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.  

Q&A: Kathryn Tovey to Atilio Doreste

‘Muffled Sounds’, your work for Sound Diaries, feels relevant during the pandemic, where there has been a shift in the occupation of public and domestic space. During this time, have you observed any changes in the sounds of these spaces?

In a forced phase of public confinement there is a marked distinction and contrast between the aural spheres of the domestic versus the public. The natural soundscape is amplified and filled with details of an excellent cleanliness. It is also true that domesticity is individualised, because transit is drastically reduced, and also the drifts. Therefore, the home value is customized.

In my case, I live in a fairly rural environment, where the neighbours are disrespectful in relation to acoustic contamination. There are no changes in these types of household sounds that cross the wall, they are only radicalised in intensity and frequency. At these extremes we have beautiful spring walks with limits of legal transgression with regard to human activity, and inside an unbearable neighbourhood of anxious activity.

On the other hand, there have been some very curious sonorous incidents, such as the inexplicable habit of civil protection officers and police making noisy caravans of mermaids, apocalyptic pandemic warnings to advise respecting lockdowns, and police children’s birthday celebrations with public address of children’s music, choreography and Disney costumes.

In many of your video works, you are filmed interacting with dis-used spaces and found objects. Do the historical contexts of the locations you choose to perform within inform how you respond to the landscape?

Definitely not. It’s a plastic attitude about all things. The curious exploration of a sonic and percussive potential, the transgression of limits and risk. Everything else manifests itself as a continuity that necessarily bears no intention. But the historical question is as the critical extension of a theoretical phenomenon that focuses on a willingness to reactivate heritage, especially on the fragility of the elements of identity value of a moment and a place.

I am interested in your combinations of sound and performance to create comical artworks. Do you think comedy has a significant role to play in the context of contemporary art?

Nothing is centred in contemporary art, but my performances do not have a comic-will. Along with the ex-as-destructive local political value of artifice identity phenomena, my work is based in a surreal (and consequently fluxus) local tradition in Canary Islands that require the most serious and inexpressible attitude possible. That people laugh is still a confusion or ignorance, because we live in an excessive society and habit of entertainment that has invaded every artistic discourse.

Q&A: Marlo De Lara to Kathryn Tovey

In your piece for Sound Diaries, I very much appreciated your appreciation of lessons from canine companions and furthermore creating a piece I felt was heavily informed by Donna Haraway. Since then have you developed any works framed by her theories?

Currently, I am working on a community sound walking project in the West End of Morecambe focusing on the ecology of the area. I cannot say that my work since has been framed by Haraway’s theories as such, but they perhaps share a similar sense for the philosophy of her theories. They do, therefore, inform how I approach the process of thinking and making work.

Would you consider your work as being in dialogue with eco-feminism? Why or why not?

My work is in dialogue with threads of ecofeminism, though it is rarely a conscious association for me. The focus is mostly a curiosity with the movement of animals. In a previous work, I performed as a fictional sea creature informed by my own movements as a woman adapting to a damaged landscape. It was a futile attempt of anthropomorphism for me, to encourage critique of its own projection and to instead, embody wildness from within and to empathise with species. Growing up on the North East coast, I was personally drawn to the ecology of coastal landscapes. The sound of Kittiwakes, the shape of the caves carved by the ghosts of miners and the waves, the ship building that has now fallen silent, have all manifested into a visual present. Just as the pebbles are tinted red by the mines where my great grandfather worked. I also began to explore concepts of ‘making kin’ through human and canine relationships. It is in this process of mutual aid and participation as co-creation, that I feel connects with ecofeminism’s embrace of open diversity and care.

At the beginning of the pandemic, we often heard a narrative about the earth or nature fighting back during quarantine. In these heightened times, how do you think humanity/civilization could be, or is currently, able to learn from the environment?

I think that the public perception of these narratives has been influential, allowing more time for thinking, learning, and caring for one another (human and non-human). It seems the time offered a reconnection with nature, that hopefully can inspire communities to incorporate alternative ways of living. The stories we have heard of animals returning to areas otherwise occupied by humans, give the impression that nature is fighting back. This may, however, not be the case – but it is a projection of hope that animal and plant species can quickly return if given the chance.