Recording Sounds

Focussing on The Domestic Soundscape means that I am faced with an endless, ongoing, repetitive, banal, ordinarily ignored and totally undervalued raw material with which to work. We awaken to the domestic soundscape, we fall asleep to the domestic soundscape, we are surrounded at each moment of domestic activity by a set of sounds that is so familiar as to be almost totally background for each of us. In my PhD studies I am really interested in reevaluating the unconscious relationship that we have with our immediate environment, and in reviving the ideas of John Cage which were focussed a lot around actively listening and imaginatively engaging with what we hear all the time. There is something intentionally redemptive about what I am trying to do in drawing our attention to what we almost all universally ignore. I think The Domestic Soundscape is potentially a very rich imaginative resource, but in its unedited form – just existing around us all the time as it does – it is too big, too vast, too commonplace, to take in in its entirety. The Domestic Soundscape simply is and will be, whether or not anyone makes a decision to document it. But for years photographers have celebrated the is-ness of the world by documenting it in snapshot formation and other photographic processes, so it is possible for things that simply Are to be recontextualised as Art and I am interested in how that works.

Key to the success of any photographer is the methodology that they evolve around what they will or won’t photograph, how they will take their photos, what subject matter they will choose to focus on and so on. In a similar way I see my challenge in presenting The Domestic Soundscape to audiences to be a challenge that revolves around editing, format and methodology.

Love is Awesome is an opportunity to evaluate my methodologies and approaches. My main strategy for drawing attention to the value of everyday sounds is to build a context around how we experience sounds. Once you have heard a sound in a certain way, within a certain context and according to a specific imaginative framework, that sound is altered forever in your mind. On this principal, I am exploring many ways to recontextualise or shift our perception of sounds.

My favourite piece in Love is Awesome has increasingly become the piece that I made after reading about the assignment ‘Record the sound that is keeping you awake‘ on Harroll Fletcher and Miranda July’s website, Learning to love you more.

After moving house recently, I was struck by the role that sound plays in defining our familiar – or unfaimilar – territory. My new flat smells different, it looks different, everything is in a different place and everything feels different. But perhaps most striking to me is the massively different sonic life of the new place, and its unsettling and unfamiliar quality. During my first few days of relocating, I recorded the appliances, faucets, boilers, plugs and switches inside – and the very busy road outside – in order to try and familiarise myself with a totally alien soundscape. I still find the sonic qualities of this place unsettling.

All fridges, all sinks, all cupboards, all doors, all mattresses, all showerheads and all computers do not sound the same. All rooms do not resonate in the same way. All roads do not provide the same sonic backdrop as each other… sound is deeply specific and intimate and this place sounds wrong.

Most irksome to me in the new place initially was the sound of an endlessly running faucet in the bathroom. This dribbling tap is the result of a mystifying water-pipe system. For some reason the turning on of the hot tap in the bathroom causes great gushes of hot water to come out of the kitchen tap, whilst nothing comes out of the bathroom tap at all, and the cold tap in the bathroom quietly dribbles a vast quantity of water away each day, since it is an old and weakened faucet. I have gotten onto the Estate Agents about this, but until they can organise a man to come and fix it, I have to listen to the constant drizzle of this wasted water.

I therefore recorded the sound of the dripping tap in my execution of the LTLYM assignment. But the question of how to present it to an audience perturbed me until I made the decision to sequester some pillow speakers and a CD player containing my recording, into a pillowcase printed with faucets. I wanted to recreate the sense of nocturnal, audible experiences and to invite that same moment of being in bed with ones’ head on a pillow, listening to a sound that is just a bit too loud to ignore.

Because of this style of presentation, you can lean your head against the pillow and listen to the sound of the drizzling tap. Oddly enough in this context, the sound becomes hypnotic and soothing. In the description for the pillow speakers it is said that ‘Sufferers of tinnitus have also found relief using a pillow speaker connected to a radio tuned off station,’ and the sound reproduction qualitites of the pillow speakers do somehow convert the drizzling tap sound into a sort of calming white noise.

As with the siren sound that I was hunting for so long, I have discovered that specifically seeking out and examining a sound for any amount of time completely changes the way the sound is subsequently heard or considered. I love the sound of my dripping tap now and would like to use the pillowcase myself once the exhibition is taken down, to remind me of this whole narrative.

Thus the sound of the dripping tap is now transformed for me as part of an imaginative adventure undertaken in my very own home. I bet if you have a dripping tap somewhere in your house you are thinking about that too now…

Another sound activity I have been undertaking for some time now, is the SOUNDBANK project that I started back in October. I especially printed a Valentines’ Day themed set of SOUNDBANK cards for inclusion in Love is Awesome, as I was curious to see how visitors to the show would respond to them.

In truth I think that the screen-printed glassine envelopes, letter-press printed record cards therein and open-plan style of presentation (biro, record cards, pin-board containing prior submissions to the SOUNDBANK) do not – as a collection of things – adequately convey the meaning or purpose of the SOUNDBANK. I think it would benefit greatly from some clearer signposting.

…Either that or I need to broaden my views on what sounds the SOUNDBANK is intended to house! During the exhibition a treatise on despair has been submitted to the SOUNDBANK, along with an Aphex Twin Tune, and Bjork’s I Miss You. One gallery goer did, however, create a very interesting graphic score using the notation line on the record card and representing somehow ‘the joys of this exhibition.’ I will have fun trying to work out how to play it on my flute.

Something about the design of the SOUNDBANK record cards deters people from submitting sounds. It could be that describing ordinary sounds in detail is so alien (or just boring) for most people that they would not even know where to begin with it, as a process. Or it could be that I need to present a clear explanation of the project in order to invite contributions.

In either instance showcasing SOUNDBANK in Gallery 10 has been invaluable to me in terms of helping me to determine the relative accessibility or value – to an audience – of that work.

4 Responses to Recording Sounds

  1. Pingback: The Domestic Soundscape » Blog Archive » Mending the pipes

  2. Pingback: The Domestic Soundscape » Blog Archive » SOUND BANK Advent Calendar

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