SOUND BANK / boring2011 / Sonic Wallpaper

I don’t know what happened, but at some point I began to privilege sound as the primary means of engagement with my surroundings. I walk to the kitchen and turn on the tap, but instead of testing the water for temperature I start to listen to the difference between the sound of the water falling directly onto our steel sink and the sound when the flow catches the edge of our plastic bowl. I walk to the bus stop and my attention is caught not by how close I am to missing the bus, but by the sound of rubber tyres on cobble stones, the engine idling and the shudder as it stops, the sigh as the hydraulic doors open and the sound of the paper spooling through the ticket machine…

Reading a novel has become as much about routing out the fleeting references to the soundscape inhabited by the characters as about appreciating the ebb and flow of the narrative.

– Paul Whitty, The Swimmer, accompanying catalogue to the film of the same name by Roma Tearne and Paul Whitty

I love this quote from Paul Whitty and the idea that in reading a novel we might feel closer to the lives of the characters if we can imagine what their environments sound like. The text comes from the catalogue accompanying a film by Roma Tearne and Paul Whitty The Swimmer based on Tearne’s novel of the same name. Tearne uses descriptions of sounds throughout the novel to bring the character’s environments and circumstances alive;

Unbroken silence, frightening to begin with, soon becomes a way of life. At mealtimes there is only the clatter of one set of crockery, the crunch of your own teeth on food, the sound of yourself swallowing

– Roma Tearne, The Swimmer

I have written before about descriptions of sounds, and the role that the written word can play in our listening processes, but this idea will be more deeply explored this Friday at a conference called Writing Sound at Oxford Brookes University. I am excited about this day of talks which will feature presentations by Ian Rawes of the London Sound Survey, (sound in Dickens’ novels); Paul Whitty (talking about sounds in the novel The Swimmer, by Roma Tearne); Catherine Laws, (Beckett’s writings) and Patrick Farmer.

My own contribution to the day’s events will be a little bit different; rather than presenting a formal paper, I will be sharing my SOUND BANK with the assembled audience. I think it is important to demonstrate at academic events how practical projects can embody and extend theories; SOUND BANK takes the idea of Writing Sound and shows one practical way that we can engage imaginatively – through the simple acts of writing and drawing – with everyday sounds.


SOUND BANK by Felicity Ford, recorded between 2008 – 2009

So, what is SOUND BANK? Well, longterm readers of this blog will know that I attempted – between 2008/2009 – to record a sound every day using words, drawings, or notation. I presented some of the recordings from December 2008 in the form of an Advent Calendar on this blog, but the remainder have lived in a box ever since, while I’ve tried to figure out what I can do with my textual/notated/drawn sound recordings. SOUND BANK is incredibly simple; it basically involves taking one of the specially designed glassine envelopes and enclosed notecards and using these materials to consider a particular sound experienced on that day. Records are made simply, and the act of writing down a sound somehow consolidates and intensifies it. For instance on November 16th 2008, this was my sound recording, entered into SOUND BANK:


SOUND BANK record no.030 Sploosh! Stones in the river


SOUND BANK record no.030 Sploosh! Stones in the river

There is obviously a combination of drawings and text in this particular record and the text reads;

SPLOOSH! Of stones in the river… Pshhhhh bloosh
like an explosion

– Felicity Ford, SOUND BANK record no.030

Once completed, an entry is date-stamped and added to the SOUND BANK. I have presented SOUND BANK in various contexts, where it has sometimes proved confusing, so I am hoping that my format for Friday will be easy to understand. I intend to invite the audience to pick dates at random and I will then hand them the records from those dates, give them a chance to read the sounds, and – after a few moments – open the floor to a discussion of handwriting/drawings/notation as recording media. To provide a WEB EQUIVALENT, if you would like to “hear” a sound from the SOUND BANK (bearing in mind that there are some gaps unfortunately!) please leave a date in the comments, and I will publish the records from your chosen dates on Friday, to coincide with the conference. If any of you are in Oxford, there will also be an event at Blackwells book shop, at which Whitty and Tearne will be screening their film.

In other sonic news, I am delighted to be presenting at Boring 2011 on Saturday and the focus for this presentation will be The Sonic Life of Vending Machines.

Finally, I am really looking forward to welcoming some of you IN REAL LIFE! To the Museum of Domestic Design and Architecture next week for the interviewing stage of the Sonic Wallpaper Project. Emma has been busy conserving some of the samples I want to show to you during the interview process, and I have been reflecting on what it is like to flick through many samples of vintage wallpaper, trying to create a journey through ideas-in-print.


Wallpaper © Museum of Domestic Design & Architecture, Middlesex University – photographed by Felicity Ford

Finally, to prove that even when I am doing a lot of sound-related projects I still can’t stop thinking about WOOL and WOVEMBER, please to check out my latest KNITSONIKTM design, which features pause, play and record buttons in fairisle, and which will make me warm and silent whilst I am out in the fields, collecting SOUNDS.

7 Responses to SOUND BANK / boring2011 / Sonic Wallpaper

  1. Andrea says:

    Great idea for a pattern! Seems you’re close to knitting sound itself – wonderful. By the way, I find your site very inspiring.

  2. Ruth says:

    Fabulous design idea! Sound waves would look good too 🙂

  3. Allison says:

    Thank you for sharing that quote! I love imagining characters’ worlds when I’m reading a novel, but imagining how their worlds might sound had never occurred to me. I will try it next time!
    Looking forward to seeing your play/pause/record jumper in finished form…

  4. tomofholland says:

    The Sound Bank looks just so, archival. In the best possible way. The glassine envelopes. The custom-printed recording cards. Hand writing AND a date stamp. I love it! What did you record on 22 September?

  5. tomofholland says:

    Forgot to add that I have a Pinterest board called “labeling and indexing”, so consider yourself pinned!

  6. Lara says:

    I love the design. Awesome.

  7. Pingback: sweating the small stuff | Alembic

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