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.

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!