Sound:Site – Thanks everyone!

Thanks to everyone who was involved in Sound:Site. I hope everyone came away with something… with ideas about what it means to record sounds and with ideas about how we can play more in the world.

I really loved the whole day, and have huge respect for all the projects and artists who represented their work throughout the programme. However, there were some real highlights for me which – in no particular order – were:

1. Hearing Chris Clark from the British Library talk about the changing role of institutions in culture and how this relates to a project like the UK SoundMap. He said that big institutions are acting less like a rolling boulder on a beach and more like one pebble amongst many and that libraries and Museums need to start seeing themselves as ‘ingredients’ in the mix of culture, rather than the main disseminators of meaning. I particularly enjoyed hearing about what this change in approach means for an organisation like the British Library, and how radical it is for them to be creating something participatory and crowd-sourced, like The UK SoundMap. Chris Clark has been working with the British Library Sound Archives for thirty years and I especially enjoyed hearing about his personal relationship to the sounds of steam trains and a treasured record he once owned entitled ‘sounds from the junkyard.’

2. The little laugh that went around the room when I showed this photo of my brothers playing camera-wars during my intro speech; I was trying to make the point that documenting experiences is increasingly becoming part of having experiences and this was the best illustration I could find about how common this kind of documenting/experiencing of life is, and how much FUN!

3. Bam and Mel coming to support me and find out more about the world of sound art. Thanks guys; it means a lot.

4. The magical moment when Patrick McGinley played my first ever recording for the framework:radio show unexpectedly during his talk. It was a framework introduction made in 2004 in the bathroom at my parent’s house, and my Mum had never heard it (I don’t think she even knew I’d made that recording.) I recorded this right at the start of my sound-recording career, when I’d moved back to London from Dublin, and was looking for opportunities and projects in the UK. I think I made it by dangling a microphone and a minidisc player off the shower rail. The second the recording started to play in Patrick’s talk yesterday I recognised it, and my Mum said ‘that sounds like our shower’ perfectly illustrating the intimate knowledge that we all have of our domestic soundscapes. It was a bit embarassing to hear the shoddy recording, but also timely, as I am gearing up for the final mile of my PhD… a 5 year long odyssey into sound which started in some ways with the little bits and pieces I used to send into Patrick’s show.

5. Meeting the talented Mr Rawes of London Sound Survey Internet brilliance, and hearing some of his stories about London’s sounds. I especially liked his discussion on how he has indexed sounds on the website, and his point that most voices you hear in London are ‘telling you where to go’ or ‘asking you to buy something.’ He told us some wonderful stories including one about a man who stands around with an Atlas, touting his skillz and Atlas-reading abilities to anyone who is lost or needs information. I also liked his observation that bell-ringers are not necessarily that religious, but are drawn to making a lot of noise in public. He says they are a mischievious lot, and that some bell-ringers sent him up into a tower once only to start ringing the deafening bells the second he got up there. He said there is a scene in a Hitchcock film where someone is driven mad by bells and falls to their death and that this incident had been ‘a bit like that.’ I could listen to Ian talking about the London Sound Survey all day long. The London in Ian’s website reminds me very much of the London in Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere. It is full of texture and stories within stories and a beautiful weaving of sounds and images formed by hours and hours of patrolling the streets and listening and then recording things with great skill. Tip Top. He, my Mum and I were also able to share our regional appreciation for the sounds of Surrey Street Market and our mutual delight that the Market website has officially highlighted the sounds of the street as a key feature.

6. Learning from Ian (who also works on the UK SoundMap) that my A4074 recordings on the map can now be seen from space!

7. Meeting Joe Stevens who has been working on a very thoughtful project concerning how people feel about the ‘sounds of the seaside.’ Joe and I shared a lot of ideas about Soundwalks around World Listening Day and I have really enjoyed reading his posts and thoughts on how to draw attention to the sounds that surround us, and how to celebrate them. I wished we got to talk more, but it was lovely finally to meet in real life!

8. Walking around the damp grounds of South Hill Park listening to birdsong as part of Kathy Hinde’s Twitchr presentation. We went around recording birdsong to upload to the Twitchr map, and this provided the perfect break in an indoors day and a lovely opportunity to play with the idea of documenting experiences and having them at the same time! We heard a noisy Robin (now on the Twitchr website and the UK SoundMap) and I learned how to identify it’s alarm call. I love Twitchr and the idea that this map exists where you can turn all the birdsong in the UK into a kind of giant music box and play with it.

9. Hearing Lucinda’s amazing exploration of radio. When Lucinda’s car broke down, she was unable to drive to Bracknell to talk about Soundart Radio, and so she went home to record her presentation and email it to us. She sent one of the most evocative and romantic celebrations of Radio that I have ever heard and I was moved by her vision for what radio can do, and what it can be. Especially when she talked about how important it is to Soundart Radio to mix community interests with challenging sonic art practices. She featured a clip of a local community choir rehearsing together and talked about a programme that is being made around this choir and their rehearsals and then she pointed out – very rightly – that sometimes things like this are more experimental than experimental art! Soundart Radio were recently featured in The Guardian, and Elisabeth Mahoney sums the aims of the station up well;

Sometimes, though, this can all feel a little London-centric, despite the fact that you can listen to much of this output online. That’s where Soundart Radio, a community and arts radio station for Dartington and Totnes in Devon, is so cheering: its setting couldn’t be further from urban cool – you can often hear birdsong in the background – and yet its output is resolutely challenging.

I’ve been hooked for quite a while, relishing its oddness, its risk-taking – anyone can volunteer for the station – and its blend of the highly local and impressively far-reaching. Soundart broadcasts Democracy Now, the alternative news and campaigning show with an international, radical agenda, and other brilliant offerings such as Through the Looking Glass, dedicated to sonic art, Musique concrète and the “just downright weird”.

But where Mahoney’s article was informative and descriptive, Lucinda’s recording was poetic and descriptive and immersive and sitting in the room listening to this electronically-transmitted broadcast about what Radio can be, and how podcasts and radio are different, I found myself really inspired about future radio productions.

10. The inclusivity of Patrick McGinley’s performance; the idea was for us all to create sounds using the objects in our pockets by repeating actions until we bought the room alive in a kind of big, shared rhythm. I dropped a coin on the floor over and over, and other people shook bottles and keys, banged glasses, scattered twigs on the floor, bashed radiators… it became a long, saturated drone resonating in the space and I liked that we had created this sound together, using what was in our pockets to do it.

11. Presenting sound-diaries with Paul and reviewing that project we’ve been running since 2008. I don’t know what we’re going to do with it next, but it was great to revisit some of the classic soound-diaries people have sent in and to remember the brilliant unspectacular February recordings, which are really my favourite, because they remind me of Georges Perec and all things to do with documenting ordinary reality.

It was nice to see the things Martin and I have been talking about for months coming together, to put many names to faces, to see old friends, and to make new ones.

There is more I could say, but I have to get a lemon to go in our supper (salmon pasta) and return to my writing, so I will conclude simply by extending a massive, massive thank you to everyone who made the day happen, to all the amazing contributors and artists who showed such great work, and to the Digital Media Centre and SARU for supporting the event.

Thanks so much to everyone who came yesterday; you all contributed to Sound:Site in amazing ways, and I hope you went away with some riches.

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