Time as container for sound; the emergence of an audible world and the invitation to attend to it. Time articulated through what is seen and subsequently felt; the framing, composition and movement of the camera.
An atmosphere of sound and silence: Ingmar Bergman's Cries and Whispers .
- "Anna...do you hear?"
- "I only hear the wind and the clocks ticking."
- "No, it's something else."
- "I don't hear anything else."
The year ends with the completion of my final collection of electronic music - Systema Naturae - comprising of tracks from the past few years since returning to the UK. The three-part eponymous piece builds on ideas drawn from the Otoplexus project that was originally conceived in Tokyo around 2011-2012. Lynch Suite emerges out of time at film school while the final track The Enframing is a nod to my continuing interest in the writings of Martin Heidegger.
This collection is dedicated to two giants of electronic sound: Iannis Xenakis & Bernard Parmengiani.
Trädgårdsgatan, was the epitome of security and magic: the numerous clocks measuring the time, the sunlight wandering across the infinte green of the carpets, the fires fragrant in the tiled stoves, the chimney pipe roaring and the little stove-doors tinkling. Down in the street, a sleigh with its jingling bells sometimes passed, the cathedral bells rang for divine service or a fuuneral and, morning and evening, the delicate and distant Gunilla bell could be heard. [The Magic Latern, p.19]
2018 marks what would have been Ingmar Bergman's 100th Birthday. The Bergman Suite is a tribute to the great director. An insight into his life and work through sound. More information here.
"We see the grid in all sorts of guises. In the map of the city, in the facade of a skyscraper, the grid of the printed page, in the grid of an abstract painting..." [BBC Radio 3 documentary: Grid]
The timeline is a great grid. An anti-natural, rational device structuring what we see and hear across time.
The grid: a particular system for organising sound into musical expression:
The Signal and Noise playlist is finally complete - a 100 tracks from various miscellaneous projects from the period 2002 to 2017. At #100 is The Black Square , an extended dark, ambient thing inspired by Kazimir Malevich's famous painting.
"Any understanding has its being in an act of understanding" (Martin Heidegger, Being and Time, p.118-19)
Alan Lamb is a sound artist and scientist who for the past 30-years has been exploring the vibrating properties of long telegraph wires. I recently acquired a copy of his Primal Image release from 1995 that captures the beautifully evolving textures of long wires in Australia. His engagement with the physical world seems to me to nourish a fascination for the mystery of sound in nature, that invigorates his scientific and artistic activities with purpose and meaning. This spirit clearly comes across in this excerpt from a 2016 BBC Radio 4 documentary with sound recordist Christ Watson:
Primal Image is a stunning set of recordings that documents only a small portion of Lamb's ongoing sonic explorations. Aside from the sheer beauty of the listening experience, what greatly interests me with Lamb is how he encounters the world through sound. How the world is disclosed through his engagement with it in his particular practice.
Jerry Thompson worked as Walker Evans' principal assistant from 1973 to Evans' death in 1975. In 2016 he released a small book called Why Photography Matters. The following few extracts are striking in that they are applicable to sound and sound recording technology:
"Fox Talbot, and the cohort including Evans and Cartier-Bresson seven decades later, proposed a new kind of epistemology, a new, hitherto impossible way of learning about the world [...] The opposite of Mathema (a model projected to enable understanding), Pathema is an experience passively received: acquiescence to what is seen [...] When a pathema holds sway, the artist will no longer be Master of the Universe. He or she will be instead an attentive observer, a willing participant in, perhaps a servant of, a system larger than that artist's individual, personal, particular needs." (Jerry L. Thompson, Why Photography Matters, p.14-15)
Thompson goes on to speak about how photography is "at its best" when the inner world of the artist and the outer world of the material environment exists in balance, cooperating as in a dialectic: "one side presents a proposition, the other counters in a similar fashion, and on and on as a progressively refined result appears, something neither partner in the dialectic could have produced alone" (p.19).
Sound is an expression of space, of the physical world we are thrown into. It remains, as Lamb's work demonstrates, an expression of mystery and reverence for all that surrounds us. Bringing together Thompson's description of photography and Lamb's deep sound activities, we remind ourselves of the kind of meaning and value in work that emerges through our engagement with and in the world. A world not only made from nature, but one populated by people and all their social and creative affairs.
Often physically isolated from others in our expanding global village it's easy to neglect the importance of our worldly engagements. While convenience makes economic sense, it can at the same time weaken the sacrifice and so diminish the meaning. Consider recorded sound as one example: Commercial sound libraries provide sound editors access to a vast array of high quality recordings from around the world. Together with computer software, these sounds can be selected, edited and arranged to create a working soundtrack, quickly. In our anxious haste, we demote sound to the status of mere fodder. Reduced to pure utility, all preciousness is gone. All worldly engagement removed and understanding denied. This couldn't be further from the deep practices of Alan Lamb.
As practitioners of sound, passionate about all its forms and modes of sonic and musical expression, we would do well to listen to what Lamb's work teaches us about the world and the potential for our involved engagement in it. If nothing else, a trip outside every once in a while is always a good thing.
Further information about Alan Lamb: http://www.abc.net.au/arts/adlib/stories/s873159.htm
Further listening on the Signal and Noise playlist...Buddhist chanting recorded at Nichigai Suzan Horinji Temple, a Japanese temple located in the city of Sarnath just outside Varanasi, India.
This is an excerpt from an hour-long evening ritual performed each day at the temple. Chanting is heard accompanied by temple block, gong and uchiwa-daiko drums; a kind of handheld fan-drum commonly used in temple ceremonies belonging to the Nichiren branch of Mahayana Buddhism in Japan.
In the early 1990s British guitarist and improvisor Derek Bailey presented a television documentary on the role of improvisation in music. During the series Bailey visits a church on the Isle of Lewis in Scotland where we hear the unusual tradition of Gaelic psalm-singing. This kind of swarming choral effect reminds me of the singing documented on the 1989 album Polyphonies Vocales des Aborigenes de Taiwan. Other references might be Louis Sarno's recordings of the Bayaka People of the Central African Republic as well as Alan Lomax's extensive recordings of prison and work-song in America.
Inspired by these kind of choral textures The Ecstatic Lament for Jerusalem  is a plunderphonic reworking of the famous hymn Jerusalem, which is sung at the Proms every year in the Royal Albert Hall. Using realtime sampling, melodic intervals are stretched, re-ordered and repeated to create an ever increasing rapture of sound and emotion.
Utilising thermographic imaging technology from distances of up to 30km away, documentary photographer Richard Mosse together with composer Ben Frost and cinematographer Trevor Tweeten has created an awe-inspiring audiovisual experience of surreal beauty and fearless humility.
Daily reports, digital information feeds and up-to-the-minute news bulletins can have the effect of normalising our individual and collective responses to human tragedy. Through the use of multi-channel video and sound projection Mosse re-renders such ubiquitous imagery in a new aura of strangeness. This I think re-frames the plight of refugees across the world, invigorating it with fresh meaning and insight. An inspiring piece of documentary work currently showing at The Barbican, London.
The Signal and Noise playlist continues into 2017. At #52 we have a recording of a 19th Century clock made by the Spanish clockmaker José Rodríguez Losada.
Photography: Credit of The Foundling Museum, London (c) • Special thanks to Alison Duke for providing me with this information.
Always listening for the enemy: Heinz Hoenig as Maat the sonar operator in the 1981 war epic Das Boot.
"It is on official record that a certain ship belonging to one of our great allies chased a sperm whale for - I forget how many miles. The chase was by hydrophone, aural, and did not become visual until many miles had been run, when the hydrophone experts were reluctantly compelled to admit that their legs had been pulled, or at any rate their ears tweaked. They state the fact that the sperm whale faithfully reproduced the sound of a U-boat running on electric motors throughout the entire chase." [Hush; or The Hydrophone Service, 1920 by H.W. Wilson]
Candace Hilligoss as the church organist Mary Henry in the fantastic Carnival of Souls . This image comes from a remarkable scene in which Mary suddenly finds herself thrown into a world of silence. All that remains in the soundtrack are the sound of Mary's lonely footsteps against the haunting musical backdrop of composer Gene Moore's organ.
"It was more than just not being able to hear anything, or make contact with anyone, it was as though, as though for a time I didn't exist. As though I had no place in the world. No part of the life around me." - Mary Henry to Dr. Samuels.
The Signal and Noise playlist is now complete. Comprising of 50 short excerpts of sound and music, the collection brings together a wide range of material recorded in the UK, Japan and Indonesia from the period 2002 up to 2016.
One of my personal favourites is North India Bells from 2008. A montage of bells recorded at different times, in different locations across North India. The ringing of bells together with the incessant noise of traffic - these are my two lasting sound memories of the subcontinent. Other field recording highlights include gamelan recordings made in Java and Bali (particularly the Mangkunegaran Karawitan excerpt) as well as a few interesting sounds from the Japanese countryside and urban environments. Various textures falling under the vague descriptive tag 'ambient' or 'drones' pepper the playlist. Of these pieces Sputnik , Tokai  and Theme for Mysterious Semblance  seem to provide floaty musical respite, lieing somewhere in the domain of Brian Eno or William Basinski. While 'noise' favourites of mine would be the Xenakis-inspired Concret Sferics  piece (here in its 2-minute entirety), Merzinvaders  and the rather simple refrain of Metal on Turntable .
Sound as mystery: Valérie Mairesse, Allan Edwell and Erland Josephson listening in Tarkovsky's final film The Sacrifice .
Robert Bresson once said in an interview: “We must let the mystery remain. Life is mysterious, and we must see that on screen. The effects of things must always be shown before their causes, like in real life.”
Sound for Tarkovsky is a mysterious force. A device to help express different plains of reality - the inner caverns of the mind, the material world, nature and the spiritual plain. In film as in life it moves in mysterious ways. Like a gas, sound diffuses in and out of our field of vision, within and beyond the frame of the camera. In doing so it leads us to question the nature of our reality, of our very existence: Where are we? What force is at work here? Sound itself is both that of a physical body and of spirit. Something of this and of another world. Andrea Truppin in her inspiring essay And Then There Was Sound: The Films of Andrei Tarkovsky (1992) talks about "sound's potential for ambiguity and abstraction" and how this is deployed by the director to evoke the existence of unseen objects and to penetrate into the invisible spiritual world. Truppin writes: "Allowing a sound source to remain a figment of our imagination, mystifying rather than orienting, subverts sound's traditional role in film."
Excerpt from Booms, Bells and Distant Voices - The Ambiguity of Sound, 2014, Rob Szeliga
Pulsing pistons, creaking cogs, bright hisses, funnel blasts and evolving mechanical rhythms, the Traction Steam Engines sound library is a collection of engine sounds straight out of the industrial age.
When it comes to electronic sounds, nothing beats the pure bite of dedicated hardware oscillators: Excerpt of Sputnik - part of the ongoing Signal and Noise collection. Thanks go to Tom Andrews for supplying the raw material.