subject to the feet of passers-by’ and the rain dripping from the eaves of the building. Such experiences suggest an appeal to auditory sensations; St Swithun was perhaps listening for the buried percussion of footsteps and rainfall. In 1906 Walter Walker dived beneath the flooded crypt in order to reinforce the foundations of the building, which was in danger of sinking beneath the sodden earth. Even now, the eastern transept is downwardly inclined and every winter, when the groundwater rises, the crypt floods with water.
Through the choir’s internal relocation of rainfall, the installation mimics the movement of St Swithun, whose body was exhumed and reburied in a shrine in the retrochoir behind the alter of the Cathedral. The rain, which once fell above the decaying but attentive ear of St Swithun, now pours beneath his mortal remains in the shrine where he rests. The choir presents an enclosed ghost of rain, a concealed but sensuous downpour that describes and is itself described by the karst topography of the Cathedral’s architecture.

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