[ O N S O U N D S C H O S E N ]
Welcome to [on sounds
chosen] a monthly insight detailing an individual artist's close connection to specific sounds.
chosen] is a collaboration between Jotta and SoundFjord and takes place over two websites. Its connected page, [in sounds not chosen] shows an insight into contemporary sound work via those embedded in its practice and research, see below interview for specific link.
Read all our interview for [on sounds chosen] below:
D A N S C O T T
In this fourth edition of [in sounds chosen], Helen Frosi, Creative Director at SoundFjord gallery speaks with Dan Scott, a sound artist and musician based in Kent. He is currently studying for his PhD at CRiSAP (London College of Communication) where his research is on listening within sound art practice, focussing on listening as performance and the multiple ways of listening that exist in the genre...
HMF. Could you describe your earliest, or most affecting, sonic memory?
DS. Memories, like sounds, have a habit of changing depending on your position. But, at this moment, two particular memories have most significance. The first is something my Mum used to say to me when we were walking around parks in West London. She’d tell me to listen to the silence. It was an odd demand. I’d start listening, and, after I while, I thought I could hear it through the traffic and people. I had to visualise it in my mind’s eye and saw the source of the silence as a small, rusty metal box in the middle of a bit of scrubland, the sort you get on the edges of the city, emitting quietly. I had an intuition then that silence and sound were actually quite strange and interesting phenomena. The second memory is of the godlike roar of Concorde, the now extinct supersonic passenger jet, flying over my Dad’s house in Twickenham. Unlike that previous imaginary silence this was something absolutely present and direct, I didn’t have to imagine a thing.
HMF. One of the interests in sound that I continue to return to is that I’m interested in the way the world listens. My head is full of questions, such as: how does one person/animal listen, as opposed to another?; how does one’s cultural and social upbringing affect the way one listens?; how does one describe sound (is it always a convention within the framework of the language spoken)?...
What questions on sound do you continue to return to in your practice?
DS. I’m very interested in these questions. Listening involves far more than just sound. How you listen, where you listen, who you are when you listen, all affect what you end up hearing. Even the medium affects our understanding: a sound on the radio affects us differently to the same sound emerging from a treetop. Sound art has to deal with this all the time: how should people listen to this stuff? Just holding up a sound up isn’t always enough, audiences need to be shown new ways to listen to that sound. This revolutionary dynamic is what excites me about sound practices.
Image: Inaudible Archive. Used with permission.
I studied anthropology a few years ago and this has prompted a kind of ethnographic enquiry within my work into listening, especially listening in sound art, itself. This has led to projects like the vocal cover versions of field recordings, or the Inaudible Archive, made for Tate Modern’s Families programme, where participants vocalise an imaginary and inaudible sound archive onto cassette tapes. Such activities are enquiries into the strange claims sound art makes: that a field recording might have something to do with a real place out there, that we can listen to the past, that we can listen with our voices, and so on.
HMF. As a musician as well as an artist who often explores ideas through sound, what stirs your aural imagination the most? What attracts you to work with the material and conceptual elements of sound time and again?
DS. Words get my aural imagination going. As they will for anyone reading this and imagining a voice in their head. I was often disappointed with the music reviewed in the NME because some reviews sparked such amazing sounds in my head that the lame, insipid indie-guitar pap that emerged from my speakers could never compete. Words can also be obstacles of course. Julian Henriques writes about standing in front of a dub sound system, saying, “there’s no room for irony”. I love that thought: to be in sound and not in meaning. Jean Luc-Nancy says listening occurs in, or is, that meaningless moment; listening becomes resonance itself, a kind of prolonged search for meaning that never arrives, and it’s joyous.
When making work I try to incorporate both of these modes, the reflective, conceptual ear, and the possessed, longing one. This is a constant tension and focus.
HMF. Noise. Sound. Music. What is your relationship to these words?
They are slippery terms. One never quite possesses the other. Music is just another sound, if you follow Cage, but sound often aspires to the condition of music, to paraphrase Walter Pater. Noise is sound out of place, to misquote Mary Douglas, but, if you follow Russolo, noise is the fountainhead of C20th music. So the debate becomes a bit academic. For me, it’s more about listening. Maybe it’s like a Venn Diagram, with listening in the middle of the three, or positional, audible things being noise, sound or music depending on your own subjectivity. If I approach Gamelan music as noise I understand it differently than if I approach it as music, and both understandings might resonate or teach me something.
HMF. Like our sense of smell, music seems so linked to memory and the emotions entwined with them, revealing on listening the time(s) one experienced the music. So in some sense it seems to bypass a concensus of “exceptional music”, or “mediocre music”, or “cheesy music”, or whatever because for the listener the experience (good or bad) can’t help but colour one’s judgment of that recording.
Would you relate a personal experience that is linked to a specific recording?
Image: Herring Quest. Used with permission
DS. I love sentimental music, but it’s something I sometimes have to keep quiet about. My partner Trish and I did a project called Herring Quest in a small village in Northern Iceland. We used the music of the singer Harry Belafonte to entice the long-departed herring stocks back to the waters around the town. I found a picture of him amongst the belongings of a herring girl (the women who would gut and salt each new catch of fish) in a local museum and noticed the odd correlation between the decline in North Sea herring numbers and the decline in Belafonte’s record sales, both in the mid-60s. His song Island in the Sun seemed particularly relevant and by telling a story (it was a kind of audio-walk around the town) I tried to kidnap Harry and his sentimental song and, for me at least, it’s now forever about endless dark nights, freezing oceans and stinking silver fish. I was pleased that this connection made sense to locals who listened to the piece, but this probably has more to do with Harry’s beautiful voice than my story. There was a nice coda to the project when, on the day we left, a herring was caught in the harbour.
LISTEN IN: to the Harry Belafonte soundwalk here.
[HMF - and an alternative but equally as fascinating answer from Dan...]
DS. I‘m interested in music that has slipped its meaning: all those hundreds of pop albums that meant something once to lots of people but are now bargain bin fodder. I have this Gerry Rafferty LP called Night Owl – it’s the record he released after Baker Street. It sold nearly a million copies, and I’m sure he has some fans that still love it, but nowadays, for most people, it’s without value. I have a personal connection to it as my stepdad used to play it a lot when I was younger and I enjoy listening to it even now. It’s tied up in my mind with black ash furniture and watching Dangermouse. But this meaning comes from my subjective position when listening. To anyone else it’s a different sound. It occurred to me that Night Owl could be a great subject for an in-depth study of listening from the perspective of sound art and sound theory. Could we deep listen to Night Owl? Could it be analysed through reduced listening? Could Night Owl be rescued by sound art’s listening techniques? So I listened and wrote about 2000 words but soon realised the whole enterprise did neither Gerry Rafferty or sound art any favours, so I stopped. I decided to keep Night Owl to myself.
HMF. If you could archive 5 sounds for posterity, what would they be, and why?
DS. That’s interesting: but how would they be archived? I love that recent story about Shakespeare’s sonnets being encoded into DNA. Apparently they also saved 26 seconds of audio from Martin Luther King’s I Have A Dream speech. That notion triggers an inspirational form of speculative listening. I’d recommend that speech, encoded as sound in DNA, is injected into every racist on the planet. Every misogynist would get Germaine Greer reading the Female Eunuch and every homophobe would get a Jayne County album, all silently howling away in their deepest most innermost core. I know that’s only three, but we could easily extend the programme to members of the Royal Family and the NRA.
HMF. And to finish – let’s take a hypothetical situation! If you fell asleep for millennia, only to wake up in a world where hearing no longer existed and indeed other senses had taken precedence, how would you describe sound and listening to such beings as you would encounter!
DS. I wouldn’t want to depress them so I’d show them that film of Richard Clayderman playing piano to moribund tortoises and tell them they got off lightly.
Dan Scott: www.danscott.org.uk
Read our corresponding, in-depth interview with Dan on our sister page, [in sounds not chosen] at the Jotta site here.
H O L L Y R U M B L E A N D J O H N B O U R S N E L L
In this third edition of [in sounds chosen], Helen Frosi, Creative Director at SoundFjord gallery speaks with Norwich-based artists Holly Rumble and John Boursnell . . .
John Boursnell. Image used with permission.
HMF: Could you describe your earliest, or most affecting, sonic memory?
J: When I was about three or four I was obsessed with Beethoven’s 7th. The drawn out intro to the second movement seems to last forever when you’re that age (I think maybe I had a very slow version). I used to listen to it on tape under the covers, waiting for all the different parts to come in…brilliant.
H: The first sound experience I can remember is when I was about two when my parents led me into the backyard to experience my first snow – I clearly remember the crunch of my wellington boots!
HMF: I’m really interested in soundscape and the landscape as marker of belonging, and the self. I know you’ve moved around a bit, and you travel for your art projects. Are there particular places and sounds that are resonant to you? If so, could you tell me where, what sound and why?
J: I wish I travelled more! Holly’s been to exciting places like Finland and Japan (in a fortnight), I feel pretty dull really. But the mix of absolute stillness and howling gales you get on Skye is a sound place to return to, again and again. All that space too. I want to live there. In September we’ll have been in Norwich for ten years, though I’m not sure that the soundscape here is something I’ll ever think “yep, that’s home, that’s familiar” – so travelling to somewhere, to investigate, report back, becomes more important. I think a lot of Holly’s work touches on that.
H: I think one of the most amazing sounds was at the top of kilt rock on Skye – where the wind was blowing through the railings that separated the car park from the cliff face and its was blowing across tiny holes drilled in the metal pipes, like a row of beer bottles. I like the fact that this was accidental – not an installation (although I would steal the idea!)
HMF: When you studied at Wimbledon School of Art (as it was then called) sound (and the performative) had already crept into both of your practice.
a. I wonder, can you remember the first time you worked with sound creatively? Was there a direct impetus?
J: I was working on some extreme time-stretching pieces – taking two tiny piano notes and making them last as long as my old iMac could cope with – and playing them back through a guitar amp. Even though there was only one speaker, I remember the feeling of the tones shifting between my ears, through my skull. I remember thinking “Oh. This is interesting!”
Not sure how those pieces came about: you could only change the length of the file by 30% each time, so it took hours to turn seconds into minutes, so I suspect the repeated nature of the process guided the first impulse. I’ve always worked with that do this - do it again - do it again – idea. That time, I suppose I was lucky that became interesting.
H: I think I started off doing field recordings – I remember installing a recording of a dripping cave in one of the lockers in the corridor and leaving it running. I became interested in resonant spaces like caves and tunnels and bought loads of ‘underground London’ books and this gradually led to an interest in resonant frequencies and then infrasound, which I wrote my dissertation on.
b. The degree was visually and conceptually oriented. Did the history of visual art with its conventions challenge you to look at other modes of expression, or perhaps instead form a foundation for you practice as it is today?
J: Um, both? I think with hindsight it’s fairly easy to draw the line from minimalist sculpture to conceptual art to performative work, taking in sound at some point. At the time, I’m sure for me it was mainly the fact that it wasn’t painting! Idea art that happens to be sound is probably how I would describe what I thought I was doing at the time. And I think thought I was doing is the key phrase there – over three years I learnt a lot, but I always feel like I’m just at the start of this learning to be an artist thing. That sounds stupid, doesn’t it? Idea art that happens to be live art is actually what I’ll get put on my next business cards.
H: I was concerned that time based media was within the painting department, and constantly had to justify my practice to peers. History of Art and Contextual Studies was the one area where I felt justified in my choice of media, perhaps I’d have felt differently if we’d been situated within sculpture, as installation and physical space would have been more naturally accommodated.
HMF: Would you run though a typical day in the life of John Boursnell/Holly Rumble?
H: Ok, today I am simultaneously doing three things: preparing for a performance at the Minories in Colchester (tomorrow), by cutting up small pictures of the solar system and packing a bag with speakers and a signal generator; writing a grants for the arts proposal on behalf of my live art collective other/other/other; and preparing for my trip to Japan (in a week) by translating my text-based instruction pieces into pictures and/or kanji. Pretty typical. I need a holiday.
J: I’m working on my PhD, (The Sound Object and the Listener in Contemporary Sound Works Located in Small Spaces) which at the moment means trying to read as much as possible. I’m currently reading En Abîme: Listening, Reading, Writing by Daniela Cascella, and Sonic Somatic by Christof Migone, as well as dipping into Heather Phillipson’s This Not An Essay, all of which are excellent. The cold weather hasn’t been terribly conducive to any of this, but it’s going a bit better now.
HMF: What was the first recording you bought; what was the last recording you bought?
J: I really want to say first Nirvana In Utero, but I have a horrible feeling it was something much more rubbish… Meatloaf? Ha! The last thing I bought was Carl Schilde’s WOW record, no actually I’ve just realised it was the new Yo La Tengo album (it’s good!).
H: I think I went on a trip to London to buy the cassette of Definitely Maybe (which was about £7!) – what was the last thing I bought? John buys me music, I’m too poor/lazy. I’ve got the new Scott Walker on vinyl waiting to be played when we have time.
HMF: If you could archive 5 sounds for posterity, what would they be, and why?
J: Gosh. Alvin Lucier Bird and Person Dyning (live); the sound of Skye – perhaps the bubbling of the mountain pools where you can swim wild; Jim O’Rourke and a 1, 2, 3, 4; the whirr of a Polaroid being taken; Erik Satie Vexations
H: Call of a raven; heavy rain – recorded from indoors; water running over rocks; footsteps in a tunnel; LCD Soundsystem’s New York I Love You But You’re Bringing Me Down.
HMF: I always imagine sounds I will never be able to hear – the sound of my great, great grandmothers voice, the Earth when it was only gas, and so on. Is there perhaps a sound from the distant past or the future, which if technology would allow, you would like to hear?
H: I wonder what the end of the universe will sound like.
J: Edison thought you would be able to hear the Sermon on the Mount if you listened carefully enough, didn’t he?
Can I go in the anechoic chamber with Cage?
HF Thank you for your time!
F E L I C I T Y F O R D
In this inaugural edition, Helen Frosi, Creative Director at SoundFjord gallery speaks to Felicity Ford . . .
Felicity Ford | Photo Credit: Mark Stanley
HF Could you describe your earliest, or most affecting, sonic memory?
FF As a young child learning to play the piano I always liked the echoing sound in a piano when you push down the sustain pedal. If you strike the pedal with sufficient violence, you can hear all the dampers coming off the strings in one go and there is a sort of dull ring, as if you can hear the iron frame and all the steel strings inside the piano resonating. I always loved knowing that if I then played a note, it would sort of hang indefinitely within that dusty, resonant, metallic soundscape.
The other sound I remember from childhood was made by my gerbil, Jeremy Shaver. He was keen on making nests, and enthusiastically shredded sheets of newspaper for this purpose. I can remember in great detail the ripping sound and the scuttling of his paws as he ran from one end of his cage to the other with newspaper gripped between his teeth. I used to lie in bed listening to the racket, and found it magical that the next day there would always be a perfect, sphere made of tiny feathery bits of paper with Jeremy Shaver sleeping silently in the middle of it.
HF What is your favourite sound, and why?
FF I can’t pick just one!
Some sounds are favourites because of the contexts in which I have heard them. Paul Whitty once asked our MA class to remember the first sound we’d heard that day and I closed my eyes and recalled in perfect detail the sounds of pouring milk into my cereal. I’d never realized before that moment that I could call sounds into my head, and it was a sort of magical experience to discover this inner ear – what Murray Schafer calls “The Ear of the Imagination”. I’ve had an extra appreciation of the sounds of pouring milk into cereal since.
Photo credit: Felicity Ford. Used with kind permission
Other sounds are favourites because of their sonic qualities; I am having harp lessons at the moment and when I carry the harp out to my car the wind blows through its strings and I really enjoy the complex harmonics – the Aeolian sounds – which that produces. I also like it when a pigeon coos on top of our chimney; the specific sound of the pigeon and the way the Victorian brick chimney amplify it make a lovely combination – a sort of round, warm, soft-edged sound.
Finally perhaps my other favourite sound is that of someone whispering in my ear, which is somewhere between a sound and a touch; I associate that sound with people I am very close to, so maybe that sound is a favourite sound for social and emotional reasons.
HF Would you run though a typical day in the life of Felicity Ford, artist.
FF On a typical day, the kettle will boil sonorously throughout the day, and I like to start with a list which I can tick off as I go because it’s the only way I can keep track of loads of projects all at once. My house is actually very quiet most of the time, with the main sounds being me clicking on my keyboard and mouse as I upload projects to the Internet, write blog posts to contextualize them, and deal with all the admin associated with being a freelance soundartist. Editing is also a quiet and concentrated activity; I do this with headphones on, in intense bursts.
If I have a commission which involves making recordings, I will incorporate those recording activities into daily life. For instance if I need to record the sounds of sausages, I will set up my recording equipment, fry the sausages while recording, then eat them as usual for lunch. It’s exactly the same as normal, except for microphones pointing into and over the frying pan. The “Sonic Tuck Shop” project was completely embedded in ordinary life in this way. (LISTEN HERE)
Working on developing A Day of Sonic Tuck took a little extra planning, and cooking was made more complex because of having recording equipment all over the kitchen, but otherwise it was business as usual re: cooking and eating. (LOOK HERE)
I recently worked on a commission that required quite a few different frying textures to be mixed with the sound of visiting an Indian restaurant, so I invited my partner, Mark, out to a local place in the evening, and during the day, fried various things in the kitchen and munched on them as afternoon snacks. It is not uncommon for us to go to a particular restaurant or pub specifically because I need to record the ambience there; similarly there are places which we avoid because their sonic qualities are unsuitable for recording. (LISTEN HERE)
In the evenings, I tend to knit, and I cook very often. I love food in all its forms, and never tire of the simple acts of chopping, peeling and preparing it. It’s like a concert you can have all the time; as often as you need to eat.
Photo credit: Felicity Ford. Used with kind permission
HF If you could archive 5 sounds for posterity, what would they be and why?
FF Shearing sheep with handshears, because one day I am sure all sheep will be shorn with electric shears and this sound will disappear from the soundscape; the sounds of Jacksons department store in Reading because it has a very unique, creaky, squeaky soundscape and is due to close next year; the point along The Games Way where a canal, a train-line, the M25, and the flight path from Heathrow converge. I think the sound of this place should be preserved because one day human beings will run out of oil and look back and be amazed at how noisy we were; the sounds of old cinematic projectors, before everything is filmed and projected digitally; the Mapledurhman water-mill, making flour. It’s the oldest working mill on the Thames and has a unique, creaky, wooden soundscape.
HF THANK YOU!
Read our corresponding, in-depth interview with Felicity Ford on our sister page, [in sounds not chosen] at the Jotta site.