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Occasional posts on subjects including field recording, London history and literature, other websites worth looking at, articles in the press, and news of sound-related events.

30 October 2010

The sound collectors

WIRTERS AND INTELLECTUALS sometimes express the hostile view of collectors as soulless Gradgrindian labellers, quite unlike creative people such as themselves.

John Fowles’s 1963 novel The Collector depicted an aspergery office clerk who nets and hoards butterflies. After winning the pools he thinks bigger and abducts an art student instead. It’s not obvious which Fowles considered worse: a lower-middle-class nerd coming into lots of money, or his imprisonment of the student. In The Anatomy of Human Destructiveness, the psychoanalyst Erich Fromm claimed a greedy mindset was at work among amateur photographers, with their cameras as killing-jars for little fragments of visual experience.

Those of us who go around recording sounds for pleasure have got off lightly, probably because we don’t come up on many people’s radar. Ragnar di Marzo’s short film The Palagonia Game has an anguished sound collector (with unshielded shotgun mic!) run out of things to record. A mysterious stranger teaches him the value of stillness:


Do small children flee from the sight of you with your fluffy blimp and headphones? Cheer up, it’s only because of Roger McGough’s poem The Sound Collector:

A stranger called this morning
Dressed all in black and grey
Put every sound into a bag
And carried them away.

The whistling of the kettle
The turning of the lock
The purring of the kitten
The ticking of the clock

The popping of the toaster
The crunching of the flakes
When you spread the marmalade
The scraping noise it makes

The hissing of the frying-pan
The ticking of the grill
The bubbling of the bathtub
As it starts to fill

The drumming of the raindrops
On the window-pane
When you do the washing up
The gurgle of the drain

The crying of the baby
The squeaking of the chair
The swishing of the curtain
The creaking of the chair

A stranger called this morning
He didn’t leave his name
Left us only silence
Life will never be the same.

Here’s McGough reading it aloud on the BBC Learning Zone. The poem makes a good launchpad for getting young children to think and write about sounds, and seems to be used widely in primary schools.

This viral ad from the USA takes a more indulgent view of sound collectors. An unnamed Detroit musician scours the city for sounds to use in his work:


What do you mean, he might be an actor?

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