Going / Places
One day, nearly 25 years ago, when I was recording a journey on the London Underground, a lost overseas visitor asked me directions: that incident gave me the idea for a piece based on the broad theme of travel, and the sense of disorientation, even alienation, it can engender. My habit of always carrying sound recording equipment started in the early 1990s when I became interested in capturing everyday sonic events that somehow indicated their geographical location.
I have amassed quite a sound library over the past 25 years, but only started to investigate these materials methodically in 2014, with three related works: Hidden Vistas — a 20-channel gallery piece, premiered at the Ikon Gallery in Birmingham (England, UK); Espaces cachés — a 30-channel concert work, premiered at the Klang! électroacoustique 2014 festival in Montpellier (France); and Secret Horizons — a 14-channel installation work, composed for Birmingham Sculpture Trail and premiered at the RBSA Gallery in Birmingham.
My approach in these three works was to ‘present’ the material, but in a way that, given the geographical disparity of some of the concurrently sounding materials, would be impossible in ‘real life’: we cannot, physically, be in two places at once, but it is entirely possible in the aural domain, especially if recognition and personal memory are evoked and involved. Presenting these works using large loudspeaker arrays, often in different rooms or areas of a single room, aided the illusion I was trying to create.
I felt, however, that I wanted to subject this material to a more ‘in-depth’ acousmatic investigation, so was delighted when Pierre Alexandre Tremblay, one of my former PhD students at the University of Birmingham (England, UK) and now Professor of Music at the University of Huddersfield (England, UK), asked me to compose a 60-minute multichannel work when I retired — it was the perfect opportunity.
A ‘rough guide’
I thought it might be useful to offer some ‘signposts’ (this is a project about travel, after all!) — not to tell you what you ‘should’ be hearing, but simply to enhance and complement your listening experience (and to give you something else to do if you get bored!). The musical moments or ‘scenes’ (some clearly delineated, others overlapping) are all completely artificially constructed. Some border on reportage or documentary; others are more fanciful — but they all have their origins in specific locations. Telling you what and where these locations might be does not, I hope, detract from the aural experience.
We begin and end in Italy, my second home. Between these scenes — one implying imminent motion, the other more restful and tranquil — we flit erratically and unpredictably between other locations in Europe, Iceland, Australia, North America, North Africa and parts of Asia, and the means of travel (trains, cars, planes, ships, etc) are lurking almost throughout. But the logic of the narrative (if there is one) does not lie in the geographical connections or distances but in the ‘sonic’ journey: the relationships and contrasts — spectral, rhythmic and spatial — that I had enormous pleasure in discovering within this huge range of material. I hope you enjoy the ride.
- Railway stations in Florence, Pisa, Rome, and Castelfiorentino (Italy)
- Crickets on the Great Ocean Road, Victoria (Australia), plus events from the Red Centre and Queensland (Australia)
- Buskers and bustle in Jemaa el-Fnaa, Marrakech (Morocco)
- On the SkyRail, passing over birds in the tropical canopy, in Queensland (Australia)
- Wind, tourists, kría (Arctic terns) and other birds on Snæfellsnes (Iceland)
- Subterranean glacial stream and ice melt in a cave on the Sólheimajökull glacier (Iceland), plus resonating cables from the Hellissandur radio mast on Snæfellsnes (Iceland)
- Idling steam locomotive and on board the Kuranda Scenic Railway in Queensland (Australia)
- Geothermal pools at Seltún (Iceland), and Rotorua (New Zealand)
- Near and far: distant railroad horns in wintry Ohio (USA) with a close-up of track sounds from the UK and South Australia
- Circular Quay, with buskers, ferries and trains, framed by the ocean liner Queen Mary 2 leaving port, in Sydney (Australia)
- Floating quays strain at their moorings near Sydney Opera House (Australia)
- Underwater echoes of the quays, plus barnacles in Sydney Harbour (Australia), near the Great Barrier Reef in Queensland (Australia) and off Corfu (Greece)
- Street demonstration in Montpellier (France)
- Harbours, boats and swifts in Corfu and Poros (Greece)
- More boats straining at their moorings, this time at the yacht club in Boston (Massachusetts, USA)
- Insects, frogs and monkeys in the equatorial rainforest in Bako National Park in Borneo (Malaysia)
- Pipes and drums: ghaitas (double reed instruments) in Marrakech (Morocco), piccolo bands parading during the Basler Fasnacht (Carnival of Basel) (Switzerland), bagpipers (yes, really!) in Morelia (Mexico) and a religious procession with firecrackers in Thailand counterpoint coins being placed in offerings bowls in the Wat Pho (the Temple of the Reclining Buddha) in Bangkok (Thailand)
- Wheels on the rails resonate through the washroom sink on a UK train, plus friction squeaks from Eurotunnel train carriages
- Call and response: calls to prayer in Istanbul (Turkey) and Marrakech (Morocco — complete with nesting storks clattering their beaks) fuse with the voices of singers on gondolas in Venice (Italy) and market callers in Melbourne (Australia)
- In transit: announcements in airports — in Bangkok (Thailand), Brisbane (Australia), Helsinki (Finland), and Dubai (United Arab Emirates), plus my homage to Bernard Parmegiani with his indicatif used between 1971 and 2005 at Paris Charles de Gaulle airport (France) — and on planes, trains, and boats, including a vaporetto in Venice (Italy)
- An insect chorus at dusk on the night of a lunar eclipse in the tropical rainforest in Queensland (Australia) merging into pedestrian signals at intersections and ships’ bells at the Museum of Old and New Art (MONA) in Hobart (Tasmania, Australia); brief appearances from a train bell in Oakland (California, USA) and trams and crossing signals in Melbourne (Australia)
- Bells from Chartres (France), Venice (Italy), Berlin (Germany) and Corfu (Greece), plus the clock in Montaione (Tuscany, Italy)
Going / Places, a 32-channel work, was realized in 2015 at the composer’s studio in Birmingham (England, UK) and premiered on November 25, 2015 during the Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival in the Phipps Concert Hall of the University of Huddersfield (England, UK). Thanks go to a large number of people and organisations for their contributions to this work and their assistance in its creation:
- the Leverhulme Foundation for a 12-month Leverhulme Emeritus Fellowship allowing the field recording trips to Australia and Iceland, and the development of multichannel signal processing software;
- the National Lottery via Arts Council England for a Grants for the Arts award for the period of composition;
- Pierre Alexandre Tremblay for inviting me to compose on this scale;
- James Carpenter and Chris Tarren for their programming expertise in developing signal processing tools for the work; these have been incorporated into BEASTtools, a suite of Max/MSP patches;
- Alex Harker and University of Huddersfield postgraduates for setting up the Huddersfield Immersive Sound System (HISS) for me to hear before setting about the piece in earnest;
- Lisa Whistlecroft and Steve Benner for sharing their knowledge of places to record interesting sounds in Iceland and for accompanying us on the trip;
- David Hirst for the use of his house at the eastern end of the Great Ocean Road and for extensive advice and information about recording locations in Australia;
- Elainie Lillios (and Michael Thompson) for hosting me during the Klingler ElectroAcoustic Residency (KEAR) at Bowling Green State University (Ohio, USA);
- the unknown overseas visitor in the London Underground nearly 25 years ago;
- and finally — as ever — thanks to my wife Alison Warne for keeping me more or less sane during the composition of the work, and for helping me carry all the recording gear to far-flung corners of the world: I couldn’t have done it without her.
- November 25, 2015, Jonty Harrison, diffusion • hcmf// 2015: 16. Jonty Harrison, Phipps Concert Hall — Creative Arts Building — University of Huddersfield, Huddersfield (England, UK)
empreintes DIGITALes / IMED 16139, IMED 16139_NUM / 2016