Dawn chorus & rain

This feels… well, a little cheesy and obvious perhaps… but thinking about the theme of geographic dispersal we started out with, I began to think that perhaps it’s a relevant addition. Having been quite suddenly returned to where I came from (Sydney, Australia), I am confronted on all sides with sounds that just aren’t a part of my normal life any more. And one of the few compensations of the horrific jetlag that always accompanies the ghastly 24-hour sleepless flight here is the chance to hear the birds’ dawn chorus without having to set an alarm to specifically wake myself up for it. So I appropriated my father’s Zoom H4N recorder and snuck out at 5.15 one morning soon after I got here to record the birds…

Heavy rain is also a rarity in my UK soundscape, so I also grabbed the chance to capture a downpour, recorded at my desk, which has a glass roof to it:

Fault lines

A few months back, R suggested that the way I’m using line (specifically in the altered books) is perhaps as a form of redaction – as something that obscures or takes away, more than as a constructive mark. I’ve been thinking about this ever since. The drawings I’m contributing in this post are a sort of diversion based on this idea – I was thinking about constructive vs perhaps destructive lines and then that moved on to the idea of line as an indicator of some sort of weakness.

I started by taking a few photographs of lines I felt illustrated what I was thinking, then manipulated these photos, making them black and white and upping the contrast so that the lines would be clearer to draw from. Then I made the drawings from the photographs, focusing on the lines I wanted, but kind of as negative space – so the line traced by where metal and concrete met – one side straight the other chipped and broken – became a void on the page, the surrounding areas filled in just enough to create a contrast – they’re drawings of a certain type of line not of objects per se.

Because I’m developing these drawings in an altered book (volume 2, which is worked over Eric Walter White’s 1948 Benjamin Britten: A Sketch of his Life and Works (London: Boosey & Hawkes) the void of the line reveals the content of the page below – tiny glimpses of layered content – words, letters, musical notation, etc. For me this is suggesting depth to the line – that it could be a fissure, break, chasm. The implications are of fragmentation and division across both horizontal and vertical axes.

The first two drawings here are based on photographs of metal strips set into concrete on Turramurra Station in Sydney. I’m not sure what they’re there for – some sort of hatch maybe? I might need to go back and check – they just caught my eye as I was about to get on a train and I snapped them to work with later. The third is from a photograph of rocks in my parents’ garden and so raised some different ideas – whereas the line in the first two drawings was based on where two different materials meet, the line in this third drawing is based on shadows which indicate where the rock has eroded – it is working with an internal division – self divided from self, as it were, rather than a boundary between self and other.

This is a series I’m continuing to develop and there will probably be more drawings over the next few weeks because I’m finding that every drawing is raising some new ideas for me. I’m not sure where I expect this to end up (or even if I have any intention for it to end up somewhere) but for now it’s prompting new ways of thinking and is a satisfying thing to do in an environment where it’s difficult to work as I normally would, so I’ll carry on.

Found instrument/found sounds

I was visiting the Tate Modern with an Australian friend about a week ago and showing her The Tanks when we discovered that a manhole cover in the floor of one of the tanks made the most marvellous sound when stepped on. In the acoustic of the room, with the muffled sounds of the surrounding video works and gallery visitors, it was this wonderful, huge, complex sound.

So when I went back to the Tate (to visit their ‘Picasso 1932’ exhibition) this week, I wanted to play more with the manhole cover and see if I could create a tiny piece – or the beginnings of a piece – with it. The principal challenge was simply the sheer number of people around. My first attempts were interrupted by chattering tourists and a little girl who earnestly showed me the strange effect photographing the neon artwork in the room produced, explaining it with a kind of matter-of-fact reverence. I kind of loved her. She was so very serious when I was being so, basically, childish, stamping on the floor because it made a nice sound! I can’t really understand what she’s saying in the recording, but I like the shape of her speech.

I managed to capture some satisfying sounds of tapping and scratching on the metal walls with fingernails from these early attempts, then gave up and went to see the Picasso.

Coming back to The Tanks later in the day, things were quieter, and I was able to spend a full two uninterrupted minutes improvising and playing – stamping, tapping, sliding both in my sandals and with bare feet – just enjoying the sounds. The middle of the performance is not so satisfying to me – the bare feet sounds are a bit lost in the acoustic and background noise – and I feel the end is a bit rushed as a family with children entered and I could feel the children’s fascination with the sounds – as soon as I stopped my performance, they took over!

Listening back, I’m now regretting that I didn’t just keep recording while they were stamping – I think it might have made a nice chaotic ending. Perhaps I need to make a policy of always recording the thing that interrupts the recording, and not to be so focused in on my intention!

Recordings made on an iPhone 6s with Zoom HandyRecorder app. The exhibition sound in the background is a muddle of various video works from Pierre Huyghe and Philippe Parreno’s No Ghost Just A Shell project. Exhibition info here »