Recording Life In Sound

Make an effort to exhaust the subject, even if that seems grotesque, or pointless, or stupid. You still haven’t looked at anything, you’ve merely picked out what you’ve long ago picked out.

(Georges Perec; Species of Spaces; 1974)

On a rainy day in Oxford more than ten years ago Felicity Ford and Paul Whitty set up a project with the aim of recording everyday life in sound – to resist the overwhelming tide of visual images of the everyday and to meet it with the abundant soundings of vending machines, luggage carousels, toasters, escalators, boilers, garden sheds, wheeled luggage. We followed the writer Georges Perec’s instruction to exhaust the subject, not to be satisfied with a cursory glance, not to be satisfied to have identified what we already knew – what we had already heard – but to look again or in our case to listen, to keep listening, to listen long after it would probably have been more sensible to stop. That project was Sound Diaries.

This project celebrates ten years of Sound Diaries with contributions from twelve artists who responded to our open call;

We are interested in everyday sounds and sounding contexts from cutlery drawers to bus stops to self- service checkouts. Projects can take many forms but should focus on documentary recording of everyday sound.

Sound Diaries expands awareness of the roles of sound and listening in daily life. The project explores the cultural and communal significance of sounds and forms a research base for projects executed both locally and Internationally, in Beijing, Brussels, Tallinn, Cumbria and rural Oxfordshire.

We have invited twelve artists to create new projects and you can hear the artists present their work on July 13th 2019 at The Jam Factory in Oxford. Admission is free and all are welcome.

Here’s the programme:

11:00 – 11:20 Richard Bentley Sweep

11.25  – 11.45 Hannah Dargavel-Leafe Conduit

11.50 – 12:10 Kathryn Tovey Walking with another

12.45- 13.05 Aisling Davis Uisce

13.10 -13.30 Jacek Smolicki Inaudible Cities

14:10 – 14:30 Atilio Doreste Muffled Sounds

14.35 – 14.55 Beth Shearsby

15.00 -15.20 Lucía Hinojosa Forgetting 1993

15.45- 16.05 Fi.Ona SoundStamps

16.10 – 16.30 James Green Sounding 24h

16.35 – 16.55 Marlo De Lara aural investigation of everyday britain

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)