Monday, 23 February 2009

He Thought of Cars

Standing outside Central Library at 5.30 this afternoon provided an interesting juxtaposition between an area of constructed quiet and a world of man made noise.

A cacophony of traffic noise circle and whir around me forming a reverberant, distorted ambiance, housing swirling sirens stripped of their harshness by distance, lending them a smooth, pleasant tone as they gently swell and constrict, each drawn out intensity appearing to last an age amongst the more immediate chaos.

Trams scuttle into the station, metal grinding and rattling together on the tracks, synthesised with a drawn out aching mid range screech and the unbroken sound of the horn, disrupted by the spontaneous thuds and bangs that break their enchanting rhythms.

But today it is the buses that really grab my attention. Their engines purr like tigers. Vibrating, warm and inviting, rumbling low frequencies seeping into the lower regions of my torso; shuddering high pitched wails, the sound of metal straining, bursting, stretching and screeching into almost ultrasonic territories. It is inescapable. Beautiful. Intense.

Heals clop brashly on the concrete amongst rushing bodies and booming voices, all fighting to be heard amongst the commotion. It is proven that loud and uncomfortable sounds lead to increased stress and annoyance and it is all the more evident from this scene.

It is worth noting though that by focusing on the sounds around you and actually listening to them you can reduce their adverse effects, and I must admit to finding it peculiarly relaxing listening to the sonic heave of rush hour unfold before me.

Saturday, 21 February 2009

Down at the waterfront

On my way to buy the paper this morning I stopped to sit by the Rochdale canal, about half way between Great Ancoats street and Piccadilly Basin, to have a listen to the sound of a Saturday morning in Manchester.

Tearing water from the nearby lock lapped and fizzed; a constant sound with varying intensities, crackling and hissing to create the textured distortion prevalent in my hearing. This was mixed in with the low rumble of distant traffic that surrounds you wherever you are in Manchester city centre; soaring, pulsing and bubbling away in the background. Then there is the airy, higher pitched lapping of closer vehicles panning their way across my sonic spectrum, synthesised with the growl, grumble and heave of heavy lorries. There was also a constant unidentifiable mid range hum present, only clearly audible with concentrated listening.

These sounds combined provide a sonic landscape made up of varying levels of hum, fuzz and distortion, equivalent to the white noise on a Jesus and Marychain record or the prevalent crackle of old vinyl; they provide the basis from which the melodies of the environment can spring.

The sporadic and startling squawk of birds and ducks, the distant high pitch chime of metal clanging in the distance, indecipherable voices, the faint ting of a dogs collar and the soft padding of its feet. The low beep of a car's horn and the changing timbre of its engine as it shifts from ambiance into my peripheral hearing, gradually increasing in pitch and clarity as it moves closer, drowning out the distant stretching roar of sliding heavy metallic shutters.

This was a fairly peaceful spot on a quiet morning and it is interesting to note that even in moments of apparent sonic calm we are still interacting with so many sounds when we actually listen for them. The world is filled with drones, constants and distortions which surround us, providing a three dimensional ambiance for the more prevalent rhythms and melodies to interact with.

Without this ambiance, be it from wind, water or the distant rumble of engines, the sounds which we are more aware of would sound alien to us. It is through embracing and sharing these sonic undertones and ambient spaces that we form a better connection with the world and everything within it.

Wednesday, 11 February 2009

Sonic Panopticism (an update)

Since enquiring to the council about the use of a sound recording surveillance system on Munshill street I have noticed that the sign notifying us of it has been removed, although the actual devise remains firmly in place. The council have failed to respond to any of my queries regarding the devise.

Tuesday, 10 February 2009

Morning Glory

Walking to work this morning was wonderful. I stepped off the tram listening to the gentle shuffle of morning footsteps break from a heaving cluster in the station, spreading out in polyrhythm into the crisp damp morning. The sound of forty soles padding away at different speeds, velocities and intensities at the start of their sonic day.

I only catch a snippet of the audio collage that each of these people will create today, but it would be amazing to be able to tune in closer, because even from a relative distance each persons walk sounds unique, and is dependent on factors such as mood, gender and weight, style of shoe, weather and terrain.

Today was bright but the ground was damp, meaning that instead of sounding fierce and mechanical the cars zipped past me lapping and fizzing like waves, the sound of calm emanating from the warm growl of their engines, the glitch and crackle of tyres fighting to grip the road.

The sound was repetitive, circular, and rhythmic, aided by the time and space between vehicles lending a bustling but unhurried feel to the occasion, allowing me to hear subtle nuances, changes in pitch and panorama as vehicles came closer or moved further away, how sounds interact, combine and breed as one vehicle passes another.

Just as I near my place of work I hear the church bells ring out behind me and I think a little about how sounds symbolise times, cultures and behaviours. I felt relaxed today, and I truly believe that my morning sonic experience had a lot to do with that.

Friday, 6 February 2009

Songs for the Deaf

Check out news of the first concert for the deaf courtesy of "The Emoti-Chair, an audio-tactile device developed by Ryerson University" which promises to translate live music into mechanical responses which can be felt instead of heard.