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.] 

Q&A: Atilio Doreste to James Green

How do you think that the soundscapes, recorded as part of your Sound Diaries project, have changed during the intense weeks of the pandemic compared to the previous ones? Are you able to go back listen ‘in person’ these days?

Yes, I have been listening to the original ones a bit recently and they differ quite a lot! This is because I honestly haven’t taken many new recordings since the lockdown began. Instead for me, it has been a process of listening, reflecting on them and trying to figure out some ways to reimagine them instead of going out and making new recordings.

 Another way they have differentiated is their sudden significance in the new context we have been put under. With the project, and my approach as a whole, I have concentrated on spaces and areas that hold meaning due to their social use or the way people shape that area, so listening back to crowds, buskers, religious singing and nightclubs they almost seem shocking and absurd that these many people were ever allowed to occupy the same space. Overall though I’ve enjoyed using sound as the material to create something new rather than seeing it as an elusive substance I’m always trying to capture. 

If there are layers of attention and definition (or non-definition) in your sound experiences facing the landscape, how would you establish the relationships between them in terms of overlap, transparency, or murmur?  Do you consider the possibility of some leading role in a specific sound source?  If so, what character would it have in relation to its possible appearance of figure and background?

For me, what tends to take my interest are areas of non-definition, many particulate elements coming together to form a larger image of what that landscape represents. However, that’s not to say that sometimes sounds take the foreground. I think this is more to do with our conditioning towards those sounds rather than the actual sonic characteristics. Things like cars, alarms, announcements and unpredictable sonic agents (eg crashes and lary people) often make it into the recordings I’ve made. Due to these usually being warnings in our everyday lives they evoke a reaction and therefore bring themselves to the foreground whilst listening back.  

I really like your idea of transparency and overlap, when reimagining some of the soundscapes from the project I’ve been layering unedited recordings from different areas of Aberdeen which I think ties in with these ideas. The city in these experiments has been overlapping and merging with places too disparate to have ever come into direct contact before but still echo or contain murmurs of the region as a whole. 

What do you consider is the estimate and necessary time for a track as a piece for the public? Is very different the length of your listening and the final selection?

It has been dependent on what I’ve been making the track for but generally, I listen back and edit at the same time. By edit, I only really mean finding the length of recording I like or removing the low-end wind noise which always makes it in!  Most of the longer, hour-long tracks I have composed use 2 – 5 minute chunks of audio that are then brought together in a kind of generative system I’ve been working on. The process of listening here is also an on the job case, listening and running it through this system a couple of times and hearing which I like better. These longer tracks are more meant for installations and therefore the listener may only hear a couple of minutes but can drop in and out at any point and still get a feel for the place that they are listening to.  

James Green

Bridge Over Leyton Station
Coronation Gardens
Downsell School
Drapers Field
The New Testament Assembly

Extract from Sounding 24h (below) featured in Recording Life In Sound (SARU 2019).

James Green is a sound artist whose practise includes performance, installation and composition with a focus on themes such as duration, time and hidden sounds. To spotlight these themes, urban soundscapes play a major role in his work. James has performed and had his work showcased at Goldsmiths University, the LCM 50th Anniversary Concert, and The LCM Theatre as part of the In Surround Series. He is currently based in London, and is a recent graduate of Goldsmiths University.

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!