Q&A: James Green to Beth Shearsby

With your recordings for the Sound Diaries project, were there any that evoked a sense of place to you? Either through their representation of the moment in which you recorded them or from your own perspective, bringing back memories, reminding you of other sounds, having a sonic identity…

I find the recording taken on the bus held the most sense of place personally to me out of all of the others, despite it I guess actually being a part of a transition between two places. Perhaps as it is such a part of my routine – the same bus, the same route, 2hrs a day, many days a week, with little else to focus on – all those sounds become embedded and so familiar; the rattling, the wind + you know the spots on the route when the road gets more bumpy, etc… Adding the electromagnetic element to the recording gave it yet another layer of strange familiarity, as the whining of the wheels matched with the sound of the wheels physically on the road, varying in speed/pitch at the usual spots. It all seemed to fit together, holding ‘place’ and almost a strange comfort. 

In your work you contrast the sounds of nature/wildlife and the sounds of mechanical/electronic technology, do you think these sound worlds live in conflict or a harmonious relationship?

They are definitely conflicting, at least to my interpretation of the two. Putting the two together has yet to bring a sense of harmony, very much the opposite, haha. However, they are so alike! With each sharing many characteristics + similarities. A fine example of this is with insects with their constant buzzing/hums; rumbles of thunder, rumbles on tarmac/engines; chirps and cheeps of birds, not too far from sporadic blips of circuit boards; gushing rapids, radio static. It’s all communication, transference of energy, transference of data… But still, they live well on their own, but the coming of the two together (at least to me) usually spells chaos. 

Are there any sounds that you’ve missed during the last few months as our lives have moved more indoors or any sounds you’ve sought out as the lockdown has eased?

I’ve missed the sound of friends’ actual voices in the space, unfiltered or distorted by dodgy Zoom connections + tiny speakers…

Now that lockdown has eased, I find myself seeking out the sound – or rather silence – of lockdown again, haha. The absence of cars, etc… completely changed the soundscape as I’m sure we all have witnessed, making way for/amplifying the natural environment. But now that it’s returned, seemingly even louder than before. I guess as we readjust to living the ‘new normal’, our ears have to also.

[Accompanying: A field recording taken mid-lockdown whilst out on a walk… Despite this, of course a dreaded jet still manages to interrupt the recording – at the time being a nuisance. On reflection, this is a nice little example of the two worlds conflicting each other, yet coinciding. As I walked further along the path from the spot, a transformer loomed overhead. A funny oddity against the green of the countryside. I didn’t have the electromagnetic pickup to hand, but it instantly brought with it imagined sounds that are not too dissimilar to the various insects I’d been recording shortly before… It’s probably humming/singing/screaming its metal electric heart out.] 

Beth Shearsby

Outside working on laptop
Evening TV On
Dawn Chorus
Car Conversations

Extract Beth’s work (below) featured in Recording Life In Sound (SARU 2019).

Beth Shearsby is an experimental artist based in Oxfordshire. Her current work heavily explores a combination of caustic + ambient noise. Using synthesisers, tape loops, D.I.Y circuits + other materials during improvised live performance. She is also an active member of creative educational charity Young Women’s Music Project, which supports women in music through workshops, talks, festivals + more.



Recording Life In Sound

Make an effort to exhaust the subject, even if that seems grotesque, or pointless, or stupid. You still haven’t looked at anything, you’ve merely picked out what you’ve long ago picked out.

(Georges Perec; Species of Spaces; 1974)

On a rainy day in Oxford more than ten years ago Felicity Ford and Paul Whitty set up a project with the aim of recording everyday life in sound – to resist the overwhelming tide of visual images of the everyday and to meet it with the abundant soundings of vending machines, luggage carousels, toasters, escalators, boilers, garden sheds, wheeled luggage. We followed the writer Georges Perec’s instruction to exhaust the subject, not to be satisfied with a cursory glance, not to be satisfied to have identified what we already knew – what we had already heard – but to look again or in our case to listen, to keep listening, to listen long after it would probably have been more sensible to stop. That project was Sound Diaries.

This project celebrates ten years of Sound Diaries with contributions from twelve artists who responded to our open call;

We are interested in everyday sounds and sounding contexts from cutlery drawers to bus stops to self- service checkouts. Projects can take many forms but should focus on documentary recording of everyday sound.

Sound Diaries expands awareness of the roles of sound and listening in daily life. The project explores the cultural and communal significance of sounds and forms a research base for projects executed both locally and Internationally, in Beijing, Brussels, Tallinn, Cumbria and rural Oxfordshire.

We have invited twelve artists to create new projects and you can hear the artists present their work on July 13th 2019 at The Jam Factory in Oxford. Admission is free and all are welcome.

Here’s the programme:

11:00 – 11:20 Richard Bentley Sweep

11.25  – 11.45 Hannah Dargavel-Leafe Conduit

11.50 – 12:10 Kathryn Tovey Walking with another

12.45- 13.05 Aisling Davis Uisce

13.10 -13.30 Jacek Smolicki Inaudible Cities

14:10 – 14:30 Atilio Doreste Muffled Sounds

14.35 – 14.55 Beth Shearsby

15.00 -15.20 Lucía Hinojosa Forgetting 1993

15.45- 16.05 Fi.Ona SoundStamps

16.10 – 16.30 James Green Sounding 24h

16.35 – 16.55 Marlo De Lara aural investigation of everyday britain

Open Call Artists Announced

We had an amazing response to our Open Call with many fantastic and innovative project proposals – thanks to everyone who responded. The successful artists are:

Richard Bentley
Hannah Dargavel-Leafe
Aisling Davis
Atilio Doreste
James Green
Lucía Hinojosa Gaxiola
Sena Karahan
Marlo De Lara
Fiona AR Patten
Kathryn Tovey
Beth Shearsby
Jacek Smolicki

The successful Artists visited audiograft festival in March to introduce and discuss their projects and we are looking forward to welcoming them back in July to present their work and to launch the SARU publication celebrating ten years of the Sound Diaries project.

Watch this space for more information about our event in July and the publication!