For Audiograft 2014, Sound Diaries is curating a series of events to take place in the Holywell Music Room on Thursday 13th March. Long-term readers of Sound Diaries will be familiar with most of the folk in the lineup; Patrick McGinley presented his own work and field recordings last year at our Symposium, and has showcased plenty of Sound Diaries material on the amazing framework radio show which he runs; Sybella Perry also presented her work at the Sound Diaries symposium in 2013; and Valeria Merlini AKA JD Zazie – with whom I co-ran “Documenting Sound” during Audiograft 2012 – has been building an archive of field recordings from that event on RADAR, several of which will form the basis for a special, site-specific DJ remix. We will write in more depth about these practitioners and their work in coming weeks, but today I want to discuss some of the recordings which we have been producing for this concert in order to realise an Oxford-specific version of Liminal’s piece, “Of This Parish”.
Liminal AKA David Prior and Frances Crow conceived “Of This Parish” during a residency in Portugal, in April 2013 during a Binaural/Nodar residency programme in the Gralheira mountain range, North Portugal.
The piece consists of organising a group of four field recordists to depart from ringing bells, and for each recordist to walk slowly in one of the main compass directions, recording the sound of the bells as they are heard in the changing acoustic environments of their trajectory. The bells are rung and the walkers walk to the edge of the sonic territory defined by the bells; i.e. until they can no longer hear them. The four separate recordings collected in this way are then configured and played together in a 4-speaker array, bringing together the expanse of the bells’ sonic range, and an impression of the total acoustic space that this sound occupies. The piece is about territory, the social and cultural significance of bells, and the new listening possibilities presented by field recording technology.
In the context of Oxford in the UK, a realisation of “Of This Parish” will be very different from the piece David and Frances created in Portugal, because of the tradition of bell-ringing in the UK which defines how our bells sound, and because of the note-patterns involved in change-ringing.
Developing this piece with a group of recordists including Victoria Bosher; Dimitris Batsis; Sam Kidel and Bruno Guastella is a very interesting process, made possible through the help and support of the Oxford Society of Change Ringers who have allowed us to access their world of change-ringing, at practices in Lincoln College and ringing sessions at Christchurch.
There are twenty bell towers within Oxford, and working on the practical side of this project – planning and exploring the field-recording side of things – has involved getting to know a little about all of them, and developing a new sense of the city’s rhythms and timings. On a Wednesday evening, for example, the bells of Lincoln college ring out around Turl Street and the High Street during the Oxford Society’s practice… on Sundays there is a sequence of different bell-ringing from Christchurch (09:00 – 10:00) to St. Aldates (10:00 – 10:30) up to Mary Magdalen (10:00 – 10:30) and on to St. Giles (09:45 – 10:30) – an almost continuous stream of change-ringing, drifting through Cornmarket and St Aldates – involving bell-ringers from the Oxford Society of Change Ringers; the Oxford City Branch of Church Bell Ringers; and the Oxford University Society of Change Ringers. Exploring the sounds of Oxford’s bells has also involved the discovery of the secret interior world of bell-towers around Oxford, and the degree of human skill and proficiency which produces the sound of bell-ringing so distinctive to the city.
Over coming days, sound recordings created in the process of developing this work will be appearing here! I hope you enjoy discovering the sonorities of the bells of Christ Church, Oxford, as much as I do.