Notes on the audio version of the Editorial - Sharon Stewart


While taking a break and siting in the warm back garden to shell some purple hull peas bought at a farmers market this weekend, I started thinking of how I could multi-task, and suddenly I had the strong urge to read this editorial while shelling peas.


The back garden is one of my favorite sonic spaces, with its continual rotation of arias aves, the hum of socializing or banging about of neighbors, the wind through the needles of our eastern white pine (a suburban anomaly), and the distant sigh of the freeway.


I became curious as to how the combination would sound, so I set up my recording equipment, placing my DPA (d:screet SMK-SC4060) omni pair taped to the tray that I was using to shell the peas in order to catch both the intimate sounds of my hands with the peas as well as some of the ambient sound, employing them somewhat as contact mics, and set up my Sennheiser MKH 8040 (cardioid) mic on a stand to record my voice.


All of this of course brought up many broader issues of recording and (guess what!) the socio-political context of my recording. I am privileged to have the means to buy this equipment, while at the same time my choice of setting represents my role as primary cook and choice to work from our home, reflecting both personal and family-based priorities. Setting, time, activity, equipment, editing; each re-produced sound resonates a personal environment, personal choices, and a vast framework of societal opportunities as well as restrictions.


I read the words written by others out loud, and the ambiguity that emerges hangs over my thoughts and voice. Am I appropriating their thoughts, or are they appropriating my voice? Whose text does this become? How does the timbre of a voiceover influence our identification with or rejection of images or text? Don LaFontaine, Morgan Freeman, Sir David Attenborough, Melissa Disney ... whose voices are presented to the world, and whose are hidden?


Living outside of an English-speaking environment for half my life, I find myself uncertain about the pronunciation of certain words. I have not prepared other than editing the text. Dutch has sabotaged my articulation reflexes, and I carry a fine line of doubt with certain words. I also realize that I actually do not know how some of the authors’ names should be pronounced. I don’t have time to ask and wonder if I am being disrespectful. How much can the correct pronunciation of our name make us feel at home?


I am busy preparing food, tangentially related in my thoughts to Tara Brabazon’s article. But this reading is highly staged, an arbitrary but somehow inevitable combination of recitation and pea shelling, piles of organic material and wiring. I wonder how many ways there are to escape the inevitable recordist-determined framing and staging of the recording act.


Mark Peter Wrights’ PNSA concept also infiltrates my recording process. I decide not to use my best windscreen and also not to edit out all the sounds of the wind. If I drop a pea, I bend over to try to find it. I include the sounds of me untaping the mics and cleaning up the tray at the end. I do, however, edit out the few times that I misspeak. My verbal errors remain private.


Upon re-listening to the recording, I hear that I am multi-tasking, and the noise of my actions distracts from the linguistic meaning of my speech. My brain is in my hands as well as with the words. I am double-minded and double-eared. I am struck by this as I edit the file and wonder if the sound of my voice becomes more like the noise of the peas hitting the pressed-bamboo tray rather than a stream of meaningful descriptions and ideas.


Besides this, I am confronted with a sensorial gap, a void that had been filled with the crisp smell of the peas threading through with the warm smells of summery earth, trees, and even the plastic of our lawn furniture; the crackling watery snap between my fingertips and the tug of the ovules breaking free from the funicle; the warm wind stirring my skin, hair, and clothes. Even though I was listening with headphones while recording, the delicate crispy pops and full bonks of the ovules hitting the tray seemed to have lost much of their fullness sans tactile input. To regain and relay that to the listener might demand some sonic editing, effects, time-stretching or reverb, what I think of as “sonic Photoshopping.”


There was only one pile of peas and, thus, only one take. And, perhaps unsurprisingly, the two activities merged nearly perfectly in timing. This was our first gesture, a first unhulled Editorial, its visual shell partially removed. We hope to continue with this in future issues.

Pictures by Sharon Stewart