Making badges and collecting sounds

I have lost a post which I put here about KNITSONIKTM in the transition from rubbish Web-Mania/Yorhost to Dreamhost, but other than that and some wonky formatting on a couple of my posts – fingers crossed – moving my whole site/wordpress database across has happened smoothly, which hopefully means that this site should stay here all the time, rather than being out of action or down for days as it has been, of late.

Apart from dealing with a lot of online support and back-end codey-stuff, I have been very busy with other things. You probably won’t be surprised to learn that this includes

1. Making many button badges out of vintage magazines and books.

I LOVE MY BADGEMAKER! I find I read books and pictures and magazines and scraps of paper very differently at the moment, editing them into 38mm circles, references, vignettes… Each one represents to me a kind of collection of ideas, scaled down to be manageable and portable. I love old books, but they are very heavy to carry around all the time, especially when it is really only the aesthetics of a phrase, a letter, an illustration, which one really wants, rather than the whole thing. Badges as references; badges as framed footnotes to personal style; badges as curated signifiers of ideas or experiences; badges as tiny, framed pictures… these are all things I am exploring with the badgemaker of joy.

Currently I am making badges from a children’s science encyclopedia from the 1970s; many vintage magazines on knitting from the 1970s and 80s; a shockingly bigoted volume entitled “The Book of Knowledge” without a date; the Shell oil book of natural history in the British Isles; and an old book on typesetting and typography. The results are eclectic and – to my eyes at least – deeply pleasing. I especially enjoy irreverently dismantling and reinventing “The Book of Knowledge,” which – in spite of its shamelessly Colonial tone – contains excellent photos of beetles and a superb section entitled “Strange Hats of Many Lands.”*

…as well as adventuring in badge-making, I have been enjoying

2. Collecting sounds.

Saturday last, there were many errands to be run. I needed new handkerchiefs, lemons for two dishes we had planned, a rabbit for tonight’s stew and some photographs of the vending machine inside The Oracle Shopping Centre.**

I also needed to discuss my broken camera with the kind folks at Jessops, drop off an old SLR 35mm film for development, acquire a “do not bend” envelope*** and record sounds for the UK SoundMap as part of a project I have been running over on the sound-diaries blog. I also wanted to road-test some new microphones and to think again about the various ways that integrating a large and cumbersome recording kit into one’s dress might best be achieved.

As an experiment I pinned one Naiant X-X microphone to each side of my turban, stuffed their XLR cables through the hole at the top of the turban and down my back, and wore the FOSTEX-FR2LE like a handbag, slung across my body. I used crappy, tiny little in-ear headphones to monitor my recordings as I went. They are annoying and their sound quality seems very poor now that I have become a seasoned user of the much-venerated Sennheiser HD25s, but their sound is better than nothing, and I had no cunning wheeze for incorporating a large pair of cans into my already elaborate head dress.

In spite of the budget headphones this arrangement performed admirably and shall doubtlessly form the basis for some future KNITSONIKTM design. However, looking at the photographs of myself I am reminded immediately of “Strange Hats from Many Lands.”

Garbed in my “strange hat” I went about my business collecting lemons, handkerchiefs, photographs and envelopes from various sectors of the town as if in some sort of sonic trance. I found myself mesmerised by the sounds of Reading, moving with the slow-motion gait of one who is listening intently, and discovering hidden details in the soundscape. I don’t know what it was… something about the sound from the microphones, coupled with their hands-free integration into my outfit made it very easy to just walk and listen, without the faff of holding a device. I have enjoyed this kind of set up before, whilst using in-ear microphones, but this set up was especially comfortable as I could walk and record without having anything in my ears, unless I was monitoring a sound to get the level right. There was freedom and flexibility in this arrangement which merits further investigation! And I loved documenting certain sounds of the city so much, especially the pneumatic money tubes operating in Jackson’s department store, and the gutsy, difficult sound of the butcher unceremoniously jointing my rabbit.

Have you ever seen a pneumatic money tube system? It took a little hunting and online searching to identify the system in Jackson’s as such, but it is basically a system of tubes running around the inside of a building, through which metal cylinders may be propelled using air vacuums. When you buy at Jackson’s, your payment is sent to a cashier through such a system, and then a few moments later, the tube re-emerges with your change and a receipt inside. To me it seems like some kind of arcane magic.

Here’s a Wikipedia article on the subject:, and below is a photo of the box where your money goes when you pay, in Jackson’s. You can hear the sound of it operating here, in the context of my hanky-buying endeavour.

I also enjoyed recording:

the sonorous qualities of the multi-storey carpark with its resonant concrete and bassy engine booms
the specific and different cries of individual market stall sellers
the bustle of people
one audible pedestrian crossing (I noticed how few we have in Reading when Isolde came to stay)
a busker tuning his guitar and then playing it, using a lighter as a slide
the Church bells ringing out the hour at 4pm
the debates over sellotape and packaging materials in the aisles of WHSmiths
the rolling of wheels – mobility scooters, luggage, buggies – over concrete and old cobblestones of various surfaces
the bang of glasses
the clatter of cutlery
the hiss of coffee-machines and milk being steamed for lattes

I think what I particularly enjoyed were the specific timings of events; the sitting-down-time on the corner of a road to wait for the green man to show and for the beeps to emit at a pedestrian crossing; the patience required to lean up against a wall for a few moments until the wind had lulled so that I could record the sounds of a man playing his guitar in the street; the loitering at the market place and the many sounds and sights experienced in the thrum of folks buying bananas, so that I could capture the specific utterances of the man selling them; the timings of such things as how long it takes for change to return down a tube; how long it takes for the hour to strike four; how long it takes to traverse a street; and how long it takes to properly listen to things. I confess I came home completely overstimulated, and was unable to sleep for the exciting, lurid sounds with which my head was filled…

…so many sounds, to my ears all strong and specific indicators of place. These are the sounds of my place. Just as the bricks which I continually and obsessively photograph seem to me to be unlike all other bricks, so the sounds of the town feel to me to be distinctive and unique. I lay claim to this place as I wander in it and listen to its sounds, its composite voice made of many voices.

Here are my bricks again. I’m still not done with these bricks, still not tired of the marvellous edifice which they present as I stroll into town to lodge a cheque, record a vending machine, or just walk on into town for the sake of it. And I’m not tired of the pigeons or the sounds there, either.

*I have not yet been able to bring myself to in any way alter or edit “Strange Hats from Many Lands” and I think I will find some way to permanently bind it as a unique volume.

**I needed to photograph the vending machine for this exhibition; Audio Architecture needed me to post them a photo, so that “Vending Machines of the British Isles” can be showcased at thge Beijing Half Rabbit exhibition this June.

***necessary for posting said photo to Audio Architecture.

3 Responses to Making badges and collecting sounds

  1. Pingback: The Domestic Soundscape » Archive » The working lives of factory workers in the Huntley & Palmer’s Biscuit Factory

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