Paul Ramsay: Sound Works
Paul Ramsay: 'Works Of Fiction'
Works of Friction
Art Terracina Gallery, Exeter Quay, Devon UK • 1st - 16th September 2007
Home Steve ThorpePaul Ramsay
Paul Ramsay image 1 Paul Ramsay image 2 Paul Ramsay image 3 Paul Ramsay image 4 Paul Ramsay image 5 Paul Ramsay image 6

Initial sound sketch
for 'Frictional Account'

sketch of loudspeaker
positions for 'Frictional Account'
Phonolith I
Phonolith VI
(Grammar-phone series)
(Grammar-phone series)

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 work.

Sound Works

Frictional Account

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.

Equipment used
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)
Obsidian, California
Rock - Constantine Bay, North Cornwall
Rock from Dunkery Beacon (highest point on Dartmoor)
Iron Stone from Gravel Point, Poole Harbour

Phonolith Proposals
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 aural representation.

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.

Grammar-Phone Series
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