Back to School

It has been a good week. I enjoyed writing and presenting my paper on Wednesday at Sounding Out 5 and meeting the other folks there. My paper was about my use of radio as an artist and how sound is important to me in terms of both discovering a sense of place, and being able to convey that sense of place to an audience. Focussing on my Around the A4074 project, I talked about my commute, how I have spent the summer exploring it, how I have built a relationship with the places along the road through listening and walking, and my thoughts on reaching my intended audience for the project – i.e. other drivers on the road – via radio.

Amazing vintage radio ad, via Hugo Verweij

I talked about why it was important to me in this case that the broadcast be transmitted on local radio so that other drivers on the road might randomly chance on the show whilst driving, and about some of the sources which inspired this project. Finally I played some excerpts from the show, to illustrate the theory I’d been sharing. A chance meeting with Lucia and Martin beforehand gave me the confidence to inject the presentation with fun by including one of the more unexpected sounds that I have recorded around my favourite road. And so my presentation ended up with a collage of camelid groans/moans/bleats/grumbles which I hope caused someone at the presentation to wonder what excitement/exoticism may be hidden just a few moments from their commute.

Are there camels racing on a village green near you?

I couldn’t stay for the whole conference because I must finish writing my thesis to hand it in – with my completed folio of work – by 15th October and I had to get back to my writing. However, the whole experience of going to Bournemouth University for me connected to the very enjoyable atmosphere of back-to-schoolness and approaching Autumn which seems to be around at the moment. For further evidence of the September back-to-school feeling, refer to this beautiful post by Joe Moran about slide rules and other stationery, Lara’s atmospheric references to soup and boots and leaves, and my growing collection of jams, made from the pillaged fruit of municipal gardens plus a modest harvest of berries and rhubarb from our garden and the sales table at the allotments, near Dorchester.

From left to right: Blackcurrant jam made from allotment berries, Dorchester. Mulberry jam made from mulberries picked in the Forbury Gardens, an assortment of rhubarb, raspberry and japanese windeberry concoctions gleaned from our overgrown garden, and a very vintage pot of mincemeat for mince pies, which I believe we have had since 2007. The jams are like a record of stolen fruits and afternoons.

The sale table at the allotments near Dorchester, near the A4074

Preparing my paper has involved re-reading some of my favourite books; in particular Species of Spaces by Georges Perec.

Here is a photo I found of Georges with his cat and his knitted cardigan. For me it is easy to picture him and his feline friend in the untidy interiors he describes in essays like Concerning the objects on my worktable, or My Apartment, and I find something immensely comforting in his words, and in his questions.

How should we take account of, question, describe what happens every day and recurs every day: the banal, the quotidian, the obvious, the common, the ordinary, the infra-ordinary, the background noise, the habitual?

I also enjoy the playful the way that Perec explores the things around himself; as if no question in the world is too obvious to ask and as if the only boring life to live is the one in which the everyday things that surround us all the time, go unexamined.

On this note, I have also been thinking about Around the A4074 in connection with the UK SoundMap. It seems to me from browsing the many uploads that are going on on the map that many people feel a profound attachment to the sounds connected to their places, and many people have chosen to add elements of their commutes – their ritual journeys – to the map. Just now as I click over to get the url so I can link to the map, I notice that a recent addition to the SoundMap was recorded at ‘The M48 Service Area’ and I have been watching with interest as other sonic artefacts from our collective, lived experience are added to this amazing project. People give funny, poignant names to their uploads, so that reading the labels is as important to taking meaning from the map as listening to the actual sounds themselves. Uploaded sounds with names like ‘lonely office,’ ‘Worst bingo caller ever?’ and ‘biscuit time in my garden’ give curiously intimate impressions of life in other places, other cities, other roads and other imaginations so that – like the driver who I imagined ‘chancing’ upon my radio show when I started writing and researching Around the A4074 – I feel I am constantly being shown new glimpses of places and situations I thought I knew, through sound.

I think Perec would like that.

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