The best laid plans…

…can be easily destroyed, I learned this week, by (of all the stupid things in the world) a computer virus. Directly after I had posted happily about my planned sonic industry for the week, my computer OS was bent sideways by I don’t-know-what and it took the rest of Monday and all of Tuesday to get it working again.

The whole thing slowed to a grinding halt, no programmes would work, and my flimsy anti-virus software (Avira) notified me about 10678468485295734623 time that there was an unwanted programme moving through my computer. One system restore, a full Mcafee installation and system scan, a complete delete on all my cookies, temp files etc., and – touch wood – everything seems to be working again. But it really unnerved me because 1. I don’t have money to replace my computer if it dies and 2. Everything I do to make a living revolves around my computer working properly.

Happily, not all sides of the near computer-death were negative. Because I couldn’t use any of my designing software to make the cue cards for yesterday’s workshop in Belfast, I decided to hand-draw them instead. I’m quite pleased with the results which were mostly done on my lap in between talking to tech support guys and running system scans on my machine!

When meeting with The Public to talk about The Sounds of things I find it very helpful to have some kind of fill-it-out-yourself cue card to assist in the process. Filling out a questionnaire or a cue-card is an excellent way to orient yourself, and having something written down makes the process of sitting in front of a microphone a little less intimidating. If I am interviewing somebody, I always send questions ahead of the interview, and if I am running a drop-in session where I cannot possibly contact all the potential interviewees with questions in advance, I prepare simple cue-cards to hand out on site. This is a process I am refining as I go along; the design of such cue-cards is important to me, as reading and seeing them will often be the first contact that visitors have with the concept in any given project. Also, if I intend to use interview material in any of my audio outputs (podcasts, Audioboo etc.) then I need a way of asking for consent for me to do this from folks who are participating in my works.

With this design, the idea was to emphasise the world of the sounds of making, so the scribbles in the background are shaped vaguely like soundwaves. Otherwise I kept it simple and did my best to hand-draw each letter in a Felixdesign sans-serif font. I enjoyed the sounds of the scribbling pencil, the gentle buffing sound of the rubber as I erased mistakes, and the pleasing tones of the ruler as I drafted some guidelines for my hand-lettering. I also enjoyed using the pencil sharpener which I photographed for this poster in the Fantastical Reality Radio Show in association with Mundane Appreciation Activity Booklet, (could have used a snappier title, looking back) and the whole process was very empowering in the face of potential computer death.

Thus prepared with cue-cards, a plan, all my recording equipment etc., I headed off to Reading Station at 4.30am, only to discover when I got there that the best laid plans can also be easily destroyed by (of all the stupid things in the world) a cancelled train. Why First Great Western decided to cancel the 5.24am train from Reading to Gatwick station is very mysterious, and merely confirms my firmly held belief that they really are THE WORST train service operators in the Southeast. Luckily I have got THE BEST partner. Please spare a thought for heroic Mark, who got a panicked phonecall at 5.20am and kindly agreed to drive me to the airport in time for my flight.

Thus I was on a plane bound for Belfast and The University of Ulster, where I was to spend the day running A Sounds of Making drop-in session. After making it to the venue with everything I needed, I discovered after a few moments that the best laid plans can be easily destroyed by (of allthe stupid thing) The Summer Holidays. The University – which apparently thrives with sonorous making activities during term-time – was pretty quiet yesterday.

Still, in the otherwise deserted departments we found friendly makers such as Maureen, who is the knowledgeable textile technician for the University, and Camilla, who is the print-room technician. Maureen kindly showed us the entire textile department, and switched on all the machines so that I could record them in action, and Camilla (who was cleaning the rollers that students had trashed during term-time) said some wonderful thing about the role that sounds play in printing; especially how the sound of your roller going over your ink can let you know whether you have too much or too little ink on it.

Treasures of the textile department included this wonderful Irish sewing machine. Apparently the machine was used for monographing linen tea towels and girls who used too much thread in their monographed letters were fined. It is used today by students who want to draw with thread in their textile projects, and it is very old.

Photo by Lauren Dawson

The Sounds of Making drop-in session was also attended by Kathy, Stuart, Gail and Heather, who bought along their materials and tools and stuffed plastic bottles, sawed silver, kneaded clay and filed bronze in order for me to record the sounds of their different crafts. My favourite sounds were the ping/twang of a teeny-tiny blade being fitted into a silver-saw; the hollow noises created by hitting a pinch-pot with a spatula to flatten its edges; and the sound of pouring prettifying sequins into plastic bottles stuffed with torn plastic bags and other rubbish to make a kind of plastic-bottle bunting. Because there were only a handful of us in the drop-in session, we were able to create very clear recordings, to have some good conversations about the role that sound plays in different making processes, and to listen to each other properly.

In the end, the day yielded a mighty harvest of sounds. In due course you shall hear them all – and the words of the makers who work with them – both in the next episode of The Felicity Ford Radio Show, and over on the official KNITSONIKTM site. Also, I don’t know if you use Twitter or Audioboo, but I am on both as KNITSONIK and some of the sounds will be up there in days to come. Thus with my sack o’ sounds slung over my shoulders, I headed for the offices of Craft NI to wrap up any extra paperwork and to sneak a look at the show which they are launching today. I love the premise of this show, in which the poet Jeremy Reed has selected objects from the Craft Council UK Collection, and then composed poems in response to them. I was especially interested to see that he had selected a brooch by Grainne Morton to write about. Isn’t this beautiful? It’s a brooch with many compartments, each tiny section featuring a tiny found thing.

You may remember Grainne Morton’s work from Kate’s wonderful post on the miniature and the mundane?

I also enjoyed listening to the poem which Jeremy Reed and the sound artist Itchy Ear produced together through their collaborative endeavour to make performance poetry less “boring and staid” (The Ginger Light). The poem I listened to was all about the planets and the solar system, and the sounds and music and the treatment of Reed’s voice made the words seem all the more vivid to my mind.

Thus inspired by tininess and poetry, and having thoroughly enjoyed the sonic collaboration between Jeremy Reed and Itchy Ear, I skipped out of the Craft NI offices with the idea of finding a bus to take me to the airport for 6pm and my flight home. However I discovered at this point that the best laid plans can be destroyed very easily by the sight of a heart-stopping building and an unscheduled attack of photography.

Just look at it. It reminded me of a certain cardigan to the point that I know I now need to buy a copy and cast it on ASAP. Check out the details on the door.

How about the imposing aspect when you stand right underneath it, using a camera lens with a large wide-angle setting?

When I had finished taking a million photos of the Bank of Ireland Building in Belfast, I then turned around and saw this. You could have knocked me down with a feather.

I made it through the airport gate at 5.29pm; the gate closed officially at 5.30pm.

Once on the plane home I settled into some happy knitting and the comforting realisation that in spite of the near-death of my laptop, two nearly-missed flights and a very quiet University of Ulster, I had made some wonderful recordings; met some amazing people; learnt a little more about collecting sounds and interviewing the public and seen some really cool buildings. I also reflected that I have the most wonderful partner in the world; that if everything happens a little later than planned this month, then that’s probably OK; and that sometimes good things only happen when your best-laid plans get destroyed.

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