Why sound:site? An essay by Felicity Ford

The sound:site festival idea emerged out of informal conversations that happened during the enjoyable Found Sound Stories weekend workshop held with Janek Schaefer at the Digital Media Centre in South Hill Park last November. Creating Found Sound Stories involved some hunting around The Internet and old record stores for obscure sounds, and some recording. As we remixed our plundered, DIY-recorded, found and downloaded content for the Framework radio show and the Genepool podcast, we found ourselves asking ‘who else is using The Internet to curate sound work, to listen to sound work, or to generate sound work?’ The workshop used found sounds and was organised around the idea that we would physically make a podcast out of whatever we mixed during our time learning about Found Sound Stories. In other words, the recording of the workshop was enjoined – from the outset – with experiencing the workshop.

In the social media era the lines between documentation and lived experience are increasingly blurred like this. Reading blogs, checking status updates, listening to podcasts, updating twitter feeds and browsing photostreams are increasingly as much a part of our cultural landscape as the actual experiences that feed these activities. It is possible to curate the pictures you want to see, the news you want to read about, the information you are interested in reading and the sounds that you want to hear from an ever-expanding set of web-based platforms. Furthermore, in the developed world, as cameras and recording devices become more affordable and platforms like Audioboo and Flickr make it possible to easily share and publicise your recordings, technology is no longer the specialist apparatus of a creative elite, but almost a collective, mass context. What happens to art in an era where everyone is a maker of meaning and a documenter of experience, where everyone is a curator, and where everyone is producing culture in the form of sounds, pictures and words?

To return to the formative chats sparked by Found Sound Stories, in the particular world of sounds, what does it mean that more and more people are making recordings and producing podcasts? Who is downloading and listening to the rapidly-expanding plethora of audible web-content, and what are the new cultural experiences that are enabled and influenced by the mechanisms of social media, The Internet, and the number of online, interactive experiences that are increasingly becoming available to us?

For instance, right now we could go to the National Trust website and download the Sounds Album that Jarvis Cocker curated from old clocks, music boxes and other acoustic signifiers of old, beloved buildings. We could fill out the survey that is there and consider such things as what our favourite sounds are. We could also go to the website that has been created to coincide with Chris Watson’s Whispering in the leaves installation in Kew Gardens and download ringtones or listen to howler monkeys. We could make an Audioboo and broadcast a moment in time, or we could search the archives for things we want to hear, like this charming Norwegian Gingerbread boo (and really, who doesn’t love gingerbread.) We could also go to The British Library’s UK Sound Map pages and start contributing some sounds, becoming co-authors of The UK Sound Map, thereby influencing the evolution of this shared, sonic representation of the UK. We could listen to or create holiday-related recordings for the August theme on the sound-diaries website, or post bird-photos we’ve taken to Twitchr, thus changing the way the map/score on that webpage sounds as it plays. There are blogs we could visit, to hear beautiful recordings of creaking roofs or Church Bells and podcasts we could subscribe to, like Patrick McGinley’s Framework radio show or Martin Franklin’s Gene Pool. In fact at any point in time new opportunities to hear, publish, and curate sounds are being created online. Mp3s and broadband have enabled the means of objectifying sound and making it into something which can be posted from one geographic location to another, in seconds and without any postal delays. Never before has sound been so mobile, so transmutable and so unmoored from the physical constraints of time and space.

What does all of this mean for how we understand, experience, and hear the world? In this context, which of our experiences stay with us after a lived moment of life has passed? Which things will enter the annals of history and memory? Will we remember the smell of the forest as we walked in it, the photo we uploaded to Twitchr after we walked in that forest, or the sound that the online map played when we uploaded the photo and the software ‘played’ the map like a score? What will change about the way we listen to the creaks in the floorboards of an old building after we have heard the National Trust Sound album? What sounds will we clamour to add to the UK Sound Map if we clamour at all? And how will our understanding of places we haven’t yet visited be shaped or influenced by exploring them first on the UK Sound Map? And what does it mean for cultural listening experiences to be now so thoroughly independant from the situation of the formal concert or from the context of real-time performances? John Cage’s 4 minutes and 33 seconds piece set a precedent for listening to the sounds of the world with new ears by framing those sounds within a concert hall recital. What happens now that the sounds of the world can be framed in so many myriad ways?

sound:site probably won’t answer all of these questions, (it is just one day!) but these are some of the ideas and themes that inspired the day’s programming. I will open the day’s events with a short address on how and why blogging has become central to my work on the idea of The Domestic Soundscape; Patrick McGinley will talk about the folk community that has gathered Internationally around his long-running Framework radio show; Chris Clarke will speak about the evolution of the British Library’s UK SoundMap project; Kathy Hinde and Ed Holroyde will share the online/offline aspects of their developing project – Twitchr – with its links to bird watching and the creative, online documentation of experiences; in the 9 x 5 micropresentations, a set of presentations will simulate a web-browsing experience; in sound-diaries, Paul Whitty and I will talk about the concept of ‘recording life in sound;’ and in the concert at the end of the day, we will all get an opportunity to hear – in real time and in shared, physical space – remixes of the Framework 250 release, which was created by a geographically dispersed, online community .

Fundamentally, site:sound aims to explore where we are when we listen, how the Internet shapes our concept of places, where sounds and listening experiences are located, and how we can map or understand what we hear within the increasingly complex territory of web-based sonic practice. sound:site explores when we are offline and when we are online and where those realms intersect to shape our impressions of the world.

Text © Felicity Ford.

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