3.3. Home Scale: From Outdoors to Indoors
Most human activity became concentrated in a space that was not prepared for such intensive use, the home (for those who have one), shifting both the use and meaning of this space. My living room has one large window facing Sunnyside Street. From time to time, I would stop there to take in the ever-changing daily patterns. This window became the center of my day, a magnet capturing my attention with all sorts of details in light, movement, and sound patterns. My living room was adapted and slowly transformed into an office. The sofa next to the window replaced the office chair. Convenient.
The growing stillness of the street space contrasted with the increasing activity within the domestic space. As the familiar presence of the street bustle dimmed, my focus slowly turned indoors. Everyday objects such as the kettle, the boiler, and water thus became the obvious protagonists of Sunnyside. Through them, a profound listening process emerged. My presence, that of my partner, or other external movements coming from the public realm were recorded, but only indirectly. These ghostly traces were revealed through material such as the glass window, water, or electromagnetic waves.
3.1. City Scale: An Introduction to Sunnyside Street and Its Context
Sunnyside Street is located in South Belfast, Northern Ireland. It runs between the King’s Bridge, which crosses the River Lagan, and Ormeau Road, one of the city’s main arteries.
My house is at street level. It is located at the Embankment end of Sunnyside, close to King’s Bridge. This area appears to be slightly more spacious and green than the area toward the Ormeau Road end. Sunnyside Street is close to Ormeau Road, the city center, the river Lagan, and places like the Lagan Meadows, the Botanic Gardens and the Ormeau Park, making it a convenient location.
When the King’s Bridge was built in the 1910s, Sunnyside Street’s role in relation to the city changed. The street transformed from an anonymous side street to an increasingly important thoroughfare, as it began to function as one of the few connections across the river. Partly due to the history of conflict in Belfast, the main arteries lead to the city center in a radius, with fewer main connections between other areas of the city. Sunnyside Street is one of those connections, providing a link between the southern areas of Belfast.
With the new social confinement and distancing measures implemented in Northern Ireland in March 2020, only essential travel was permitted, and all non-essential shops and businesses were closed. These unprecedented measures generated new landscapes and routes for moving around the city. The perception and experience of the streetscape changed radically in response to the unusual and oftentimes unsettling quietness. The change was particularly noticeable in urban environments. Human activity outdoors nearly died out and sound sources widely recognized as producing urban noise – traffic, aircraft, and drones (with their continuous buzzing sounds) – all but disappeared. The absence of commonly perceived sonic disturbances allowed less common activities and their attendant quieter sounds to emerge. When a bird, a car, a plane, or an air-conditioner was heard or felt, it was with increased intensity.
3.2. Street Scale: Everyday Life on Sunnyside Street
At times there seems to be a discrepancy between the feel of Sunnyside Street and its sounds. Sonically, the street is often dominated by the swooshing sound of passing cars, a feature of most urban environments that often masks the more subtle everyday sounds. Still, when walking up and down Sunnyside one is not overwhelmed by the sounds of cars, as it is possible to converse without needing to significantly raise your voice. A wide variety of rich sounds contributes to the feel of the street such as people walking dogs, people chatting while taking sun in their small front gardens on the western stretch of the street, the lively sonic movement of swifts during springtime, and the sounds of crows, rooks, and magpies throughout the year. On Sunnyside Crescent, just off Sunnyside Street, there is a primary school. At the beginning and end of each school day, children walk or cycle up and down Sunnyside on their way to and from school, often punctuating the regular mild traffic sounds with giggles and conversations. Dependent on the school’s schedule, car activity increases slightly as parents drive from various parts of the city to bring or pick up their children. Sunnyside has a few shops that undoubtedly contribute to a more lively and dynamic streetscape. People coming in and out of shops and cars temporarily parked on the sidewalk for a takeaway meal add an extra buzz, preparing the way for the larger and more diverse array of businesses on Ormeau Road including the pubs, a few restaurants, coffee shops, and convenient shops.
My living room window marks a transition between the street and the private space of my home. Car sounds are filtered by the double-glazed windows, softly permeating the quietness of the indoor space. During the Covid-19 confinement, those sounds decreased, but were still somewhat present.
3.4. Textural Scale: Sunnyside Unfolded
The sonic architectures of Sunnyside were captured using contact microphones (that pick up and transduce the material vibrations of objects caused by movement or sound waves), hydrophones (designed to capture acoustic signals underwater) and a wide-band receiver (which captures and translates electromagnetic signals into audible frequencies). The sounds captured via surface-based contact microphones are strongly connected to the materiality of each recorded object. They allow the recordist to come closer to each object by sensing the vibrations of each surface and experiencing its “inner” sounds. At the same time, the wide-band receiver offers the recordist a sonified impression of electromagnetic waves and fields as it responds to any type of digital circuitry that is nearby.
These technological mediators enabled me to position my ears in unreachable places and embark on an active exploratory journey of the often unnoticed rhythms of my everyday routine: taking a shower, turning on the boiler, turning the lights on or off, flushing the toilet, turning on the stove to cook a meal, turning on the radio, turning on the kettle, charging the mobile phone, answering emails on the laptop, and so on. For example, the granular details of the sounds of water change as it flows through plastic pipes, or comes into contact with the metal surface of the kitchen sink or the ceramic flooring of the shower. The element is the same, water, but it is voiced differently through the mediation of the recorded surfaces.
Sunnyside begins with unprocessed sounds of water and recognizable sonic moments such as the sound of a running tap. Once the listener is immersed in this world, the extended droning hum of cars passing by (filtered by the living room window) is slowly introduced, as are the sounds of the stove and its crackling flame, the washing machine, and later, a growing number of electromagnetic sounds. The latter were recorded as I answered emails, turned lamps on and off, as my partner worked on the laptop (and the laptop charger powered the laptop), the radio played, the kettle boiled water, as I turned on the heating, as the phone rang – message received, replied, and sent – again and again, until the phone’s battery had to be recharged. In Sunnyside, these elements come and go, and are revisited in slightly altered perspectives with minimal filtering. They enter into dialogue with each other, are layered and superimposed. The boiler emerges, then the rain, more electromagnetic sounds, more drones from extended car hums. The meta-me, the meta-person on the phone passing outside my living-room window, the meta-neighbor. Again. And again. Once more, now culminating in a crescendo, an intense chorus of electromagnetic sounds.
Sunnyside explores the mediated “quiet” of my house without focusing on the “exotic” flair of its spectromorphologies. Although Sunnyside is undoubtedly an aesthetic quest, more importantly, it listens closely to the interconnections between domestic objects and reveals them in great detail. Familiarity and abstraction are equally important and play different roles in the work. The field recordings are initially arranged strategically to convey a sense of familiarity that eases the audience into this self-referential narrative. Recognizable sounds slowly give way to more abstract sounds – either through lightly processed sounds or sounds that are not part of the everyday human auditory experience – in a purposeful attempt to shift the focus of the audience in and out. The field recordings are arranged according to their sonic qualities. The increasing repetition and abstraction reinforces a sense of a personal loss of the perception of time and the pervasiveness of digital communication that characterize “the experience of many during our current life in confinement” (Meireles 2020).
Sunnyside is a socially, spatially, and sonically informed work that uses field recordings and composition as creative tools (Ingold 2007: 10; Chion 1994: 108; Truax 2008), focusing on the materiality and interconnectedness of objects, subjects, systems, infrastructures, places, spaces, and ecologies. Pressing record opened up new forms of perception, listening, and experiencing my world (Krause 2013: 15-16), beyond the more immediate systems of the domestic space. Listening and recording became tools to critically acknowledge that my house exists in the wider system of a city, a country and so on, a system within systems (see section 3.5).
In a time where human contact is restricted for safety reasons, contact in this work takes place by — literally — listening closely to the sounds of objects which are very much part of my domestic daily life. During April 2020, I collected a series of sounds around my house on Sunnyside Street (Belfast, Northern Ireland) including a wide variety of textures captured with different types of contact microphones, and multiple layers of electromagnetic interference caused by the growing use of electronic devices and the internet. These recordings form the basis of an exploration of the micro and extra-human sounds produced by the physical and virtual objects such as the radiator, the kettle, the shower, or the internet. "Sunnyside" intertwines these elements to reinforce repetition, discovery, detail and loss of perception of time that characterises the experience of many during our current life in confinement (Meireles 2020).
Sound excerpt #2 Cars passing by filtered by the double glazing window Recorded with contact microphones and slightly stretched.
An engagement with the everyday involves what is typically considered unremarkable. Everyday events are often connected with repetition, routine, and personal or local cycles of activity (such as coming and going from and to work) that fit within global everyday cycles (such as solar and tidal cycles) (Coyne 2010: 79). Engaging with the everyday also suggests an involvement with complex inter-connections rather than a consideration of isolated, independent, and idealized objects (Augé 1995; Debord 1955; Lippard 1995; Perec 2010). By choosing to focus on what is unremarkable, slight changes in the perception of daily patterns can occur, thereby bringing to light a different experience of the everyday. Such an approach can provide sound recordists with tools to forge new narratives that foreground alternative ways of understanding and experiencing the world and its ecologies (Meireles 2017).
3. Sunnyside: A sonic document
Sunnyside emerged from a particular context: the initial Covid-19 social confinement period in the UK in April 2020. The way this work reflects on that period can be considered as socially and spatially informed. Sunnyside is a personal sonic exploration of what we perceive as a quiet domestic space. The composition expressively sonifies multiple sonic layers of my house (with all non-human agents) while setting the home in a straight relation with wider urban infrastructures. Through a thorough, durational, and intensive recording process, the walls of my domestic space stretched in an attempt to reach far and wide. In a space with no boundaries, ghosts of social processes are indirectly manifested through a variety of materials, a cacophony of electromagnetic interference, and often under-appreciated sounds. So the project encapsulates my own experiences over a period of time during which “sounds are situated in such a way that they take account of, or respond to, notions or ideas that might be described as ‘extra-musical’ in the sense that these ‘real-world’ contexts exist outside of the work itself” (Hill 2017: 11). The sounds I captured in the making of Sunnyside foreground alternative ways of understanding and experiencing the world and its ecologies. The recordings that make up the composition intend to capture and share not only sound and its multiple voices, ranging from human voices (filtered by the materiality of the various everyday objects and electromagnetic interference) and the voices of non-human agents (water, ceramic, metal, glass, etc.), but also its significance (what listening to certain sounds while in confinement accentuates) and subjectivity (what listening to certain sounds can reveal).
2. Experiencing Place from a Multitude of Angles:
De-Stabilize What is Normalized
From the early 1940s through the late 1980s, The Eames Office, a California-based design studio led by Charles and Ray Eames, made a number of groundbreaking contributions to architecture, industrial design, and film. Their multidisciplinary and multifaceted approach to design, informed by an unconventional use of their training in architecture and painting, respectively, led to unique views on design thinking and design education. Among their contributions is the well-known short film Powers of Ten (Eames 1977). The Eameses used an exponential system – powers of ten – to visualize the importance of scale while illustrating the universe as an arena of both continuity and change. The shift in scale – from a couple having a picnic in a park to atoms and the universe – reflects the shift in perspective and reveals various possible levels of interconnectivity. This unique take on narrative and storytelling unlocked the film’s potential giving audiences new ways of navigating and making sense of the world. The film’s distinctive communicative strategy has been extensively used as a pedagogical tool for understanding concepts such as scale and relatedness (Jones et al. 2007).
Similar critical and holistic thinking about interconnectivity can be found in the writings of the American environmental scientist and theorist Donella H. Meadows. In her book Thinking in Systems, she introduces readers to the importance of understanding systems as containing complex and numerous, often unexpected, interconnections. Meadows illustrates multiple perspectives of interconnectivity by using seeing as a metaphor. She writes, “you can see some things through the lens of the human eye, other things through the lens of a microscope, others through the lens of a telescope, and still others through the lens of systems theory. Everything seen through each kind of lens is actually there. Each way of seeing allows our knowledge of the wondrous world in which we live to become a little more complete” (Meadows 2008: 6).
However, as Donna Haraway suggests, “one cannot relocate in any possible vantage point without being accountable for that movement. Vision is always a question of the power to see – and perhaps of the violence implicit in our visualizing practices” (Haraway 1988: 595). At the same time, Haraway does not discard the act of seeing as a form of knowledge production. Instead, she acknowledges that power exchanges are inherent in such processes: “How to see? Where to see from? What limits to vision? What to see for? Whom to see with? Who gets to have more than one point of view? Who gets blinded? Who wears blinders? Who interprets the visual field? What other sensory powers do we wish to cultivate besides vision?” (Haraway 1988: 595).
In this article, I reflect on the digital album Sunnyside as a means for exploring how such knowledge production can be applied within sound art practices and, more specifically, in compositions that use extended listening/recording techniques. Sunnyside interlaces the approach to scale and perspective of Powers of Ten with Meadows’ systems theory and Haraway’s concept of situated knowledge. It uses sound to access a world of systems characterized by deep interconnectivity; systems in which perception is partial and listeners are actively involved. Such an approach, I argue, encourages us to listen while rooted in a particular context, to see beyond geography and materiality, to de-stabilize what is normalized.
3.5. Network scale
[…] the affordances of digital media provide a catalyst for reconceptualising other aspects of culture, requiring the rethinking of social relations, the reimagining of cultural and political participation, the revision of economic expectations, and the reconfiguration of legal structures.
(Jenkins, Ford, Green 2013: 3)
Trying to understand the rhythms of particular places is a fundamental part of my work. Durational experiences are a key component, as time and repetition serve to reveal daily processes or otherwise hidden rhythms. Listening made possible through extended sound recording technologies and over time, can expand the horizon of the listening experience beyond boundaries. Sunnyside results from a situated practice rooted on the sounds of everyday human gestures in a domestic setting, presented from the lens of objects. It also materializes sound, transporting the outdoor sound environment into the domestic space.
The increasingly quiet street space flowing through my living-room window was the starting point for a reflection on the seemingly quiet yet noisy domestic space and my everyday routines during April 2020. The volume and rhythm of my small two-person household – bordered on the left and above by apartments for sale – certainly differ from my neighbor’s across the street, or from those of a large family in a densely populated apartment block. The quiet slowly became loud as I reached out to converse with others, far away. Text became audible: a ding on WhatsApp or a swoosh on Signal, while the same text message turned into a crackle or a buzz when captured with a wide-band receiver. I listened to endless concerned WhatsApp conversations with friends and family in distant places, listened to all the Zoom and Skype meetings, pretending I was comfortable with this rapid take-over of digital technologies, listened to how the increased pressure from the Covid-19 pandemic was growing social inequalities and injustices wordldwide. Listening with and through these materials allowed me to travel from the micro level of the domestic space, to the macro level of the world in an endless search for empathy and interconnectivity with all objects and beings. Listening with connected me with the inner architectures of the various appliances and household materials – their changes, age, lives. Listening through allowed me to transcend physical barriers of various materials, and stretch my ears beyond the recorded objects in an attempt to listen to the world at large. The intimate zooming in and the super-elastic zooming out of Sunnyside sound equally close and at the same levels of dynamic intensity. Distance is blurred, and all is intertwined.
Sunnyside articulates how extended listening strategies can contribute to nuanced understandings of the complex world we inhabit. My approach to listening, field recording, and composition also encompassed expanded receptivity of the wider social and spatial systems that shape our everyday lives, whether or not we are normally aware of them. Two moments from Sunnyside serve as examples of how the captured detailed textures of everyday sounds can contract and expand to encompass and reveal other systems. I will focus first on water, a vital resource, and follow with internet connection, which has become essential for participating within contemporary societies.
The concept of the everyday and how detailed observation can alter our perception of daily patterns are central to Sunnyside. The project demonstrates how interconnectivity, scale, and systems, can expand listening practices and spark broader discussions about social networks, both immediate and distributed. Although resulting from a situated practice, Sunnyside transported me beyond the physical setting of my home. Through extended listening processes I could sense, analyze, and represent everyday sonic changes and examine how sounds are active in wider systems of a city, and the impact or meaning they might have on both humans and non-humans. The work asks the listener to perceive the domestic and urban environment “not as an object or collection of objects, but instead as a resonant idea that is co-created by, and shared among, its inhabitants, visitors and, most especially, its listeners” (Ouzounian 2013: 48). The piece expands from aesthetic aspects and situated concerns by opening up to other listening perspectives. For example, its impact extends to encompass the audience’s experience, initiating additional layers of interconnectivity. The audience can encounter the work in multiple ways, either via a live concert, an installation, or simply by listening to the work on headphones as it plays from a smartphone while moving through a setting not so different from the one I recorded, a home. In the latter case, the dialogue between the recorded sounds, also present in most people’s homes, and this listening context can enhance the listener’s experience of their own home. Each situation has different social contexts that will inform the listener’s experience.
If silence matters so greatly, then it is within the home that it gains intensity. I want to follow this weave, of domestic space and the movements of silence and noise, with the aim of shifting the acoustic horizon to include this very possibility that noise might in the end be extremely useful.
(LaBelle 2010: 54)
2.1. Peeling the Layers of Everyday Life Through Sound
Sound is an often-neglected element of our everyday lives, even though it is intrinsically connected to space, including the perception and experience of space at both micro and macro levels. As the artist and theorist Brandon LaBelle (2010: xvi) suggests, sound, on its seemingly innocent trajectory, moves through space towards a listener, touching all surfaces and carrying a multitude of material, geographic, social, and emotional information. Sound vibrations do not disappear; they dissipate, expand, fuse, and remain. Thus, behind every sound lies an entire history of sound (Evens 2005: 14). Christoph Cox elaborates on Aden Evens’s work to suggest that “the reservoir of [our] memory contains not only particular memories or experiences – traces of all the past events I have experienced – but everything to which those experiences and memories are connected – namely the entirety of the past” (Cox 2009: 20). He goes on to suggest that such a notion is not outlandish if we acknowledge that, evolutionarily speaking, our bodies contain the past of an entire species. These concepts align with the shift in perspective that accompanies the shift in scale presented in Powers of Ten, the accountability and positionality underlying Meadows’ systems theory, and Haraway’s situated knowledge. All three suggest a critical and holistic engagement with the world, one that expands beyond the human centered perspective, and that recognizes the world as made of interconnected and plural networks existing at different scales, and made of multiple perspectives.
The ever-expanding unravelling of the various layers of sound was partially made possible by the development of surveillance technology that emerged during World War I. Surveillance industries positioned themselves at the forefront of the technological development that enabled various forms of listening, often used in regimes of spatial control (Goodman 2010). These range from geophones used to anticipate enemy’s movement in tunnel warfare, or Very Low Frequencies (VLF) used in military communications with submarines, to complex systems of stereo listening for aircraft detection. Mediated listening brings to the fore different levels of minuscule sonic events otherwise missed. Amplified sounds alter ideas of scale and reach. Moving beyond human-centered perspectives of the world and following a holistic system one can quickly comprehend that sound operates on multiple registers, many of which lie beyond human perceptual faculties. Liminal or inaudible sounds, often missed in everyday life, can provide alternative perspectives and contribute to the uniqueness of a location. A focus on such perspectives “does not remove the human, but rather allows other things to flood in as well” (Gallagher et al. 2014: 622). It foregrounds the impact of micro-details in constructing the everyday while revealing other systems unfolding alongside.
Maryanne Amacher, Christina Kubisch, Annea Lockwood, Alvin Lucier, Andrea Polli, Chris Watson, and Jana Winderen are among the artists who have expanded our listening strategies. Making the inaudible audible, shifts our relational scale with sound. It provides an insight into the magnitude of the unheard, and its possible impact on humans and non-humans. Here I borrow from Gallagher et al., who suggest that “Expanded listening addresses many different registers of sound: aesthetic, compositional and timbral qualities; affective, material and embodied characteristics; the ways in which sound is both spatial and temporal, evoking a sense of time, distance, direction or movement; sound’s capacity to produce knowledge of events and processes; and the semiotic associations produced by listening, including the tendency of sound to trigger memories” (Gallagher et al. 2014: 621). The works of these artists often incorporate multiple sonic strategies that allow the listener to zoom in and out of a human-centered perspective. Such journeys intersect the various layers of our surrounding environments to reveal the interconnectivity that lies within them.
In the following section I will expand on how further technological developments and cross-disciplinary work can contribute to the presentation of nuanced listening perspectives of the world.
Take the crackling sound of the boiler as it starts up to heat the water I use to wash my hands – an essential part of all of our daily routine of trying to prevent the spread of Covid-19. Water is usually distributed from a central point in a city or village. It is then distributed through a network of pipes and allocated to individual properties by a water company. Listening to the sound of water can become a trigger that leads to further critical thinking about resources, remembering their unequal distribution around the world or the many inherently unsustainable actions of everyday life. The sound of water as it touches the metal of the kitchen sink, as it flows in the porcelain shower, as it flows down the ceramic sink in the bathroom, washing away potential contaminants, as it flows through the pipe networks to slowly reach the great vast ocean with its tides, animals, minerals, and plastic waste. The timbre and rhythm of the water as it washes over my soapy hands – several times a day for weeks on end – as part of a worldwide, collective streaming, dripping, gushing chorus, reminds me not only of my privileged situation and how unsustainable it is to consume such amounts of water on a long-term basis, but also of how utterly reliant I am on water to sustain life. All life relies on this chorus.
Similarly, let me utilize the example of broadband as a catalyst to initiate a critical conversation about resource distribution and digital participation. Broadband, or high-speed internet access technology, has become an increasingly important resource in recent decades and even more so during the Covid-19 confinement. Historically, bandwidth has been the subject of a lively debate, as it is consistently harnessed by only a small handful of countries. In times of social confinement, such resources became vital. A variety of digital platforms such as Zoom, WhatsApp, Microsoft Teams or Facebook, became essential for a more fluid, secure, and connected digital participation in everyday routines, old and new. However, and perhaps inevitably, these same technologies, in addition to positive applications (even if limited to a small portion of the world’s population) have also been seamlessly used as tools of control and misinformation. The digital world has multiple channels of participation, but not everyone who participates has equal access to the same tools or resources, and these tools can have different uses and meanings. In Sunnyside, we unconsciously receive magnetic fields intertwined with other vibrating waves circulating through air, water, and the surfaces of household objects; all these shifts in perspective are linked as a whole. Again, distance is blurred, and all is intertwined.
Sunnyside links artistic practice to the situated dimensions of everyday life by revealing the technical affordances, social, and aesthetic concerns that arise with the use of digital technology to document and reinterpret the everyday. Extended techniques are presented as catalysts and tools that enable artists to produce alternative sonic narratives that might stretch the horizon of a listening experience. Sunnyside is a situated work shaped by its environment and context. This is not revealed through the sounds alone, however grounding and detailed they may be. The composition does not always explicitly reveal what we are hearing or whether the sounds were actually recorded in April 2020, but the sleeve notes contextualize the work. The circular narrative between composition, title, record cover, and text, might thus inspire the audience to open up to the meaning of the work, to begin a critical conversation, and to explore further (Vandsø 2017).
Sunnyside is a multi-perspective exploratory journey that recognizes the significant role that the arts, and sound art in particular, can play in reshaping how we perceive the world and how we can contribute to sensing, analyzing, and presenting change. This role became even more significant during the time of widespread restrictions imposed in response to the Covid-19 pandemic. Sunnyside is not the end point. It was composed to encourage broader reflections rather than to reach conclusions.
2.2. Extended Techniques in Field Recording:
A Shift in Perspective
In recent decades, new and expanding assemblages of recording and sound reproduction technologies have opened up a wider range of the sonic environment to field recordists, concurrently enabling different modes of listening.
Indeed, access to other or new modes of listening has allowed recordists to offer an expanded encounter with the world, often including non-human perspectives, for example, sonic signals that other animals can hear but that normally lie beyond the range of human hearing. Such tools provide a wealth of insights, particularly into the environment and behavior of animals as well as the impact of everyday human activities on such lifeforms. For example, it is widely acknowledged that several bird species in urban environments that perceive frequencies beyond human perception are exposed to numerous sound disturbances on a daily basis and have adapted their vocal communication (pitch, rhythm, and volume) in response (Parris and Schneider 2009; Manzanares and Garcia 2018). Another example is how electromagnetic noise – with frequencies ranging from 50 kilohertz to 5 megahertz – can disrupt the internal magnetic compasses of migratory birds such as robins (Erithacus rubecula) (Nature 2014). It is also widely recognized that human-made noise in the marine environment needs to be regulated as it can have a long-term impact on species, ecosystems, and habitats. Shipping, for example, is by far the most important source of low frequency underwater noise. The lives of marine mammals are greatly impacted by these sounds. Many of these animals navigate in space using echolocation, emitting frequencies in the same range as those of certain sonar devices. This interference can severely affect not only navigation but also communication and reproduction (Dotinga and Elferink 2000).
Contact microphones, hydrophones, very low frequency antennas, geophones, and wideband receivers, are just some of the tools being used increasingly by recordists to record sounds beyond the range of human hearing, or to listen more deeply to the everyday. Whilst the motivation to employ extended field recording techniques might derive from aesthetic desires – as the sounds obtained are often perceived as more abstract, unique, and exotic – such techniques also emerge from the critical motivation to engage with the world through alternative perspectives. In so doing, we better understand the impact of our actions on the world and how to communicate such findings through artistic practices.
2.3. Field Recording in Composition
Different types of microphones, with their varying technical and design capabilities and their positioning as regards the subject matter, allow recordists to construct different perspectives of the same landscape. Indeed, the choice of microphone can be regarded as the first transformational step in the compositional process (Lopez 1998), fundamentally informing how meaning is generated through framing (Meireles 2017: 30).
The use of field recordings in composition presents several challenges, such as establishing a balance between the musical, the representational, and the ethical (Truax 2008; Drever 2002). If recordists create memories and consequently transform spaces into places through their experiences (Lippard 1997: 8), then the act of recording sound can never be considered neutral, and the resultant works cannot “claim ethico-aesthetic impunity or function as a ‘pure’ representation” (Wright 2016: 61). Sound artists and scholars Franziska Schroeder and Pedro Rebelo introduce the idea that sound “becomes assigned, transported and shared between places and people” and argue that “meaning is produced differently according to the socio-cultural contexts of diverse sites and their people” (Schroeder et al. 2016: 449). Similarly, listening perspectives are situated and intrinsically connected to ones’ cultural histories, while encompassing multiple scales and perspectives; the inherent complexity of listening is intimately relational and contextual.
Such sensibilities and manifestations can shift sonic arts practices towards socio-politically engaged explorations. “Emotionally, culturally or politically charged sounds” could provide an alternative “framework for representation and understanding in anthropological terms, whilst still sustaining music making and attention to the intrinsic qualities of sound on an equal footing” (Rennie 2014: 117-118).
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Sunnyside was released as a digital album by the experimental music label Crónica Electrónica in June 2020. The project is being further developed through a series of site-oriented performances as part of the project Sonorous Cities: Towards a Sonic Urbanism (SONCITIES). This article has received funding from the European Research Council (ERC) under the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme (SONCITIES project, grant agreement No. 865032).