Introducing the HEARth stories


HEARth story #1

This is a page in a little guidebook to Tallinn hand-made by my friend and colleague Stavroula Kounadea just before I headed to the Tuned City festival in Estonia to work on this. Stav’s guidebook was full of photos, drawings, hand-made maps and notes to help me find my way around Tallinn; she’d written about where I’d find a good coffee; where there were craft markets she thought I’d like; and what she felt I should specifically look out for on my adventures. Its warm pages offered me a very friendly introduction to Tallinn.

While working at Tuned City, I met Valeria Merlini. We ran a documentation workshop throughout the Tuned City festival – a collaboration that found us working together again at Audiograft in 2012, and which will see us working together this year at Tuned City, Brussels.

The first field-recording Valeria and I made together was created at “The Best Coffee Shop in Tallinn” as detailed in Stav’s guide to Tallinn, where we went to record, to chat, and to plan our work for that day.

Stav and I have found new ways of working together too; this year’s Audiograft festival at Oxford Brookes sees us rolling up our STELIX work-sleeves to present a series of events entitled HEARth.

HEARth is about how the little things – like making your friend a guidebook and like going for a coffee together – can sometimes lead to the big things – like forming International working partnerships and like making Art together. As the exaggerated HEAR in HEARth suggests, it’s also about listening together, and listening to one another, and therefore about exploring the social side of sound.


Like Paul Whitty’s Berlin Sound Diary which created an art object out of the whole journey to Berlin, rather than focusing only on the concert performance that was ostensibly the purpose of that journey, HEARth celebrates the contexts around Audiograft, (the friendships, the hanging-out-afterwards, the eating, reading, and partying together) as well as the work that features in the main festival programme.

Presenting pre-event activities and after-event socials, and drawing on the inspiration of that friendly little book that Stav made me when I went to Tallinn, we shall provide artists and audiences with our personal home-made guide to Oxford, supplying details on such essential knowledge as where to get a decent cup of coffee (“The Best Coffee Shop in Oxford”?) and where to try your hand at playing the theremin, or the steel drum…


…HEARth will happily also feature a Sound Diaries component called HEARth stories. Starting with The Best Coffee Shop in Tallinn which connects having coffee with making field recordings, working together, and looking after artists in strange cities, HEARth stories will document the everyday sounds that visiting artists attending Audiograft 2013 might experience in between performances, concerts and sound installations. Stay tuned for documentation of the soundworlds of Oxford’s finest pubs, interior spaces and walking routes, and for field-recordings celebrating the work of our field-recording comrades such as James Saunders and Kathy Hinde.

The HEARth stories and recordings from the Sound Diaries archives will also be a focus in the forthcoming Audiograft/Sound Diaries podcast series, to be introduced here throughout Audiograft in between listening to the work, hanging out with other artists, eating sandwiches, making badges, and partying together at the end of the festival.

Finally, Valeria Merlini has agreed to don her JD Zazie DJ hat and to custom-make us an Audiograft after-party mix to kick things off in our final HEARth event at The Jam Factory. It will feature many recordings from the Audiograft 2012 field-recording workshop we ran together in Oxford last year, (and maybe also the hissing of some wonderful espresso happening, all those months ago in Tallinn, at the genesis of HEARth…) so that the possibilities for sharing sounds, remembering experiences, and celebrating the dreamlike textures of soundartfestivalspace might continue finding new forms for expression.

Ricercare, recorded by Valeria Merlini at Audiograft 2012

Ricercare recorded with omnidirectional microphones

In these recordings I was interested in the relationship between the town and the concert, and in the point of view of the streets around Modern Art Oxford where Ricercare was being performed, and the pedestrians walking nearby.

St. Ebbes Street was crowded with people walking with shopping bags, and with tourists enjoying the city and the sun. It was a Saturday afternoon. I was moving in the space, following the sounds, recording, and trying to find a nice balance between the different sound sources. I decided to perform different walks, each approaching the yard at Modern Art Oxford and the performance of Ricercare from a slightly different angle.

These recordings feature two different fade-ins leading into the concert from the perspective of St. Ebbes Street, with Bonn’s Square behind me. I used omnidirectional microphones in order to catch the sound atmosphere of that area of Oxford. – Valeria Merlini

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Acoustic recordings vs. Desk recordings

At Audiograft 2012, Felicity Ford and Stavroula Kounadea performed their new work, “Towards an Excellent Finish”. This piece included a sewing machine, a handbuilt Atari Punk Console, and a Dictaphone containing a software cassette for creating “classic knitting patterns” made for the Spectrum 48k computer. A light-sensor attached to the sewing machine, 2 contact microphones, and an electronic coil were also fed into the mixing desk where Ford mixed the sounds, while Kounadea employed scissors, pins, fabric, and her sewing machine to make the piece.

A phono-cable from the main output on the mixing desk to the line-in on a FOSTEX FR-2LE allowed Ford to capture the sounds of the electronic signals of which the piece was ultimately comprised, but Valeria Merlini made some recordings from the point of view of the audience, using a Zoom H4, with an Audio Technica BP4029 stereo shotgun microphone. This set-up allowed Merlini to capture some of the ambience in the room, and also to focus in on specific sounds, such as the sewing machine pedal being put to use, the audience surrounding the performance, and the texture of the cheap amplifier which the duo used to amplify their sonic materials.

Comparing the desk recording with the field-recordings Merlini made during the performance is interesting; the desk sounds have an electronic purity about them and give a very detailed representation in particular of the electronically-generated sounds, such as those produced by the Atari Punk Console. However the desk recording also totally lacks any sense of space, air, or acoustics. Contrastingly, the field-recordings created by Merlini are full of atmosphere, and reveal many of the sounds heard during the performance which the desk recording failed to pick up. Examples include audience sounds; the sound of the sewing-machine pedal being operated; and the resonant sounds of the mechanisms inside the sewing machine reverberating as Kounadea used it. Both are useful for the future development of the work; the desk-recording gives an idea of how well the levels were mixed during the piece, while the field-recording is useful for showing how the performance sounded in a real place.

Roughly one minute of each recording is included here, for comparison and interest. What do you make of the difference?

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Felicity Ford’s electronic desk recording of “Towards an Excellent Finish” (excerpt)

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Valeria Merlini’s field-recording of “Towards an Excellent Finish” (excerpt)