The Domestic Soundscape making, listening, thinking+44(0)7835136201
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Soundtrack for a grey walk

I haven’t defined clear resolutions for 2013 besides the central objective which – for a few months now – has been to secure a paid, academic position. Towards this end I have been applying left right and centre for funding and jobs, but it is the nature of this game that you have to apply to many things before you find the right thing, and today I found myself feeling rather glum about my prospects.

However outside of this principal focus on A JOB, I have it in mind that I must get out of the house each day; that this will be a year of making time for making; and that I want to listen more to sounds which I haven’t recorded myself.

With this in mind, I headed outdoors today, armed with my SLR and a wonderful framework radio show episode entitled “Birds for Framework” in hand.

I admit this was a bit of an experiment – walking and listening to field-recordings. Normally I specifically reserve walking as an opportunity to hear the soundscape of where I am; the sounds to me are so much part of a place that it is very strange to me to not deliberately listen to them. Also, field-recordings can be disorientating aural fare whilst out and about, since you can often mistake what you are listening to for your surroundings – a very strange experience. However I also find walking to be a fantastic context for listening; once I hit my stride I can pay great attention to sounds. Just think of the intensity associated with traversing the city, ipod and pop music in your pocket, and you’ll know what I mean. I also have this idea that as I work my way through the framework radio show back catalogue, each venture I undertake with a show in hand is like a sonic vacation from the traffic-galore monotony that defines the Reading soundscape.

Sometimes hunting a sound changes my relationship with that sound; for instance trying to record an emergency siren for a radio project I worked on in 2008 made me excited about hearing that sound in a new way. I came to associate it with scrambling for my recorder and trying to get the levels right in a very short space of time, rather than feeling overwhelmed by a sudden, loud burst of sound. I doubt I’ll ever find that recording traffic will change my relationship to that sound, (though I have tried this) but it occurred to me that hunting the grey of January might mitigate against its misery-inducing MURKFAKTOR.

Walking in the grey, photographing the grey, listening to this turned out to be just the re-set I needed.

bricks

wet

withered

muddy-wet

The watery, semi-flooded paths and banks beside the Kennet & Avon Canal took on a shimmery quality and appeared to be magically wet. Somehow the exuberant gushing of water in the radio show animated the (in reality) bloated, sullen silence of the canal.

I took my headphones off once or twice to try and understand whether the birds I could hear were really around me, or on the recording… the birdsong of the real place and the radio show mixing into an indivisible whole… nightingales reminded me of the nightingale thrushes I recorded in Estonia, and of more brightly-coloured times. The sounds of penguins added a surreal dimension to walking around in wintry, path-flooded Berkshire with its native, emphatically un-penguin like waterfowl…

dirty-feather

duck-prints

…their dirty feathers and sprinkled footprints left around the water.

The show is beautifully crafted; both the near-constant presence of birdsong in the mix and several drones (either in the original recordings, or added in during the final mixing of the show) stitch it together into a satisfyingly seamless whole. I found myself marveling at the very great variety of sounds produced by birds, and appreciating the ability to hear so many, all at once, even as the blackbirds in the bushes physically around me were busy doing their nervous nest-building and worm-hunting, and even as the tiny moorhen struggled against the swell of the tide on the canal.

grey-skies

I found myself absorbed in the soft, sonorous sounds of the mix, delighting in all the many texture within the recordings, transfixed by the long, trance-like drones.

I started to appreciate the greys.

Even the dingy ones.

surface

urban

litter

Some of the greys even seemed exuberant and mischievous…

balls

…some hopeful, hinting at Spring.

ash

cracks

pussy-willow

poplar

I walked on, details leaping out both from the curated radio show frameworking my walk, and from the solidly present landscape.

This lens magnifies everything and won’t allow a big-picture view; it lets me document only details; small vignettes of tree, brick, litter, wet leaves, mud.

As I warmed up from the walking, took in a little vitamin D, (just like Colleen) I found myself pressing repeat on this show and enjoying the similarly macro-focus in many of the tracks featured in it… the perception of a microphone trained closely to a surface in the recordings of the artists featured.

lichen

bright0red

I found myself thinking about how very precious grey makes bright primaries look. And when I took off my headphones, I was ready to return to the wash of traffic on the industrial estate, the clatter of the supermarket, the dull silence of home, because my ears were full of yellows and reds having enjoyed an exotic break to distant, sonic lands.

Here is the tracklist from Birds for Framework Radio, curated by the Invisible Birds label owners Matthew Swiezynski and Diane Granahan, and assembled by chief librarian sir Arthur de Eriomém. I feel they have all done a fine job of curating a beautiful thing. Here is a link so that you can hear the show yourself if you like the sound of it. My suggestion would be for you to download it and take it for a walk, or listen to it in bed with a nice big mug of cocoa.

1. jonathan coleclough – from makruna minya – icr / siren records – 2004
track – makruna
2. dr. roger s. payne – from songs of the humpback whale (modifié par arthur de eriomém)
3. jean-claude roché – oiseaux du vénézuéla – edwards records – 1973 (w/ whale background)
4. thomas köner & yannick dauby from une topographie sonore: col de vence – mille plateaux – 2003
5. ingenting kollektiva – bird melody from side b of fragments of night looped – invisible birds – 2011
6. jean-claude roché – rossignols: a nocturne of nightingales – frémeaux & associés, 1993
track – a wood in the le de france
7. vikki jackman – whispering pages – faraway press – 2008
track – dreams
8. akio suzuki – odds and ends – hören – 2002
track – ta yu ta i #2 (birds and bird-like)
9. jonathan coleclough – from cake – siren records / robot records – 1998
10. douglas quin – antartica – miramar – 1998
tracks : wind harps from the taylor valley, canada glacier, and emperor penguins (ending : modifié par arthur de eriomém)
11. olivier messiaen’s le chocard des alpes from catalogue d’oiseaux (modifié par arthur de eriomém)

4 Responses to Soundtrack for a grey walk

  1. tomofholland says:

    I absolutely love grey, as it is hardly ever just grey, as in a shade between white and black. Your pictures really show of this most ethereal of mundane colours.

  2. Joanna says:

    What absolutely stunning photographs. Even the tattered plastic bag looks beautiful. I can’t quite imagine going out and listening to a field recording from a different location. But I am enthralled by the idea of having ‘ears full of yellows and reds’. I often turn to knitting when I am stressed and usually listen to plays or watch stuff on iPlayer while doing so but I have an idea the ‘birds for framework’ might be the perfect calming accompaniment to rows and rows of soothing woolly stitches. Thank you for the link and good luck with the job hunting.

  3. colleen says:

    You will know that these sentiments and images are right up my street. Embrace the grey, I say.

    Will be playing the birds again I think. I was pottering around in the “knitting room” and realised that I needed to listen to the recordings more intently. Perhaps ear phones really are the best way to do that.

    I’m very much enjoying hearing robins around the place, and the warmth of a south westerly.

  4. Lizzi says:

    What a beautiful post.

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