Kinokophonography Compliation CD: Illustration T.S. Selm
In the early evening of the 13th May 2015, I was fortunate to be part of the listening event Kinokophongraphy at the British Library Sound Archive. Organised by Kinokophone the evening turned our gloaming ear toward a gathering of ‘disappearing sounds’, which included the sound of cobblestones as pronounced by the plastic wheels of ‘rollaboard’ luggage trolleys and the iconic Australian Hills Hoist rotary clothesline. The poignancy of the evening was perhaps encapsulated in the opening sound, recorded by John Sincock in 1983 and introduced by Cheryl Tipp (Curator of Wildlife and Environmental Sounds). The recording ‘held’ by the British Library is a record of the last Kauai O’o A’a, a now extinct songbird, from the Hawaiian island of Kauai:
‘Singing from an old nest site […] our lone O’o A’a is calling for his mate who would never respond.’
Kinokophone has been organising and curating these listening events since 2010, bringing together artists and field-recordings from places all over the world. In October they released their first compilation CD, with a selection of recordings from submissions made between 2010-2015. Artists include: Jez riley French, SALA, Francisco López, Coryn Smethurst and Steven Brown. I am delighted that my piece,air struck gently, (presented at the event in May) has been included in this gathering of sounds.
In a limited edition of 100 the Kinokophonography Compliation CD is available to order here
Is it Eating you? IMT Gallery
Is it Eating you? is a performance event curated by Mark Peter Wright as part of his solo exhibition I, The Thing in the Margins at IMT: ‘A night of sound, film and performance exploring non-human worlds. The title of the event takes its cue from Larry Cohen’s 1985 b-movie horror comedy, The Stuff. The plot involves a goo-like substance that is extracted from the ground and sold as frozen yoghurt. As the story unfolds we discover the yoghurt is a parasitic, even sentient organism that gradually takes over the human brain and turns people into zombies before shedding their skin. Inspired by Cohen’s film the evening will mix humour and horror: amplifying a host of matter and affects; from animals to microbes, technology to plants, soil and screams.’
The evening will feature:
Mira Calix (screening)
Esther Planas & Jennifer Ipekel
Graham Dunning & Tom White Pond Scum Light Show (Jennifer Pengilly, Ash Reid & Jamie Sutcliffe)
I will be performing a new variation of the rain choir with dissolving coral accompaniment.Since its installation at Winchester Cathedral, variations of the choir have been recomposed, installed and performed for various situations in the UK and Europe. In this dead sea variation, the original field-recordings of rain falling the guttering system of the Cathedral are joined by ‘live’ voices respired from the sarcophagi of deceased and fossilised corals dissolving in acid: a reaction echoing ocean acidification. In this resuscitated breath of Paleozoic air, molecules of carbon dioxide, exhaled 429 million years ago can be heard (and inhaled) as they dissolve back into the atmosphere. A collective sigh of dead sea air.
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.
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 / 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.
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.
I am delighted to announce that the rain choir has been released on the excellent field-recording label, Impulsive Habitat. The choir is available as a free downpour in two versions: the original choir and a recital of the work recomposed from the original field-recordings and those made during the installation of the work in the crypt of Winchester Cathedral. This recitation is, as its name suggests, ‘a repetition, a ‘reading aloud from memory’: rainfall evoked and remembered, coloured by the acoustics of the space and the incidental voices of the building.
The relationship between memory and water is familiar to anyone who has watched the beautiful films of Andrei Tarkovsky. Films such as Stalker and Nostlaghia are saturated with water; pools of reflected stillness; echoic drips; rain falling outside and inside the empty rooms of remembered spaces. In a short article (after the rain) for the British Library blog, Sound and Vision, I discussed the sensuous and mnemonic qualities of water and in particular rainfall.
duet for vinyl: edit
The date of the Impulsive Habitat release has a personal memory for me, the 16th being the birthday of my mother who died in 2011. Some years ago I made a covert recording of a telephone conversation with my mother. This was re-edited in the work, duet for radio (and subsequently duet for vinyl), removing my voice and replacing it with the static of telephone silence. In this imposed solitude of our conversation, my mother discusses her day-to-day: what she is having for tea, the weather outside her window. As she listens to a rain I cannot hear, there is a pause and then speaks:
“What have you been doing today, has it been raining? Raining on and off here all day………I can hear on the windows and it just sounds like someone’s breaking in………………….. sounds as if someone’s breaking in…………it’s terrible, I’ve never known it to be like this before…”
In the silent rain of this inconsequential soliloquy, I find a frailty and vulnerability that returns my mother to me. These intimate and mnemonic qualities of rainfall were audible, when Radio 4 broadcast from the public memorial for those murdered in the recent Paris terrorist attack. As the crowd gathered to hold their silence, the radio transmitted a vacant crackle of heavy rain, falling upon umbrellas and coats. As I listen, I hear my own silence in the rain, and I become another silent drop in a collective downpour of remembering.
Formed by the prevailing winds of longshore drift, the shingle spit of Orford Ness is now a National Nature Reserve. Previously the site of an early radar navigation system, during the Second World War the ness was also used as an Atomic Weapons Research Establishment. The ness remains haunted by the abandoned buildings and unexploded ordinance of this military occupation.
Orford ness is a restricted landscape; visitors are warned to keep to the ‘route’ and large areas are off limits. The geometry of blast walls, laboratories and observation stations interrupts the terrain. The architecture of these derelict sentinels quietly observes the horizon, amplifying a sense of vacant stillness. Through the concrete stare of windows, the buildings keep watch on this vacancy, the isolation and secrecy of their accommodation, strangely reminiscent of bird hides. On the roof of bomb ballistics building, binoculars place the ness under the surveillance of a military lens, a series of lines measure and map the landscape viewed. Whilst a breeze ascending the metal staircase, surrounds the building in a harmonic mist, an almost inaudible howl, which hangs in the air like tinnitus.
In accordance with the source of its formation, the soundscape of Orford ness is dominated by the aerial and intermittent: the rumble of wind against the ear, the pits of silence that appear when the breeze drops or is physically obscured. Inside the buildings and behind the blast doors, the occasional draft and clatter of metal interrupts an empty quiet. Outside, animated by the wind, the rope of a flagless pole taps out a signal of distress: a telegraph of unknown content delivered to an anonymous recipient.
air on a hinge: composition for three doors
A monochrome tower in a flat and pallid landscape, inclined to the ocular, the Black Beacon seems appropriately conspicuous. The word ‘beacon’ has its etymological roots in light, fire and desired visibility. However, in counterpoint to this emphasis on the visible the conspicuity of the Black Beacon also results from an allusion to the unseen, invisible and auditory. Built in 1929 as part of the Orfordness Rotating Wireless Beacon Radar System the BlackBeacon was once part of an audible map of the terrain. (Ra)dio (d)etecting (a)nd (r)anging the unseen, the beacon provided a navigational fix for those otherwise lost at sea.
As I climbed the stairs of the beacon my ear was caught by a slight and plaintive whine. This transmission was occasional and intermittent, suspended moans followed by sharp high frequency yelps. I used the rotation of my ear and the volume of the sound to detect the site of its origin. Through this physical radar, my ear (and eye) fixed on the rusted hinge of a door, which, when caught by the draft of a sea breeze, transmitted a sonorous aerial code. As part of its station sequence the Black Beacon had once broadcast in Morse the letters “V” and “B”, now the hinged air pronounced its own alphabet, an ethereal dot and dash, a persistent unanswered signal enunciating loss.
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.
Four walks around a year: winter / dawn with sporty
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.
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.
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.
I recently visited the chemical abode of Dr. Simon Park with the nefarious intention of immersing a hydrophone in Sulphuric acid and listening as it recorded the sound of its own dissolve into silence. I provided the hydrophone and Simon provided the acid (also known as oil of vitriol), along with the appropriate protection of gloves and goggles. We decided to conduct the experiment outside on a garden table, its surface protected from harm with a copy of the Sunday Times supplement, featuring Princess and sprout.
Unfortunately, this vitriolic and potentially expensive experiment failed, the Jez Riley French hydrophone quietly surviving all attempts at chemical destruction. However, we were able to conduct other experiments into the sonification of chemistry. Simon has recently been encasing deceased bumblebees in the blue sarcophagi of copper sulphate crystals. Knowing the anhydrous properties of the compound, Simon suggested we listen to the compound (also known as blue vitriol) quenching its thirst for water. As he dropped the white powder into a plastic container of water, we could hear the exothermic reaction, as energy was released in a short, but deep blue fug of sound. Using a pipette we dripped precisely measured droplets of water onto a hydrophone covered in the compound, producing sonic eruptions of blue, like tiny burns in the surface of audition.
I am currently working on a new sound piece for Winchester Cathedral, which will take the form of a rain choir. The Cathedral is the final resting place of St. Swithun’s and was itself once in danger of collapse through the flooding of its foundations, so it has both a metrological and mythological association with rainfall.
The Cathedral Limestone walls are simultaneously pitted and smoothed by the chemical action of centuries of sulphurous precipitation. As one of the possible voices in the rain choir, I am exploring the sounds generated by this chemical dissolution. Dissolving small fragments of Cathedral Limestone in oil of vitriol, produces an acoustic time-lapse of the process of corrosion. Just as the acid concentrates centuries of rainfall into a brief moment, so too the noise of this dissolve concentrates the attention of the ear upon the sonic details of chemical decay. In an almost electronic emission, reminiscent of an un-tuned radio the sound of dissolve continues to change as the acid burns beneath the surface of the limestone revealing the karst topography of its geological and biological history: a fossil choir of coral and shell.