The histories of architecture in the city are ‘scrolls’ waiting to be discovered and ‘read’ (Calvino, 1972). While investigating these scrolls through the practice of walking the streets of the city accompanied by wheeled luggage, I have found a ‘stylus’ for reading the pavement topography, the skin of the city. The wheels of the luggage bag connect directly with the built environment, rather like putting the needle on a record: a record that is city-sized and can be played in any direction. This practice presents a way of recording, mapping, and sonifying the streets of the city.
Put The Needle On The Record was created by Loz Colbert. Find out more about the project here.
From my sound diary 20092019: “My rolling luggage on the driveway to the bus. Big case, smooth rolling sound, small case, a heavier gritty sound. The silence of the bus with no-one in in. Now back to the grey-er white noise and rumble of moving on the road. Why is this sound more boring? How could I find the sound of bus travel interesting and fascinating and delicious now, like a meal to be savoured ? The sound of the juice dispenser at breakfast, industrial, empty, the soulless delivery of liquid refreshment….”
On arrival in Boston the pavement surface was noticeably more intricate compared to both Detroit and Montreal. It was made up of a smaller size of paving slab, and the street ‘space’ was made up of a mixture of sandstone paving slabs and parquet tiles to delineate different areas. I found this more appealing. We are definitely not in Europe, but the floor reflected culture and multiple social usage. The rhythm is more active and steady as the bag rolls over the slabs, which are equally spaced. The faster rhythms you hear are the parquet tiles. Overall the floor surface was far more delicate, defined, there were different (more expensive) choices of colour and texture, and attempts to make what might be perceived as interesting or beautiful shapes. The way that the floor space is broken up into different ‘areas’ is of note, in comparison to Detroit specifically. Perhaps people and their surroundings, their different uses of street space are catered for (e.g. bicycles, skateboards, electric scooters), and one could pay attention to even the appearance of the street surface. I then find we are in a University town. As I walk past Boston University it makes sense: there is a sense of culture to this street paving. This is a younger environment, it is accepted that the street will be purposed in different ways; maybe the community of individuals and voices fits the unfolding street array…
Put The Needle On The Record was created by Loz Colbert.
The histories of architecture in the city are ‘scrolls’ waiting to be discovered and ‘read’ (Calvino, 1972). While investigating these scrolls through the practice of walking the streets of the city accompanied by wheeled luggage, I have found a ‘stylus’ for reading the pavement topography, the skin of the city. The wheels of the luggage bag connect directly with the built environment, rather like putting the needle on a record: a record that is city-sized and can be played in any direction. This practice presents a way of recording, mapping, and sonifying the streets of the city. Comparisons beg to be drawn between cities, districts, and individual streets with their unique surfaces: such as St Aldate’s, Oxford; Rui Frei, Sao Paulo; East Congress Street, Detroit; Shibuya-Ku, Japan; and Stutter Street, San Francisco. Visual patterns of the manifestations of these streets are recorded also as they appear as images, and sometimes scrolling in movement, as video footage. Rather like the relationship between music, history, and fashion, luggage bag recordings explore the relationship between street, sound, and architecture in passing and in movement alongside traditional and emerging walking practice theory (e.g. Wunderlich, 2008; Edensor, 2010; Springgay & Truman, 2017).
At the same time I have been using Lefebvre’s notion of rhythmanalysis as a mode of enquiry, as a way of analysing these luggage bag recordings, as indeed it fuelled my curiosity for making them. With its evocation of both analytical (cerebral) and sensory (bodily) modes, rhythmanalysis offers a fresh perspective for the experience of, and the study of, sound in architecture and the urban built environment: rhythmanalysis presents itself as a fascinating mode of analysis for all field recording practices.
From my sound diary 14092019:
“In general the bus has the drone of rubber fast over tarmac, gladly muted by sound proofing. I wonder if on different days, at different speeds, the drone will have different pitches, so if you recorded each of them, you could almost construct the entire frequency range of a keyboard made up of different days.”
I’m starting this collection of wheeled luggage recordings with the sound of the tourbus hurtling across American tarmac, from 15th September 2019. It was during the first few days of the tour, I was up early, there was no-one about so I recorded some sound of the bus in motion. It can be hard to stand up on a moving bus, so the recording device gets knocked about (as do I) trying to find a central spot to capture the sound. You are in a large, heavy vehicle that reverberates with the sound of its own movement through air, the terrain below, and of course its own engine, as well as the air conditioning fans and any other devices that happen to be switched on. In the end I give up and sit down. At this point you begin to hear the blast of the air conditioning, as to sit down and relax means to come right up against the vents which are positioned directly below the main side windows. I put this recording up here first in the series because soon we are to come into direct contact with the streets of America on a one-to-one basis. Here, at this point, wheels are indeed rolling over the surface of American freeways, roads and the built environment of the particular state we are travelling through and its connections. But we are rolling at high speed, with no real connection with the exterior other than through a slowly morphing vista of landscape, and an occasional reminder of the bumpy surface. Soon we will be walking, experiencing the streets as they unfold step by step like scrolls.