Recall: Sound Present And Past

For some time I have been aware that listening back on my own recording work elicits a kind of feeling of nostalgia, and that very quickly I can be mentally transported back in time to a richly sensual recovery of a past space and place – associated with the recording itself.

I developed the idea that my records operate for me in the way that photograph albums may work for other people. The immediate transportation out of time, the sensory pleasure in recovering a detailed – albeit dreamlike and illusory – sense of past times.

I have, within my recorded output, the voices of my children developing and growing form babies, through their first steps and into nursery. I have the small glitches that sneaked through mixing and mastering and came to light only on playback in particular rooms, on particular days with particular people. I see the light in the room window. I smell aftershave. I feel the rush of hysteria as I realise the mistake I made. I know the records that informed the samples, subsequently treated and eroded beyond recognition, and I have those records trapped in time. The contributions of friends and associates who were kind enough to make some small – and some not so small contribution – I remember the email exchanges, and the taste to the air throughout those exchanges. The gratitude and the small collisions on the road. All fixed like extracted, momentary slices of space time – the kind we fix at the corners onto black pages, and flick slowly through the images, sighing and smiling at the senses stirred by the photograph – or the sound.

More recently, having become aware of this phenomena – the sort of phenomena that, of course, could only be realised by the passing through of a significant amount of time – I have sought to force the hand of nostalgia, and purposefully seed the new recordings with material intended to contain a sense of space, place and time.

As well as the very obvious targets amounting to the unpaid recruitment once again of my children, this exercise has seen me padding in and around the house with a number of microphones and contact mics. These have been pressed against windows, stove pipes, radiators, behind fridges, against locks and door hinges, on lightbulbs, under the lid of the piano, against the oven (curious to observe now how, writing this, so many of the sources are connected with heat) Beyond the doors, the mics have been pressed against various east lothian fences and discarded bits of farm machinery, in three or more varieties of adverse weather.

The result of this activity has thrown up one or two interesting consequences. Having taken the recordings in to the studio and enhanced the signals I was encouraged by how much I recognised the sounds. They were not the alien or generic drones, creaks, whistles, cracks, moans, scrapes and pops that I suppose I had subconsciously expected. They suggested my living space, and my living area quite precisely.

More curious, however, is the fact that having teased the signals out from relatively quiet waveforms to compressed, eq’ed and polished tracks, I am much more conscious of the originating sources in and around the house. In the evening I am much more aware of water coursing through the heating pipes, wind leaning against the garden doors and rushing down the stove chimney. I know the pitches of fences and so when out walking I am more inclined towards absently introducing melody around the sound of the wind coming through the fence wires at different locations around the village and the hills beyond. In investigating my immediate environment. I have not only isolated aspects of the sound field for later export into recording material, but have also tuned my hearing to my immediate surroundings. Now, sitting reading in the evening, I feel that I am sitting in a more sonically rich environment. It isn’t oppressive, and the arrangement of pipes and panes and moving air and water, and changing temperature all seems balanced (perhaps it would only become noticeable, oppressive if the balance was wrong)

The activity, which was designed in order to capture material to be captured, isolated, enhanced and preserved for enjoyment at a later date has unexpectedly served to make me more situated in the present, much more physically in my space, place and time.