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Put The Needle On The Record #28: Madrid 08022020

Madrid had many distinct and bold aspects to its street architecture. There were multiple Tenji blocks, hard stone paving slabs, iron covers, there were striking paint markings on the street for pedestrian crossings…

I walked past flight cases around the large block of buildings where the venue was situated recording as always as I went. The recording looks like this:

Madrid Scroll
Field recording of the luggage bag walk in Madrid.
video footage of the luggage bag walk in Madrid.

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Put The Needle On The Record #26: Geneva 05022020

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.

Italio Calvino, Invisible Cities
[Geneva Scroll]

Above is the ‘scroll’ I made from a field recording of a dragged street walk in Geneva. This is a visual manifestation of the stylus-based field recording, which is posted below this text section.

Sound diary, Geneva, 5/02/ 2020: Of all the recordings possibly the most regular in terms of the evenly-spaced pavement slabs. There were also more cobble-like areas in the part of the city I was in, which broke up some of this regularity. Also, there were some tram lines like iron girders, laid into the tarmac of the road.

Geneva Audio
Geneva Video

Put The Needle On The Record #27: Barcelona 07022020

Barcelona Street Image with Scroll

This is a visual representation of the field recording I made on the streets of Barcelona while dragging my luggage-bag-as-stylus across them.

Barcelona street field recording

Sound diary: The Barcelona streets were made of ornate and patterned tiles, the most beautiful pavement material I have seen so far. In contrast with the huge concrete slabs of Detroit for example, this was like some Romantic masterpiece with aging Catalan Gothic / Medieval buildings, a vibrant street life, muted oranges, reds, yellows all around; while the grooves in the thousands of tiles I ran over gave out an incessant, vibrant street rhythm.

Put The Needle On The Record #23.2 (visual art scroll): Köln 30012020

Above, I have made a visual ‘scroll’ from the outcome of the luggage-bag-as-stylus recording in Köln on 30/01/2020. This relates back to the initial premise that the histories of architecture in the city are ‘scrolls’ waiting to be discovered and ‘read’ (Calvino, 1972).

Put The Needle On The Record #25 Berlin: 02022020

Italio Calvino (1972) suggested that histories of cities are written in their streets as ‘scratches and indentations’, as ‘scrolls’ to be read.

Inspired by works such as Christian Marclay’s (1999) ‘Guitar Drag’, and Francis Alys’ (2004) ‘Railings’ I have been using various styli – including a rolling luggage bag – to read the grooves of the street surface, and make audio records as part of this.

I have recently been experimenting with turning the audio patterns into visual scrolls – and printing them out as posters.

Original luggage bag recording on 02022020-Friedrich Strasse, Berlin.
Berlin Scroll from the recording on 02022020.

From my sound diary:

Sunday 2nd Feb. Wandering around Berlin again. I am on Friedrich Strasse, the street on which Check Point Charlie used to be. Visually there were focused pavement designs using various surfaces with coherent patterns. I remember the close ticking sound of pedestrian road crossing with the sound of passing traffic. I got to the Brandenburg Gate, where a group of people were meditating next to another group of Arabic-looking people who were having some form of a remembrance or protest rally. Also moving around the city, I saw the marker of the position of original Berlin wall, the marker drew a red line across stones, and all across the pavement…I followed it for quite a while, thinking of the older previous borders and boundaries that have gone, with no markers; the city and the streets as palimpsest

Put The Needle On The Record #24: Hamburg 01022020

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.

We are in a constant dialogue with the space around us. The ever-changing acoustic switches between inside and outside in a lifelong series of cadences between the two.

A visual ‘scroll’ of the Hamburg stylus field recording (01022020).

This recording is one of the shortest but moves from the inside to the outside of the venue (Gruenspan, Hamburg) on 01/02/2020.

Stylus field recording of Gruenspan, Hamburg, Germany (inside and outside).

Once the performance is over the inside of the venue becomes reflective and reverberant again, after the dispersal of the crowd.

There are only remnants of the presence of a crowd in the squashed plastic cups rattling around the floor, and other spillages/ marks.

Inside.

Compare then the outside, which is more chaotic and public, and subject to the weather. The outside is a contested space: for pedestrians, cars, cyclists, skateboarders. Out here you feel the weather, the season, the time of day, the community (or lack of one).

On this occasion when I am filming, the oily urban pavement glistens with sparkles of rain in the sodium glow street lights and headlights of the passing cars. It is wet, but not clean.

All characters, all ages patrol and navigate the streets. There is no entrance fee, or need for proof of ID; the streets are for everyone.

A short Rhythmanalysis:

Think of the activity in the venue over a week as it fills, empties, is cleaned, gets ready to start again. Think of the individual and crowd movements as people arrive over the day, as they disperse at night. Think of the changes in the weather, in the temperature as day and night shift. Expand the timescale and think of the changing fashions in music and clothes over years, and the changing use of the building over time.

Put The Needle On The Record #22: Amsterdam 28012020

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.

The Paradiso venue in Amsterdam is a former church in the old district of southern Amsterdam. The venue is placed directly by a canal which is at its rear in the Leidseplein area near the Melkweg, with the front of the venue facing onto a busy street. I recorded a short trip from The Paradiso venue that went onto the streets and into the Leidsplein area.

The streets were busy, flowing, animated, with several modes of transport circulating simultaneously and fairly harmoniously in this area. There are tram tracks on the road, built-in cycle lanes, car and bus lanes, lanes for water drainage, as well as pedestrian areas and various crossings of these tracks. The pedestrian pavement surface was initially made of grey-worn square paving slabs laid perpendicular to the direction of travel. The slabs were all polka-dotted with flattened gum circles. Next to these, some tessellated patterns of older red-brick were visible in the areas closer to the venue that led to the canal by way of side streets.

The pattern soon changed to the design of what looked like granite brick blocks in a diagonal ‘hatched’ formation. At the same time, I also came across some more traditional-looking older hatched patterns created out of the smaller red brick flooring to the left of me, near a small shopping arcade. Curiously all bricks – whether granite or red – switched from perpendicular to hatch at the same time. I wondered was it the original older bricks that set the pattern or rhythm of that area? What changed it?

It happened that also some road works were taking place on the road that spanned the tram and cycle lanes with road diggers and metal fences around them. This represented a ‘disruption’ to the otherwise harmonic and integrated floor patterns and the rhythmic flow of transit in this otherwise busy area.

Sounding the surface of the streets in Amsterdam. (field recording)
Multiple lanes, multiple uses and users.
Video clip of Leidsplein walk

Put The Needle On The Record #23: Köln 30012020

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.

Again thinking of rhythm as not just as ‘a systematic arrangement of musical sounds’ but rather as a universal principle that can explain history, fashion, technology, and other changing aesthetics; the pavement surface of Koln was really fascinating. A collision of times, textures, tonality, and tempi – Köln’s past really did seem to be written in the streets. Looking at this slideshow you can see different street patterns and different eras mingling with evidence of changing cultural aesthetics and power influences. The streets are a palimpsest, they are constantly written and overwritten as various rhythms of cultural change radiate through the city.. they are scratched, marked, and wiped clean again. These echoes, as worn icons of past eras like eddies in a flowing stream, are slowly but constantly shifting and mingling with the recent: a cigarette butt, chewing gum, ice cream spilled…

Stylus field recording of K0ln streets.

These are all visual rhythms below and they speak of different uses, different purposes, different intentions.

Put The Needle On The Record #21: Bordeaux 26012020

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.

On the first day of the European tour, we arrived at Bordeaux. Notably, the first case of Coronavirus in France was reported in Bordeaux two days before we arrived. I took the luggage bag out on the streets nearby to the venue, which was an arts/culture centre with surroundings of mostly tarmac and grass.

My experience of Bordeaux was quite rhythmic. Once on the streets, I noticed that the thick terracotta tiles create regular, repetitive patterns, but also that these are used in adaptive and creative ways. There are variations to the pattern. There is the reactive placing of the tiles in relation to positions of street lights, drain covers, driveways, etc. Someone – or a group of people – had to make these decisions as they were laying them. This contrasted to many of the broader streets in America, where large plain slabs of cheap, mass-produced concrete materials were lain with great uniformity to facilitate the large-scale movement of people. When we think about these motives and contexts for the urban environment and for its use, for its consumption by people, wider narratives begin to materialize – what are the differences between European and American cultures for example? How and why did they evolve so?

Bordeaux

Listening notes: Crossing the road you hear a run-in groove of tarmac, before going up the curb onto the streets with the thick, square, terracotta tiles. Once rolling, the unique tiled rhythm sets up and continues for most of the journey. There were variations in speed in my walking, which created variations in the intensity of sound. There are broken rhythms as we come into contact with items such as manhole covers, street repairs, larger drain covers, cracks (cracks due to weather, cracks seemingly due to the weight of heavy vehicles), etc. What is interesting is that all these features are set on, and written in, the street. These are the grooves, the document. All we have to do is reveal their sound. An experience of dragging something over it from a given start and ending point is what creates the unique ‘record’ of that time. It is putting on the needle on the record to play it. The playback is from my starting to my endpoint.

A still from the Bordeaux street journey showing the smaller tiles, stones, and their resulting patterns.

‘Put The Needle On The Record’: Summary and Conclusions

“This is where it all started….This is the grain right here, y’all right on the soil right now, know what I’m sayin’?” Rae-Kwon

Initially, the idea was just to create a form of sound-diary of the American tour I was about to embark on for the Sound Diaries website. There were various angles and at first and I wasn’t set on what I should record; but eventually, I chose to record the sound of my luggage bag on different streets in different cities of America. This would become an expansion then, of my original (2014) video piece ‘Put The Needle On The Record’, which played with the idea that the luggage bag was a stylus reading the ‘record’ of the street patterning. For the rest of the project, I refer to the luggage bag as a stylus – as it reacts and resonates with the texture of the streets.

For the whole ‘Put The Needle On The Record’ project I am taking the street as a site of truth and authenticity, as it has always been in Hip Hop music, in Urban and other poetic narratives. The streets can have a mythical, historical connection with the past, with people, and with subcultures. In the (2019) Showtime series ‘Of Mics and Men’ Rae-Kwon from The Wu-Tang Clan is filmed walking through an area from which his group emerged when he stops and touches the street surface with his hand. He pats it, strokes it, saying “this is where it all started..” and “this is the grain right here”. The grain. Where it all started. The texture, the rough topography, and the unique historical record of the street: this is a record I seek to play…

What if I were able to do that then? Instead of running my hand across it, what if I can run something across it, and record the sound? What if the object I use can also record simultaneously the sound it is making? What if I can make a recording as long as the street? So from September 14th to October 16th 2019, I sought to run my stylus over 20 streets in America. I walked and dragged my luggage bag over paving slabs, concrete, tarmac, street tiling, soil, marble, and festival flooring. The simple and direct, physical form of sound-making and data gathering while moving on foot through these places puts your body in contact with the environment and connects you as a single part of a wider social and spatial whole. Walking is a way of interacting with our environment; dragging something behind you increases that connection with the (built) environment, and focuses you in the present.

On the tour, there were days off and travel days, yet I managed to make a recording at almost every gig or festival that we played. Mostly I would aim to record on the street of the venues we visited because it linked somehow to the touring event, and referenced the live-musical and geographic journey we were on. As venues are part of the physical and cultural image of their settings, they fit into a city’s urban morphology, so it seemed appropriate to record the streets near to the venue if possible.[2] Perhaps via this form of field recording, it would be interesting to see what differences there are from state to state, city to city, venue to venue, on a street level. And if any, what influence the venue might have had on the street and vice versa.

While touring – despite the freedom people imagine – your life is not really your own from the minute you join the entourage until you return home. So I couldn’t stick to an exact duration or schedule for the recordings because mostly time was out of my hands. There are soundchecks, record shop ‘in-stores, signings, acoustic sessions, interviews, adjustments to make with gear, ongoing technical conversations to be had with the crew; you have to eat, find showers and bathrooms in different locations each day, perhaps phone your family, and also the tour bus might be leaving or moving to a different location so you have to make sure you are aware of what’s going on to be on it. Nowadays, even flâneurs have to keep to a schedule.[3] Sometimes I would be walking and recording late at night and it would seem unsafe to go on, or I might get lost, or I was encountering too many roads and traffic, or time didn’t allow. On a tour, the only real time to yourself is on a day off, and ultimately as an entourage everyone expects you to be ‘on call’ and no more than five minutes away. So I guess I settled on about three to five minutes per recording, to be able to go ‘there and back’ safely.

I certainly found that each location was different. With the complex schedule of touring, I was inevitably recording at different times of day or night and of course in completely different surroundings as we changed location each day, so even if the pavement material was of a type shared by another city the context might be very different. I was always curious when this happened: what links the choices of street surface used in Detroit with New York, but not in Boston or Canada? Is the choice of pavement surface simply the result of economic forces, or aesthetic ones? In terms of urban planning: were choices made a result of motives that were regional, national, or global, or were they due to the character and influence of one particular individual even? What might this say about the people and their environment, the expectations of the city, and the working lives of the people in it? Either way while travelling, each location appeared to be a new context for these ideas and a new manifestation of the word ‘city’. The list of destinations was not determined by me, but in changing locations and situations so regularly, you get the sense of parallel universes shaped by a different and unique balance of forces, rather like the mythical imaginations of Italo Calvino’s Invisible Cities (1974).

Some of the street names of the places I visited are interesting as they clocked up one by one. ‘Spring Garden Street’ in Philadelphia was one of the roughest places we visited: no spring, no gardens, mostly broken streets. ‘Pleasant Street’ in Boston was in reality quite pleasant – the section I experienced was a youthful, social area linked to the University. On ‘Elm Street’ in Dallas there were no Elms, they were long gone: instead, I experienced loud bars, drunks, the sound of revving pimped automobiles, and beggars – it wasn’t a nightmare but it could have been. These juxtapositions with the street name, and my experience of the place as it is now stretched the connection with a distant past, reminding me of Paul Whitty’s (2004-2009) work Vauxhall Pleasure.

As a final thought, I am curious to use the recordings as a form of ‘dead reckoning’ to explore not just the street surface but to take this recording-as-document and work outwards. The history of those streets and the cultures that shaped them – can these be determined from a single recording? Might it just depend on the style of analysis or questioning? If you take the ever-fading moment in time, the ‘now’ that I recorded back then – it instantly becomes historic, a document. As a document, it would be a rich and fruitful analysis to work backward and try to pick out patterns, starting from the street recordings. One could ask questions that begin with the sound and the rhythm of the street, but that radiate outwards and begin to ask what was the legacy of this approach to urban planning? What was happening in politics, or in music at the time? Where was that particular city in terms of its development or regression, where was the human race as a species in relation to the planet? What other cycles and forces are linking and affecting all these? 

This could be potentially done through a form of Rhythmanalysis and forms the next part of this project.


[1] http://www.sound-diaries.co.uk

[2] Kronenburg, R. (2019) This Must Be The Place, p. 4

[3] O’Rourke, K. (2013) Walking and Mapping: Artists as Cartographers, p.5

[4] De Certeau, M. (1980) The Practice of Everyday Life, p.101