Put The Needle On The Record #9 : Nashville : 26092019

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.

From my sound diary 26092019: Turned up early and got coffee in a diner. The luggage bag recording was of me going to the day room, walking up the hill. I’ve been experimenting with video here and I want people to be able to see the surfaces they are listening to, I think this is best… in some ways it has to be there as a visual thing. The patterns on the road, the objects etc.. and their relationship to the sound and story.. they all relate.

Luggage bag recording: Nashville street 26092019

Arriving and being in a historical place of such ‘traditional’ musical heritage, I made field recordings of the pavement – or ‘sidewalk’ as it is known. Yet in some ways this is the most dynamic form of reportage I could do – to get up close to the material, the story, the real life, as it is now. What is the sound of the street, when you play it like a record? And which musicians have walked these streets I am trawling along now? What state were they in? Where were there careers heading, pulling back from? Nashville is one of the main centres of musical activity and industry in the USA, but also has the most colleges and universities after NYC/Boston, and it is known for its healthcare. What characters have walked these streets in the past? Students, academics, vagrants… How has Nashville and its network of streets been shaped – if at all – by its own musical history and musical ‘legend’ (and legends)? If anything ‘Nashville’, and the idea of a music city lives above the streets as a romantic idea, not on them. What lies on the streets is more the truth of the matter: pavement forms created by municipal protocols and economic constraints; impacted with social and societal encounters leaving traces such as dried bubble gum, spilt drinks of various consistencies, litter, scratches, dents… devastation and entropy lie waiting on the outskirts of what is clear to see..

Outside the venue, the streets look fairly normal. But I wonder what dramas have taken place here? At what times?
Facing the direction of the gear being loaded in.
The legend of Nashville is ‘above’ rather than ‘on’ the streets…

Put The Needle On The Record #8 : Philadelphia : 240919

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.

From my sound diary 24092019: “We are based in a rougher area today for the gig, so the sound of the luggage bag on the the street was more brutal and closer to ‘noise’ today. Rough and chipped concrete. As I walked towards a more desirable area, the street sound developed into a more smooth and regular refrain (Gentrification?). Some streets again have the concrete delineations of space, they are not so much individual slabs, as a larger section of pavement overall, with troughs in straight lines to delineate a rectangular space on the surface.”

Dragging my luggage bag across the streets near to each venue that we play on this American tour, I am making a record of the histories etched into the very street I am walking along. Connected to the street, I read and write this encounter as recorded sound. There is a sense of ‘presence’ as I am walking, listening, and creating sound at the same time. I am engaged and engaging with the street. A form of stylus, the luggage bag reads the physical topography of the street and vibrates like a traditional stylus might, faithfully rendering the unique physical topography into sound. One recording cannot represent all activities, all agents, all histories, but it can work as a starting point for these. And as we compare each location, a certain story is told in each. The rhythms reflect the physical ‘document’ of the street, and how it has been written by multiple authors: government, local government, architects, accountants, municipalities, construction workers, repairmen, commuters, businesses, artists, tramps, vagrants, criminals, tourists, musicians… A palimpsest, the street is constantly being written, imagined, interpreted. As we walk the streets and are present, we can be open to this collaboration. Even better to play it out loud.

Luggage bag recording: Spring Garden Street, Philadelphia 24092019
A visual selection of Spring Garden street (no sound).

Put The Needle On The Record #7 : Washington DC : 22092019

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.

From my sound diary 22092019: A hot day: 32-37 degrees C. Slabs (concrete sections) are much closer together. Is Washington ‘more refined’ than Detroit? Some variations on the street such as manhole covers and ventilation grilles. Two pedestrian stops to cross the road. I took a luggage bag walk and saw how the hot pavement slabs (well actually concrete sections like in other towns) were closer together. Some metal grids like the ones I saw in Times Square were there, which cause a dense and full sound like a drum roll. Heard today, the sound of the water in the shower, limpid, unimpressive. And the sound of my luggage bag rolling into and out of the dressing room. 

Luggage bag recording: 5th St, North West, Washington DC 22092019

What could be said of the street surfaces I have seen so far? Some have felt very impersonal and some have felt characterful; some have felt dangerous and some have felt safe; but there is always a story if you have a look and a listen… ‘Listening’ to sounds, but also to the different streams of data and information is a form of Rhythmanalysis. In Detroit, Brooklyn, and Washington the streets I walked were impersonal. What factors lead to this? Is it just financial concerns, practical concerns, or social? Is it historic or technological factors that shape the streets and the experience of walking them? Or, was it just the location of the venue I find myself near? Is my experience being directed by different approaches to music, and to the location of live venues in the city? Venues can be central to culture and invited into urban planning, or they can be pushed away from it. Why was Boston (a University Town) more human and socially responsive somehow? Different communities respond in different ways to street perspectives. What factors shaped those responses, those communities..?

Out on a luggage bag walk in Washington DC 22092019

Put The Needle On The Record #3 : Detroit : 16092019

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.

From my sound diary 16092019:

The luggage bag on the pavement, made some really interesting sounds, the big slabs of concrete created large flat areas with moments of gentle impact where they joined. The impacts were far apart (when compared with other streets).”

Wheeled Luggage on the streets of Detroit 16092020
Detroit 16092020

Arriving in Detroit, the first chance to really get out on some pavement. American cities are generally vast, and the built urban walkways seemingly endless. Starting from just outside the venue, I walked towards the ‘centre’ of the city (a curious concept in itself). Most noticeable were the huge slabs of concrete that made up the streets. This immediately made the rhythm of impact with the wheels of the bag much slower and spread out, with more rolling in between. In UK streets, paving is made up of multiple tessellated shapes that create repetitive patterns and rhythms; in Detroit these slabs are uniform and recurring, and also three times the size of an average UK pavement ‘slab’. Immediately we can sense a different rhythm, a different pace: one written in the streets that suggests different interpretations of ‘space’ and its purposes, needs, restrictions, and of human purpose, needs, restrictions. My assumption would be that ‘the city’, commerce, and the efficient movement of bodies are more important than the needs of those bodies.

Outside St Andrews Hall 16092020
The Street 16092020

Football not happening at Brightwell Recreation Ground

Goalposts lean against the pavilion at Brightwell Recreation Ground

During the lockdown, on Saturday afternoons between 15.00 and 16.45, I have been revisiting the parish recreation grounds, village greens and playing fields where I have listened both to the sound of football happening and football not happening.

On November 5th 2016 I came across a North Berks League Division Five match taking place between Didcot Eagles and Steventon Reserves. I was on my way to the Hithercroft in Wallingford, Oxfordshire, but had taken a short cut across Brightwell Recreation Ground. A football match on a parish recreation ground is an ephemeral event, ninety minutes of sound on the occasional Saturday afternoon or Sunday morning. This was Didcot Eagles first home match since October 1st and they didn’t play at home again until November 26th so the chances of coming across the match in that ninety minute window were slim. The sounding culture of rural grassroots football seeps out into the surrounding countryside, across fields, down lanes, through woodland and past graveyards. The chance encounter is the beauty of the situation as the calls of Jackdaws and Rooks transform into shouts of man on, stand him up, press. One of the first recordings I made for Get Rid! came as the result of stumbling across a match at Bodkins Playing Field in Long Wittenham:

This recording was made during the North Berks League Division Four match between Long Wittenham Athletic Reserves and Berinsfield Reserves. I was driving through Long Wittenham and noticed the match taking place. I didn’t have my sound recorder to hand so had to make do with my phone so there isn’t as much depth in the recording as I would have liked. Just before I arrived Berinsfield had scored and Long Wittenham were under pressure while I was making this recording.

17012017

Of course there were successes and failures, chance encounters with matches and planned visits that delivered me to Village greens where nothing was happening. After a failed attempt to listen to Didcot Eagles later in the Autumn I wrote about the absence of football, about football not happening:

…Having established that the rec was the home of Didcot Eagles I looked up future fixtures and so later in December I took the short walk to the Rec to see the last few minutes of Didcot Eagles v Grove Rangers. As I walked down Mackney Lane I was expecting to begin to encounter the sound of the game as it bled into the surrounding countryside and travelled across the woodland towards me – but instead I only sensed absence. As I turned into the recreation ground the reason for this became clear – there was no match. The Recreation Ground was empty except for some children fighting with sticks and a few dog walkers. I walked over to the pitch looking for evidence of recent action. The white lines looked recently painted and the goalmouths were muddy but whether or not the match had taken place at an earlier time that day I couldn’t be sure. The goalposts were neatly stacked against the pavilion and there was no sign of the nets. I leant against a railing and recorded the situation and imagined the sound of the ball being struck; of players shouting instructions and their voices bouncing off the flat surfaces of the pavilion and back onto the pitch; of the referee’s whistle; and the frustrated exclamations of the coach. In the absence of these sounds the ear was drawn to the wider soundscape – distant tyres on the asphalt of the bypass; the air vibrating with the movement of the rotary blades of helicopters from RAF Benson; the conversations of dog walkers; and the chatter of children in the play park.

This is the recording that I made:

football not happening at Brightwell Recreation Ground

I pursued my interest in the everyday soundings of Village Greens, Playing Fields and Recreation Grounds, in the absence of football, and made multiple recordings, recordings of football not happening:

04032017

And as the deep quiet of the lockdown brought about by the Covid-19 pandemic spread I began to think about these recordings and started to revisit the sites where I made them to record the new absence, the everyday soundings of Village Greens, Playing Fields and Recreation Grounds in the pandemic. The drone of tyres on asphalt, the regular phasing of passenger jets, helicopters forcing the air to vibrate – these sounds are now rare, discrete, they arrive and depart, they are moments in a wilder and more diverse soundscape:

11042020

April 30th

Somewhere near a field in Oxfordshire

At daybreak, my face still turned to the wall, and before I had seen above the big window-curtains what tone the first streaks of light assumed, I could already tell what the weather was like. The first sounds from the street had told me, according to weather they came to my ears deadened and distorted by the moisture of the atmosphere or quivering like arrows in the resonant, empty expanses of a spacious, frosty, pure morning; as soon as I heard the rumble of the first tramcar, I could tell whether it was sodden with rain or setting forth into the blue.

Marcel Proust The Captive (1925)

Leaning out of an upstairs window I can hear the sound of hedgerow birds, chickens running in one of the nearby gardens; a football bouncing on a paving slab and then being kicked into the shrubbery; a lone car heading West on the A4130 sounding the asphalt; a Red Kite circling overhead. I lean out further, listening into the distance, into the future, waiting for the tide of mechanised sound to return, for the drone of tyres on asphalt, not the phasing passage of a single car, but the sweeping tide of traffic sound flooding across fields, down lanes, through dense woodland. Perhaps it is still here, cars pass in groups, the air vibrates, the X2 pauses at the bus stop. Covid 19 has transformed our sounding environment, but how much is that transformation felt in any one place, in a place on the periphery of the situation? Can I hear it from my window? Is it evident in my everyday? And when will the tide of sound turn? and when it does turn how will we feel about it? As the air begins to vibrate with the phasing of distant jets will we want to step back or will we embrace the return to the normative sounding of the world? The soundscape is ambivalent. It represents the reduction of pollutants in the atmosphere but also signals the absence of loved ones. The temporary absence of friends but also the permanent absence of those who have lost their lives. This is a soundscape of hope and a soundscape of loss. It is a soundscape of a brighter future, one where listening to the world is part of the decision-making process we undertake when we chose to travel or not to travel; but it is also a soundscape of a brighter past, a past where now lost loved ones were still with us, where we could hear the sounds of their voices vibrating in the air and not just in memory.

I made this recording on Thursday 30th April:

30042020

25th April

Somewhere near a field in Oxfordshire

At daybreak, my face still turned to the wall, and before I had seen above the big window-curtains what tone the first streaks of light assumed, I could already tell what the weather was like. The first sounds from the street had told me, according to weather they came to my ears deadened and distorted by the moisture of the atmosphere or quivering like arrows in the resonant, empty expanses of a spacious, frosty, pure morning; as soon as I heard the rumble of the first tramcar, I could tell whether it was sodden with rain or setting forth into the blue.

Marcel Proust The Captive (1925)

Leaning out of an upstairs window I can hear the sound of hedgerow birds, chickens running in one of the nearby gardens; a football bouncing on a paving slab and then being kicked into the shrubbery; a lone car heading West on the A4130 sounding the asphalt; a Red Kite circling overhead. I lean out further, listening into the distance, into the future, waiting for the tide of mechanised sound to return, for the drone of tyres on asphalt, not the phasing passage of a single car, but the sweeping tide of traffic sound flooding across fields, down lanes, through dense woodland. Perhaps it is still here, cars pass in groups, the air vibrates, the X2 pauses at the bus stop. Covid 19 has transformed our sounding environment, but how much is that transformation felt in any one place, in a place on the periphery of the situation? Can I hear it from my window? Is it evident in my everyday? And when will the tide of sound turn? and when it does turn how will we feel about it? As the air begins to vibrate with the phasing of distant jets will we want to step back or will we embrace the return to the normative sounding of the world? The soundscape is ambivalent. It represents the reduction of pollutants in the atmosphere but also signals the absence of loved ones. The temporary absence of friends but also the permanent absence of those who have lost their lives. This is a soundscape of hope and a soundscape of loss. It is a soundscape of a brighter future, one where listening to the world is part of the decision-making process we undertake when we chose to travel or not to travel; but it is also a soundscape of a brighter past, a past where now lost loved ones were still with us, where we could hear the sounds of their voices vibrating in the air and not just in memory.

I made this recording on Saturday 25th April:

25042020

On the Covid 19 Shoreline

At daybreak, my face still turned to the wall, and before I had seen above the big window-curtains what tone the first streaks of light assumed, I could already tell what the weather was like. The first sounds from the street had told me, according to weather they came to my ears deadened and distorted by the moisture of the atmosphere or quivering like arrows in the resonant, empty expanses of a spacious, frosty, pure morning; as soon as I heard the rumble of the first tramcar, I could tell whether it was sodden with rain or setting forth into the blue.

Marcel Proust The Captive (1925)

Leaning out of an upstairs window I can hear the sound of hedgerow birds, chickens running in one of the nearby gardens; a football bouncing on a paving slab and then being kicked into the shrubbery; a lone car heading West on the A4130 sounding the asphalt; a Red Kite circling overhead. I lean out further, listening into the distance, into the future, waiting for the tide of mechanised sound to return, for the drone of tyres on asphalt, not the phasing passage of a single car, but the sweeping tide of traffic sound flooding across fields, down lanes, through dense woodland. Perhaps it is still here, cars pass in groups, the air vibrates, the X2 pauses at the bus stop. Covid 19 has transformed our sounding environment, but how much is that transformation felt in any one place, in a place on the periphery of the situation? Can I hear it from my window? Is it evident in my everyday? And when will the tide of sound turn? and when it does turn how will we feel about it? As the air begins to vibrate with the phasing of distant jets will we want to step back or will we embrace the return to the normative sounding of the world? The soundscape is ambivalent. It represents the reduction of pollutants in the atmosphere but also signals the absence of loved ones. The temporary absence of friends but also the permanent absence of those who have lost their lives. This is a soundscape of hope and a soundscape of loss. It is a soundscape of a brighter future, one where listening to the world is part of the decision-making process we undertake when we chose to travel or not to travel; but it is also a soundscape of a brighter past, a past where now lost loved ones were still with us, where we could hear the sounds of their voices vibrating in the air and not just in memory.

Somewhere near a field in Oxfordshire

This is where I am, so this where I listen. If I lived in Drayton near the A34; close to the John Radcliffe Hospital in Oxford; in Greater Leys close to the Kassam Stadium; on Old Greyfriars Street opposite the Westgate Shopping Centre, the differences in the soundscape would be immediately noticeable with the presence and absence of sound charting the transformation of our behaviour. But here, just South of the A4130 between Wallingford and Sires Hill the change is more subtle, harder to measure, but evident nonetheless.

On April 22nd 2020 the Chief medical officer for the UK government, Chris Whitty, made it clear that some of the social distancing and lockdown measures designed to slow the spread of Covid 19 may be in place until the end of the year. As a way of trying to understand how our sounding behaviour has changed and how that has impacted on our domestic soundscapes I will be leaning out of an upstairs window to record my local sounding environment every day until all social distancing and lockdown measures are removed.

I made the first recording on Thursday 23rd April 2020: