PR: My background is in sound recording, improvised music and
experimental writing as well as the visual arts. Working on this
collaboration has allowed me to pursue an area that I've been wanting
to explore for a while: namely, the sounds of scraping as a sort
of musical minimalism. Steve and I realised that although the forms
of our respective practices are very different, there are some shared
themes and interests and this has sparked some very illuminating
discussions. Working on this show has also inspired me to realise
a number of speculative visual pieces which point towards future
This piece utilises the Parallel
Music system that I have been developing for over ten years.
This system enables one to construct computer-based, indeterminate
compositions/sound works - essentially pieces that are different
every time they are sounded, each playing more like a performance
than a recreation of recorded sound. In this particular sound installation,
two computers are used each outputting to a separate pair of loudspeakers:
one pair by the longest wall of the gallery and one pair situated
behind these on an opposite wall. Consequently, visitors to the
gallery are potentially surrounded by the sounds of this work.
Frictional Account utilses over 320 recordings of different kinds
of materials (rock, slate, chalk) being scraped, rubbed or dropped
on(to) the surface of a paving stone. These materials were provided
by Steve Thorpe and indeed are ones used within his own practice.
The piece is built from a series of 'Nets' (or performance rules)
whose kind and duration are chosen by random number generation.
One of these Nets, for example, is a period of no sound, another
plays four randomly chosen long scraping sounds at low volume, yet
another plays clusters of 'dropped' sounds at medium volume—and
so on. As no attempt has been made to synchronise the two computers,
the piece consists of a series of gentle collisions and overlappings
between the sonic material - a series of drawings in sound perhaps,
that take frictional lines for a walk.
Mic: Sennheiser K6-ME66; Recorder: Marantz PMD670
Audacity, Sound Edit 16 vers. 2; Adobe Director
South Devon Limestone, Chudleigh Rocks
Rock - Hayle Bay, Godreivy
Coal from Wheracliffe Side, South Yorks.
Rock - Summit of Mount Snowden (highest point in
England and Wales)
Rock - Constantine Bay, North Cornwall
Rock from Dunkery Beacon (highest point on Dartmoor)
Iron Stone from Gravel Point, Poole Harbour
For a long time I have been interested in the idea of a poetics
of the gramophone record and its attendant technologies. Part of
this poetics might be informed by the materials and processes used
as well as the 'magical' recreation/translation of past sonic events.
Just as rocks are eventually eroded, so too the sound of a record
is always being slowly scraped out of existence - the friction needed
to cause vibration simultaneously creating and destroying. Another
defining part of the performance of the analogue record is the interpolation
of dust: flakes of human skin, traces of insect carcasses, powdered
rocks - which adds natural noise to the unnatural sounds of human
The Phonolith Proposal series are suggestions for future pieces
(directly inspired by the Rock Works) that attempt to reflect on
the above and also provide a link between Steve's practice and my
own. By labelling a record - which is a series of grooves scratched
into a surface in a kind of controlled, purposeful scraping - with
a material or materials which are directly of the Earth, a connection
is suggested between form and content, one to be traced by the creative
imagination of the audience.
In the Phonolith Proposal 'Recollections' four records are presented
with dust from ground rocks heaped on their labels. Some of this
dust will invariably migrate (to use Steve's term) and intermingle.
The accompanying piece 'Rhapsodein' displays representations of
the occluded labels stitched together to form a patchwork of associations.*
* The artist would like to thank Teofo Matlapeng
for her crafting of this piece.
One of the key influences on my thinking about sound has been Walter
Ong's book 'Orality and Literacy' in which Ong describes the impact
of writitng on hitherto 'oral' cultures. I believe that interesting
comparisons can be made between 'the book' and 'the record' - each
existing as established cultural objects which have implications
for memory, authority, commodification etc. They have also brought
new organisational structures and strategies to the polymorphous
nature of human creativity.
These 'Grammar-Phone' pieces are built from geometerically cut fragments
of 78rpm gramophone records (my favourite kind) placed on primed
canvas. Just as Steve's works comments on geographical locations,
these works refer to frozen time (and potentially music) which has
been given a physical form. The records are made from a mix of shellac
(an organic compound), slate and other components - the slate making
for an interesting link to the Rock Work pieces in my view.
Another key text for me, Jay David Bolter's 'Writing Space', takes
Walter Ong's thesis and applies it to thinking about the computer
as a form of fluid, indeterminate, malleable medium for creativity
- leading back to the underpinnings of my work with Parallel Music,
and 'Frictional Account' in particular.
Paul Ramsay 2007