Put The Needle On The Record #22: Amsterdam 28012020

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 was an obvious disruption to the rhythmic flow in this otherwise busy, fluent 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 #21: Bordeaux 26012019

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?


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 #6 : Brooklyn : 21092019

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.

No travel today, and no luggage bag. Instead, free-walking with written sound diary entry, and a gallery below.

From my sound diary that day: “Brooklyn/New York. Police cars, my footsteps on the sidewalk on my way to meet {x}. Cars travelling along the Brooklyn Queens Expressway above me, as I walk beneath it. Later in the day we walk across the Brooklyn Bridge, and there is the sound of car tyres making a ‘popping’ sound as they hit and roll over over a metal grid at high speed, which is about 2/3 of the way along the bridge. In the heat of the day, the air in the tyres is fully expanded, and so the popping sound resonates in the air. It creates a punctuated, repetitive and rhythmic sound over what would otherwise be a whitewash’ of constant car movement and engine noise below. Entering the Subway… the noise of the subway train arriving, filling the air, filling the entire space with sound. Rising up and out into Times Square, the voices of the crowds and the traffic… Finally after having read about it, admired it been inspired by it, I arrive within range of the sphere of sound that is Max Neuhaus’ ‘Times Square’ piece. I could have spent hours there… As an intervention, Neuhaus has covertly set a drone to emanate from beneath one of the metal ventilation grids of the street. Having created a level of frequency and of volume, the effect is that all sound around interplays with the drone. Different types of sound both merge and separate with it, in ever-changing and curious ways. Voices are over taken by traffic noise, which may then quickly recede to leave the drone exposed on its own. I enjoyed way that the piece creates both a ‘base’ and ‘bass’ level, so that any ‘natural’ sound happens around the intervention piece and interacts with it. Natural sound for this area might be: the sound of crowds, both moving and stationary; the sound of sirens – emergency services, police; the sound of individual conversations – tourists and ‘locals’; sounds of shouts, exclamations, traffic noise. I had to get back in time for the ‘instore’, so we took a taxi back to Brooklyn, the main thing noticeable was how the level of overall noise ‘calmed down’ on that side of the river. Manhattan was now distant. However there was much intense noise in sirens and horns and shouts when a fire started in the restaurant we were eating in… and I remember the crackle of material being consumed in the vivid and violent flames, just as I got out.