‘All the muddle’ – 22 December

Technology has a leading role in determining how our homes sound, and in nearly all the projects I have worked on, the tv or the radio are referred to somewhere as central tenets of the domestic soundscape.

However even though tv and radio are prominent features of the domestic soundscape in the Western world, there are legalities and complexities around creating recordings which detail how our homes sound with these technologies inside them.

One way I have dealt with these legalities is to record these components of the domestic soundscape at incredibly low levels with my devices placed very far away from the radio or tv, or for only very short periods of time. I believe it is important to be able to refer to these technologies in representing the domestic soundscape, but also that it must be made very clear that in such recordings I am only interested in documenting the overall sonic texture of life in the home (of which radio and television are only constituent parts).

To give an example, when I was working on The Fantastical Reality Radio Show in association with Mundane Appreciation, I developed a top twenty irritating noises chart, based on feedback from people in various locations (including an online survey). The results were very interesting, (though this was never intended as an in-depth social study) and the noise that was voted (by blog-readers, people we met at live events etc.) the most irritating, was “Ad-Break blare”. What I meant by that term is the specific compression of sound plus a boost in volume which makes advertisements sonically attention-demanding during advert breaks. I felt this sound should be captured for the purposes of the feature for our radio show, and so concentrated on selecting key features from various advertising breaks – exaggerated speech; “crazy” sound FX; loudness; and rapid sequences of complex sounds. I glued my edits together in a very harsh way with no fades between sounds. The edits were intentionally jarring and discontinuous, and were intended to connect with listeners’ experiences of this particular aspect of television in the domestic soundscape.

However for the Sonic Wallpaper project, I needed something much more subtle, and so settled on a very quiet recording featuring me tidying up the kitchen with the television on in the other room. I wanted a very minimal and mundane soundscape to go underneath Colleen and Annie’s amazing conversation about BADDA 4384.

BADDA 4384, image © MoDA and used with their kind permission

Colleen said that she really imagined this paper being in a real house and co-existing wonderfully beside/with “all the muddle of life”. That phrase stuck in my head and I wondered how that “muddle” might be portrayed for a further listener. I sort of wanted to fill the piece with the sounds of a really noisy family, but had I done that, I’m not sure I would have captured the quiet, undemanding qualities of the wallpaper itself; plus I wanted to use a sound which would allow the conversations about this wallpaper to easily be heard.

I have one copy of the Sonic Wallpapers book to give to someone who would like to have a domestic listening experience for themselves! The book has all 18 wallpaper designs from the MoDA collection used in this project, and a CD in the back which contains all the soundpieces. There are introductions both by myself and Zoe Hendon who is the curator of MoDA, and notes on what people said, and what sounds were recorded, for each wallpaper included in the project.

Sonic Wallpapers book

Sonic Wallpapers CD

To win a copy of the book, you just need to leave a comment here about a wallpaper that you remember from your life, and one sound you recall from the room where that wallpaper was. If you cannot think of a wallpaper design and a sound, you could also leave one thought/response you have to this project. On 24th December, I will draw a number at random and post out a copy of the book to the winner!

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