Monthly Archives: June 2015

Unfolding space: The Travelling Archive – Sukanta Majumdar

Sukanta is a sound artist and film composer who is interested in memories of place and how sound can give you a sense of time. He has been recording for years in an empty factory in Calcutta called National Instruments, and engaged with its history at the different moments in which he has recorded it . This was not thought of as an archival project; it was created for the need of searching for something there, in that empty space, through sound.  Within the process he has been amazed of how sound has an extraordinary way to relate to time, memory and history of a place:


From these sounds he created an installation in 2010 in the lifts of London College of Communication, during a Research Fellowship at CRiSAP. He re-uses many of these sounds also for film and theatre plays.

Since 2003 he has been collaborating with Moushumi Bhowmik, in The Travelling Archive , a sound project that collects memories around Bengali culture, its connections and transformations through the memories of music, but it goes beyond music involving the Bangla language and many other elements associated to this culture. The archive is ‘travelling’ because it goes to people to experience it, searches for people, as opposed to the traditional way of people going to the archive:


When people listen to the archive, the story expands, as they bring more elements to it.  The purpose of the project is to go beyond the known history of traditional perceptions of Bengali culture, for example, in East London.  In that way a new landscape can be created through the connections between memories of people:


The Travelling Archive opens as an installation to the public in Rich Mix, London June 22nd to July 5th , a great opportunity to find connections with Bengali culture as well as with stories of people who live in and between multiple homes.

Within the Sound Matters framework, he finds interesting the possibility of having ‘sonic memories’ as search criteria, that goes beyond the search for a particular sound, but that facilitates an encounter and a connection with links between scattered memories:

Do you identify with Sukanta’s experience, research and ways of looking at an archive?

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Random Walk, Unmasking Talk – Ron Herrema

Ron is a composer and developer who combines algorithmic tools with a variety of materials, such as speech, field recordings, and electronic music. In so doing, he likes to apply randomness with a certain degree of control. In 2006 he composed a piece entitled “Let Freedom Ring”, which evolved into an 8-channel installation. In it, he combined voice recordings from the 2000 US Republican National Convention (culled from the Vincent Voice Library at Michigan State University) with recordings from telephone answering services:

To interweave these materials he used algorithmic techniques in the visual programming software Max/MSP, which helped him to convey his satiric intention of revealing the impossibility of choice that surrounds us politically and in everyday narratives as we interact with technology. He also folded in commercial radio adverts, and a meaningful phrase from American political discourse:


Ron explains technically how the installation worked and how he controlled the different banks of sound:

Fragments of speech were chosen to highlight various subtexts within the original recordings, which, as a semi-determinate layer, were combined with a completely indeterminate layer of sound within the algorithmic process.

The eight-channel installation was eventually rendered into a binaural recording for wider dissemination, which does not necessarily offer the same spatial dimension of the 8-channel piece, but does offer an approximation. Listen to “Let Freedom Ring” here.

Within the Sound Matters framework, he finds all the components to be integrated. For him the process of ‘Relational Playback’ is especially compositional. He imagines an interface that searches semi-randomly within multiple archives, using some kind of filtering. He says it’s like walking into a library with bits and pieces of material being thrown up to grab people’s attention, and enabling them to stop and dig deeper at any point, to listen to one as a departure for discovery.

Do you identify with Ron’s practice, research and technical development and ideas?

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Field Recording as a collaborative process – Tullis Rennie

Tullis is a sound artist and composer who uses field recordings as a way of understanding and connecting with a place. When working with field recordings, it is important for him to maintain the chronological sequence in the composed narrative.  He is interested in documentary and ethnographic processes and how people inhabiting a space are affected by its recording; how to involve them in something that is a solitary practice. Based on this interest he has engaged in participative projects such as Som da Maré in Rio de Janeiro, with a group of artists and community from a cluster of favelas in Maré, to introduce field recording as a method of understanding daily life. The sound material was collected collaboratively, and shared. They used Audacity to edit and label the files, and decisions were made collectively for an exhibition in the Museu de Mare, located in the favela. Also they co-designed a sound walk that included both static positions and movement, which was led by actors from a local theatre group. Participants used iPods to walk in an affluent area of Rio, overlapping this space with the one recorded in the favela. Technically it was challenging to do this as precisely as desired:


Reflecting on this experience, he thinks that more sophisticated ways of archiving this material will be beneficial, as the material will reside in the local community museum, and can be re-used by them. Accessibility and ownership are important within the collaborative process:


After being in Brazil he created two works: one piece broadcast on Resonance FM Rio: An Outsider, Inside, and a video piece, Carioca Sound Stories:

As a single author, re-visiting the recordings, he was struggling with what the sound could say to others, and how the voices of others will be represented. This process provoked him to look for questions rather than answers. He is re-using his own recorded material that derives from a collaborative experience:


Regarding use and re-use of sound he is interested in different levels of ownership of the material: thinking too much about copyrights and public and private ownership, can generate from his perspective, a creative paralysis. For him it is important to define the role of the field recordist and composer in the first instance, to free the recordings and to achieve all the creative research learning through doing:


Do you identify with Tullis’ practice, research and technical needs working participatory projects with field recordings?

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‘Open minded’ system for searching and retrieving – Tom Rice

Tom is an Anthropologist interested in sound and the perception of sonic spaces. His first major research project was in a hospital, where he looked at the different types of auditory knowledge and acoustic perspective held by patients, nurses and doctors.

Tom also makes radio programmes, most recently Govindpuri Sound for the BBC World Service. This programme was produced in collaboration with urban researcher Dr. Tripta Chandola and was informed by her PhD research. It explored the sonic environment of a settlement known as ‘the slums of Govindpuri’ in Delhi, India. Recalling its production he reflects on the value the sound recordist gives to the material and also the value that others might add:

When he records interviews Tom is aware of the sonic space in which people are responding to his questions. In this respect, the differentiation between field recording and speech is complex, as in his work voices and ambient sounds are closely intertwined. He feels this represents a challenge when it comes to labelling recordings:

Another realisation from the Govindpuri Sound project was that he and Tripta had unintentionally and rather suddenly created a sound archive and he wonders about the future of this recorded material:

When searching for recordings made by others, Tom finds it easiest to search online and finds people usually provide useful tags. Looking for material to include in the Govindpuri Sound programme he found a rich archive of street criers in India collected by the artist Rashmi Kaleka:

He also imagines that a good way to find sounds would be to reach out to, or search within, the community of researchers and artists, tracing specific research interests. e.g. underground transport systems, sounds in hospitals or wildlife recordings. Searching this way creates scope to forge relationships with researchers, to deepen ones knowledge about the recordings and to develop new ideas for how the materials might be re-used.

For Tom, the organisation of recordings in an indexical form demands ‘open mindedness’ and an awareness of the different types of value or meaning a recording might hold. He wonders how computers would cope with or create this kind of open-mindedness. Within the framework, he feels ‘search and retrieval’ criteria for an extensive archive and database are the most important things to explore, followed by facilities to allow relational playback:


Do you identify with Tom’s needs? What are your own experiences, issues and needs when working with speech, field recordings and archives?

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Challenges of collecting and composing with spoken word and field recordings – Cathy Lane

Cathy is a composer who works with spoken word and field recordings to create installations and multichannel concert pieces. She is interested in memory and history related to places, communities and themes, and how she, as an artist, positions herself as a filter of those stories:

In the first part of her creative research process for making a new work she engages online and archival research, not necessarily sonic, through which she immerses herself in a particular context. This material is the basis for collecting recordings, which she will then work with creatively. When going through the collected material in a limited time, she finds it challenging to find all the material that she would like to use for her compositional purposes, both in her personal archive, and also when researching through sonic archives:

She would like to have dedicated software tools to compare acoustic and aesthetic qualities of environmental recordings and speech. To this end she has developed software called Deja vú ( working with programmer Oliver Bown) which finds matches between different sonic materials according to a variety of rhythmic qualities and frequency profile. She would like to develop more refined software which could also help find matches more accurately in large files of spoken word material ( maybe based on speech to text software). Cathy has created two major installations (both working with Nye Parry)  that exemplify her approach to memory and composition: The Memory Machine, an interactive installation which used random juxtapositions of speech that audiences left as reminiscences triggered by objects on display at the British Museum; and Beam, an installation that used data from the coming and goings around the port of Kochi in South India as parameters to trigger sounds associated with maritime life and the spice trade in the area:

The recordings were collected in a project with art students from Bangalore  and categorized according to overall themes. She reflects on the challenge of balancing documentary material and aesthetics, and she thinks that the process of recording and labelling needs more time to develop shared sonic sensibilities when working in a collaborative manner. Regarding the framework she thinks that the focus for her is on the relational playback, as it is where aesthetics can be developed and achieved by listening and developing sensibilities to the material, which is the only thing that a computer cannot learn.

Do you identify with Cathy’s needs? What are your own experiences, issues and needs when working with spoken word, field recordings and archives?

Use the ‘reply’ button on the top to leave a comment. Many thanks!