Occasional posts on subjects like field recording, London sounds past and present, other websites worth looking at, articles in the press, and news of sound-related events.

12 March 2014

Coming this April: Field Studies 2014

FIELD RECORDING, UNLIKE photography, tends to be a solitary habit. This is necessarily so, since you wouldn’t want to inflict the demands to move and breathe quietly or maintain a monkish silence on your friends for very long.

But there’s no reason why learning about field recording shouldn’t be a social activity. Being an auto-didact all the time has its drawbacks and, besides, it’s just enjoyable to meet people who share the same interest.

A good opportunity to learn from and meet your fellow field recording and sound art practitioners is due this April. Field Studies is a workshop-based course being run by Joseph Kohlmaier of Musarc, an interdiscplinary research unit at London Metropolitan University.

The course is now in its fifth year and past tutors have included the likes of Christina Kubisch, Brandon LaBelle, Lee Patterson, Marc Behrens and Helen Frosi. All have made significant contributions in their own areas and know what they’re talking about.

This year, classes, talks and workshops will be given by Sam Auinger, Claudia Molitor, Akio Suzuki, Melanie Pappenheim and others, with David Toop (below) giving the keynote speech.

David Toop

The course runs from the 14th to the 17th of April at the Cass Faculty of Art, Architecture and Design in Whitechapel High Street. The cost for non-students is £350, which compares pretty well with immersive courses in other disciplines.

Full details. including how to book yourself a place, are on the Field Studies website.

29 January 2014

Hello and welcome to Mail Online readers

THE EVER-POPULAR Waterways sound map has just got itself featured in the science section of the Daily Mail’s website.

If you’ve come here from the Daily Mail link, then hello and welcome. There’s two things I want to point out from the off: first, I run the London Sound Survey in my spare time. It’s got nothing to do with my day job. Second, I pay for it all out of my own pocket because it’s my hobby.

As a youth I was always stumped by the ‘What pastimes do you have?’ question on job application forms. Did going down the pub and listening to records count? Nowadays I’ve at least got that bit worked out.

The article gives a pretty good description of what the sound map is like. It took me just over a year to make all the recordings and it was time pleasantly spent. Hope you enjoy the results.

14 January 2014

Consuming Sounds: a shopping centre odyssey this February with Points of Listening

SALOME VOEGELIN AND Mark Peter Wright are two well-respected sound artists and researchers based at CRiSAP in the London College of Communication. They’re responsible for an exciting new series of talks, workshops and other activities under the title Points of Listening.

It was a real pleasure to be asked to run the second session on Wednesday the 12th of February at 3.30pm. It’ll be a public event to which everyone’s welcome. Keep an eye on the Points of Listening blog for for full details of venue location, times and how to book your place. You can also keep up to speed with what’s happening via Facebook.

I’ve decided to focus on the sounds of shopping centres. All right-thinking cultural commentators like to take an ostentatiously dim view of such places (there’s a good example of this in Iain Sinclair’s London Orbital when he visits Bluewater in Kent) but it’s one that’s evidently not shared by the huge numbers of people attracted to them.

Westfield shopping centre in Stratford, east London

Shopping centres are among the most significant 21st-century urban gathering places. There are interesting contrasts to be heard between the latest ones which function as well-integrated top-down systems, and the older ones where the public are left more to their own devices.

Here’s the official blurb:

Amongst the thirty thousand souls that peopled it the day I was there not one loud noise was to be heard, not one irregular movement was seen; the living tide rolls on quietly, with a deep hum like the sea heard from a distance.

So wrote Charlotte Bronte after visiting the Great Exhibition of 1851. Today’s global exhibitions are the capital’s shopping malls, and the goal of managing public behaviour within them exists just as it did in Bronte’s time. How is such top-down control manifested through sound, and what can be heard when that management becomes less certain and less focused?

Ian Rawes of the London Sound Survey will be leading a listening exploration of two very different locations: the Elephant and Castle shopping centre and Westfield Stratford City, with time en route and afterwards for discussion. Westfield Stratford City is London’s newest and largest shopping centre and it forms a major hub in a part of the city already well advanced in its redevelopment.

By contrast, the Elephant and Castle shopping centre, built in 1965 and now scheduled for demolition, has taken on many unforeseen uses. These include becoming a de facto community centre for the Colombian diaspora, as well as the growth of a surrounding hinterland with its open-air market and the occasional unlicensed minicab office.

Participants are welcome to bring along discreet, pocket-sized recorders or binaural microphones. But thoughts and impressions jotted down with pencil and notebook will be just as valuable as recordings. Please also bring an Oyster Card topped up in advance to allow you to travel to Zone 3. Bulky, eye-catching equipment like DSLR cameras or microphones housed in blimp-style windshields should be left at home.

Suggested reading in advance: Anna Minton (2009), Ground Control: Fear and happiness in the twenty-first century city.

Hope to you see there and then!

06 January 2014

Sensing Cities back on Resonance 104.4 FM from this Friday

LAST YEAR I met Maria Papadomanolaki for the first time in London. She’s a sound artist and researcher based at CRiSAP in the London College of Communication, and she was kind enough to interview me for her radio series Sensing Cities. A new set of broadcasts is due to begin this Friday on Resonance 104.4 FM and so I’m pleased to pass on this announcement from Maria.

Sensing Cities is a series of interviews curated by Maria Papadomanolaki and broadcast on London-based arts radio station Resonance FM 104.4. The show investigates the themes of urban exploration and narrative through the use of sound, writing and new media art.

It aims to create an initial understanding of the processes behind artists and specific projects and to raise questions about perceiving, creating and narrating place, be that fictional, real, internal or external. Sensing Cities brings together different creative approaches that engage with personal or collective memory and history, transience, listening, recording, sensing, voice, words, walking and locative art. Past interviewees include Viv Corringham, Daniela Cascella, Dan Scott, Iain Sinclair, Francesca Panetta, Tom Wolseley, Olivia Bellas, Joel Cahen and Ian Rawes.

A new cycle of interviews (episodes10–13) will begin on Friday, 10th of January, at 5:00 to 5:30pm on Resonance FM. The conversations expand the show’s focus on the urban by further exploring notions such as storytelling, contemplative listening, participatory and locative practices.

More information about the show as well as links to audio from past episodes can be found at

03 January 2014

Sounds in poetry: 'Adlestrop' and 'Death of a Naturalist'

JUST BEFORE CHRISTMAS I found a pile of books in the street, including a large volume of Samuel Johnson’s writings (a good find) and A.N. Wilson’s After the Victorians: The Decline of Britain in the World.

Wilson says Edward Thomas’s 1914 poem Adlestrop is an attempt to fix in memory a fragment of pre-war England:

Yes, I remember Adlestrop—
The name, because one afternoon
Of heat the express-train drew up there
Unwontedly. It was late June.

The steam hissed. Someone cleared his throat.
No one left and no one came
On the bare platform. What I saw
Was Adlestrop—only the name

And willows, willow-herb, and grass,
And meadowsweet, and haycocks dry,
No whit less still and lonely fair
Than the high cloudlets in the sky.

And for that minute a blackbird sang
Close by, and round him, mistier,
Farther and farther, all the birds
Of Oxfordshire and Gloucestershire.

The presence of sound turns this from a slide into a loop to be played over and over, like in Malcom Le Grice’s 1970 short film, Berlin Horse:

What other poems use sound to help spin the memory loop? On Twitter, Craig Ennew recommended Seamus Heaney’s Death of a Naturalist:

All year the flax-dam festered in the heart
Of the townland; green and heavy headed
Flax had rotted there, weighted down by huge sods.
Daily it sweltered in the punishing sun.
Bubbles gargled delicately, bluebottles
Wove a strong gauze of sound around the smell.
There were dragon-flies, spotted butterflies,
But best of all was the warm thick slobber
Of frogspawn that grew like clotted water
In the shade of the banks. Here, every spring
I would fill jampotfuls of the jellied
Specks to range on window-sills at home,
On shelves at school, and wait and watch until
The fattening dots burst into nimble-
Swimming tadpoles. Miss Walls would tell us how
The daddy frog was called a bullfrog
And how he croaked and how the mammy frog
Laid hundreds of little eggs and this was
Frogspawn. You could tell the weather by frogs too
For they were yellow in the sun and brown
In rain.
Then one hot day when fields were rank
With cowdung in the grass the angry frogs
Invaded the flax-dam; I ducked through hedges
To a coarse croaking that I had not heard
Before. The air was thick with a bass chorus.
Right down the dam gross-bellied frogs were cocked
On sods; their loose necks pulsed like sails. Some hopped:
The slap and plop were obscene threats. Some sat
Poised like mud grenades, their blunt heads farting.
I sickened, turned, and ran. The great slime kings
Were gathered there for vengeance and I knew
That if I dipped my hand the spawn would clutch it.

Many thanks for that example, Craig. Does anyone know of any others?