This Is A Recording

pictures courtesy Hayashi-san

What have we been recording? The answer should be easy enough. There is the farm and the farmers. Tabi shoes that press into soft earth, the green squeak of onion stalks as they are gathered in armfuls before being planted, the snipping of secateurs, the crisp rustle of broccoli leaves laden with drops of last night’s rain, the raucous report of the tractor as its motor coughs into its first combustion cycle, the wheel-barrow’s bright aluminium trundle, digging and tilling, the loosening and straightening of polyurethane in the breeze, the rattle of grain for the chickens and the dripping of the water that they drink, the pigs snorting and squealing and jostling, voices caught on the wind. There are the birds that have become familiar, the cock pheasant who barks but is never seen, the bush warbler’s electronic signature, the crows who pull their black wings across the fields, the swallows whose short chipping call finds the perfect acoustic analogue to their visual jinking in and out of sight, the finches that fizz in the brake of pine trees, each held up by wooden stakes. And then there are the skylarks that spiral into rising song that Shimamura-san had told us about last year when we had misunderstood him to be relating a memory of a now disappeared sound source. Now that there are at least five birds that I can hear launching themselves invisibly towards the heights, I feel a little daft having recorded a skylark out on the South Downs to punctuate a section of the film with secret meaning. At the moment, the insects that figured so prominently in our auditory consciousness last year, are too early in their reproductive cycle to contribute much to the soundscape but as the grasses get longer and the bamboo grows and gets greener, they will make themselves heard.

There is the airport. The unrelenting clamour of taxiing jets, the clanking, revving, beeping and droning of the various vehicles that load and unload, patrol and ferry, the artificial thunder of a big jet coming down, the straining energies released by one thrusting itself away from gravity.

All this is made available when the lens cap is taken off and when the microphone cable is clicked into place. Rupert’s filming continues to find the remarkable angles and frames. My recordings, once worked on at home, cleaned up and composed, will do their job. But there are dimensions that elude capture, like the sense of solidarity – and, in fact, the sense of delicious – that the Shimamuras spoke to us about yesterday.  Some of this can be approached through other devices in the exhibition and the various publications: interpretative text, a transcript of the conversation between Professor Hiramatsu, Hayashi-San and the Shimamuras, the images that Kaori Iketsu will create.

Two aspects of the site, for me, will require more consideration. One of these issues relates to the fact that while a roaring jet with undercarriage down and running full flaps presents an arresting sound-image, the singular event is not really the point. What is more important is the sequence, the fact that what can appear as the compressed drama of a landing or take-off is taking place all day, everyday, all year, every year, surrounded by the swirling mass of taxiing noise that begins around dawn and continues until well after dark. How do you represent the series?

The other issue is the question of distance. By distance, I mean the perceived acoustic expanse that stretches between one noise and another. A couple of days ago, I was recording at one of the monitoring stations furthest from the farm. The wind had fallen, the village was suspended in comfortable Holiday quietness. I was waiting for a plane to make its overflight, holding the big microphone still on my out-stretched arm. Out of nowhere, the headphones filled with footfalls, heavy breathing, a ball being bounced on tarmac then against the chain-linked fence. A young boy, bored and in search of company had come over to see what was happening and to show off his baseball skills (a sports demonstration that involved him falling over a couple of times and then whacking the ball well over the fence and into the middle of a golf course where a shout of surprise sent him ducking out of sight, leaving me and my microphone as the sole recipient of startled looks from the fairway). It was a real pleasure to hear all the different distances. Distances in time as one event overcame another, distances in space as things drew nearer and went further away. This sense of distance is something that is frequently obliterated in the farm where the constant racket makes smaller sounds struggle to be heard and makes the relationships between sounds obscure. And yet this sense of distance is what I like working with when composing with sound as much as when mooching about listening to what is going on around me. I wonder whether my imposition of aesthetically-inspired distance onto the soundtrack to the film was what the Shimamuras were really objecting to when they considered that the birdsong, for example, was excessively prominent. So this is another dilemma: do I let go of my sense of what delivers on creative level – layers of sound events, themselves chosen for patterns of interest (semantic or sonic) with audible intervals between them? Do I reach instead for the thickened audio sandwich where the layers of murky sound press against each other?

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