Monday, 26 January 2009

The city at night

Manchester city centre is a noisy place, with trams, buses and an endless stream of cars all competing to be heard amongst the bustle of the people filling the streets. But there comes a point in the evening, when the shops have closed, the crowds have dispersed and the traffic has ebbed away, when the city becomes enriched with sonic beauty.

The beat of the Djembe, no longer suffocated, finds space to spread out amongst the heavy night air, soaking into the architecture, its deep thud reverberating into a three dimensional field of all encompassing sonic beauty. The natural filters of the environment drawing you close and then chasing you away, lazily pursuing you as you walk.

Even the lonely trams sound peaceful and tired as they heave themselves along, aching metal creaking gently along the tracks, all the violence of their daily noise subdued and replaced by heavy groans thrown desperately to the wind.

The drone of the crowd is replaced by its components; voices, fabrics, footsteps, air. Textures of sound interacting in space, bringing clarity and understanding to a dense and complex environment.

Friday, 23 January 2009

Sonic Panopticism pt2

I've had a bit of a scout around Manchester and so far can't find any more Audio Recording Devices although I'm out tomorrow for a better look, and as the council don't appear to mention them anywhere on their website I have written to them with a few questions about the one I found.

There's not too much in the news about these devices lately either, although there appears to have been a bit of a debate in 2006 when it was suggested by police that they be installed at the 2012 olympics.

David Blunkett came out in staunch opposition of the idea, appreciating the delicacy of the sonic and realising that although an inclusive medium, sound is also deeply personal, and not something to be tuned into by the control towers of the city.

Tuesday, 20 January 2009

Non Auditory Effects of Noise

Just browsing through the web and found this pretty interesting report into some of the non auditory effects of noise.

The evidence suggests that noise can effect the body both Physiologically and Psychologically; well worth a read if you've got the time

Sunday, 18 January 2009

And the crowd say...

In his essay 'Sonic Dominance and Reggae Sound System Sessions', Julian Henriques discusses the power of Sonic Dominance in affecting the body and bringing people together. I had the pleasure of experiencing this first hand this weekend as I went to watch Skelmersdale FC in the Unibond North.

Amongst about 300 fans, much of the game was a visually dominant experience bar the occasional shout from the crowd, thud from the pitch or warming smell of hot bovril. But, with the game tied at 1-1 with fifteen minutes to go and the rain beginning to hammer down, something clicked in the stands and we came together to drive Skem on to a 3-1 victory.

The isolated stabs of "come on" became more frequent, husky voices gradually overlapping, subtle differences in accent merging closer together to form a murmur, a whir, a roar, louder and louder, words becoming less decipherable, feelings of warmth, togetherness, belonging, passion overtaking my body.

Suddenly we are furiously banging on the metallic stands, feet are stamping and the noise is engulfing, echoing, tripping, all encompassing. The team begin to find their rhythm, and as the decisive 2nd goal goes in for Skem the banging is synthesised with cheering and screaming, the feeling of complete elation.

It's easy to see how these things can occasionally erupt into violence; I've never even seen the team before but the sound and togetherness of the occasion drove me delirious, noise took control of my body and threw it to the crowd.

For fifteen minutes I was in a sonic bubble, protected, invincible, hidden, no longer self, but an indistinguishable multiplicity living amongst the body without organs of the crowd. This was my heaven.

Sonic Panopticism

Seemingly not content with already having more CCTV cameras than any other country, the streets of England are now being patrolled by audio recording surveillance. I'd heard about this long range recording technology being used on the public before, but it wasn't until today that I saw with my own eyes a sign on a lamppost in Minshull street Manchester which read "Audio is also being recorded in this area".

I'm going in search of more over the next couple of weeks but if anyone else finds any please add a comment with the town and street name so that we can find out just how common this latest invasion of our privacy is becoming.

Friday, 16 January 2009

Sonic law

I heard today that although the proposed expansion of Heathrow airport is all set to go ahead, new legal documents have recently been drawn up to ensure that the new runway doesn't breach acceptable noise levels. It amazes me that this ruling has come so late in the day, but it appears that so much focus was put into making sure that a huge new runway wouldn't be in any way detrimental to the environment that the impact it would have on our sonic spectrum was overlooked.

In some ways this surprises me, but in others it just reiterates the fact that the sonic is so often ignored, we are almost oblivious to it until it becomes unusually intrusive. I have never heard people discuss the sound on the tram before, despite the fascinating daily whir discussed in a previous post, but today all other sounds were engulfed by an abrasive blast not dissimilar to the sound of sheering metal, which throbbed through our bodies, pulsed and battered our heads for the entire journey, only briefly interrupted by the crackling voice of the driver announcing the next stop.

And everyone discussed it! People got off before their stops, the carriages were filled with chatter, people mentioned deafness, headaches and pain. Having paid close attention to the sound inside the tram before though, I was fully aware that this was merely an exaggeration of a normal journey. It just happened to cross that boundary where noise can no longer be accepted as normal, it shifts from being an indescribable background drone to a pain inducing machine. Pain that is subtly inflicted during every journey.

Tuesday, 13 January 2009

Sound Control

Rumour is spreading that the British government have put plans in place to enforce all venues applying or re-applying for an entertainment license, to have a noise control device fitted which will effectively cut power if what is considered acceptable volume is breached.

I'm not personally fond of extremely loud music but I do like to know that I'm experiencing it, and these devices tend to cut out at such low volumes that they are nothing but detrimental.

But, if it is perceived that we need protecting from these intense volumes, lets get noise control devices on building sites, road works, trains, aeroplanes, see how it affects them, and what about thunder, volcanos, hurricanes, probably best to do something about them too before we all go deaf.

And the wars that we are so fond of, better start monitoring the explosions, the bombs, the gunfire, and while we're at it, better get some devices fitted in the prison camps to protect the ears of those subjected to sonic warfare.

We have a choice to avoid loud music if we want to. We can only hope it remains one.

There is a petition in place to oppose this ruling if anyone is interested:

Monday, 12 January 2009

Confined in Carriage

I always feel confined, tense and slightly on edge on the Manchester Metro. Understandable considering the uncomfortable seats, overcrowding and claustophobic nature of public transport, but I've always suspected there is more to it than this. There is always that drone, the whiring lurking in the background, the sound of my journey, and these are its components.

The heavy rhythm of the wheels lock me into a momentous groove, shifting speeds but never escaping from the repetitive blast of chugging low end emanating from the sub frequencies that drive into my body. The sound of bursting, stretching, clenching metal pushes against my skull and my head feels like its trying to expand.

Sporadic jerks and clatters filter in and out, coming close and then jumping away, my body twitches slightly as each one comes near. Continuous humming and mechanical air intensifies in pitch as we pick up speed, drawing the chest tighter and the body taught before gradually shifting back as a station approaches.

A mid frequency whir enters the sonic spectrum and never seems to leave, has it always been there, gnawing at my mind, weighing down my eyes? Beep beep beep beep, swooosh, eeergh, thump. Doors close in, creating a vaccum of sound once more, an exhale of air, a rumble, chatter, noise.

By the time I get off I am completely disorientated and overwhelmed by the sheer complexity of what I have just heard. I wonder if subconsciously I feel like this when I don't purposely listen, confused, aching, lost.

Sunday, 11 January 2009

Explosions in the sky

Watching fireworks erupt amongst the crowds at Heaton park, on the day that Obama became president of the united states, I felt a magical sense of hope. Not hope for America, but hope for humanity, as for those brief moments that the skies were alight with colour and rupture, thousands of people came together, all facing whatever lies above, all in awe and all in a moment of temporal peace.

As well as looking up to see sparks and colours disappear into the night we were also surrounded by sound in its most natural form, without barriers, without walls, and without the constraints of technology. The sonic boom created, reverberated with a natural time delay before crashing back to us from afar. Pops, crackles and whirs immersed the sky, whistles and soft thuds turned into puffs and screams.

As well as the sounds of the rockets and candles, were the whoops and wows of the crowd, the screams of frightened children, the splendour of human laughter, the soft chatter of friends and families, the distant pounding of the fair all combining to provide a hypnotising sonic field.

This is sound without limits, uncompressed bass, unconstrained fizz and flare. This is the soundtrack to our lives, and one we rarely choose to listen to.

I have decided to dedicate myself to exploring the soundtrack of my life, my sonic environment, how it makes me feel and how it affects me. Combining theory, stories and sounds I hope to provide valuable insight into the world of the envirosonic.