I SPY in the country has become my most entrusted creative companion. For the past month I haven’t left the house without it, and my knowledge of the countryside around Oxfordshire and Berkshire has genuinely broadened through organising interviews and visits connected with investigating all the items contained within its beautiful, vintage pages.

I was really encouraged to develop I SPY / I HEAR for radio by your kind comments, left here back in September when I first started exploring the idea. I was spurred on also by the positive response that I got while opening the doors on the SOUND BANK advent calendar, because it made me feel that there is much room for projects which celebrate hearing as part of our imaginative experience.

With these ideas plus my initial PhD research questions in mind, I have approached making the I SPY / I HEAR features for The Hub Radio Show as a practical research activity; an exercise in exploring how a familiar visual text can be adapted to become a listening or audio experience.

In the first episode of the series, Mark and I explored the area around Appleford, where there is a rare thatched wall. For this recording I used binaural microphones which are worn in the ears, in order to pick up sounds in a way that is closer to our natural hearing.

For the second episode of I SPY / I HEAR, I went to record the soundscape surrounding the salmon ladder at Mapledurham Lock, where I was lucky enough to bump into one of the men who works on the river who told me all about the salmon ladder. For this recording, I used the inbuilt microphones on the Edirol recorder that I so love to use…

…and last week’s I SPY / I HEAR feature was created through my visit to MERL – The Museum of English Rural Life – and the interview that Roy Brigden generously gave me, about the items in the collection that are listed in my book. He was able to answer some questions I had such as why we no longer see milk stands in the English Countryside, and why there is a sort of lattice-work pattern at the top of thatching.

I have collected so much audio relating to the idea of I SPY / I HEAR, that I am going to put together a 40-minute podcast covering as many of the items in I SPY IN THE COUNTRY as can be found.

The experience of recording the features has been really exciting; I have found myself closer to the weather for listening intently to it and going out into it specifically to record the sounds at different locations. I have found myself hearing many birds that I cannot identify, and collecting the sounds of different winds, different trees, and different terrains as an extension of the curiosity and collecting habits that are celebrated within the old I SPY books. I have learned many small things about Oxfordshire that I did not know before, and feel closer to this landscape for those small scraps of knowledge. I have also found myself experimenting with how to convey the playful glee of the book and its old, vintage, slightly geeky atmosphere, in sound.

To make the jingle, I played the tune on an old electronic keyboard and created several sung harmonies to go over the top. The words are simple, but then so is the idea (I SPY with my eye, but I HEAR with my ear.) Finally I integrated the sound of my door opening at the start of the jingle and my door closing at the end, to represent the journeys one makes into the world to experience such things as Museum collections or thatched walls.

I also created a sound to represent the points that are awarded in the old I SPY books for spying various items, using a toy xylophone.

I have noticed that at the back of the I SPY books, there is a certificate that one can send off to “Big Chief I Spy.” The bizarrely inappropriate American-Indian branding notwithstanding, I do like the idea of some kind of award at the end of spying all the items in the book and I think this incentive must have provided many generations of children with the necessary inspiration to go outside and start finding out about the things in their locale. I don’t think we were ever organised enough when we were younger to get an award on filling out our I SPY books, but I like to think that I can somehow make up for this now in adulthood, and in keeping with my art practise and creative research. I am therefore working on some kind of I HEAR / Keen-eared listener sonic award to finish off my podcast. In the meantime, you can hear me talking to Roy Brigden on this week’s episode of The Hub, and a further episode of I SPY / I HEAR will be played on next week’s edition. For your listening pleasure now, I present the salmon-ladder feature, the point-scoring sound that I have attributed to SPYING / HEARING one of the items in the book, plus an extended version of the jingle.

4 Responses to I SPY / I HEAR

  1. Pingback: The Domestic Soundscape » Blog Archive » Soundwalk 3: The Kit

  2. Pingback: World Listening Day | Midwest Society for Acoustic Ecology

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