Sunday, 30 March 2008

Learning to Play Fences

My first solo trespasses are purposeful rather than symbolic. I had decided to make a sound-portrait of the area, a typically over-ambitious project to document the changing soundscape over the five year period in which the site will be transformed. This idea is soon curtailed and transformed and eventually completed in about nine months, resulting in Lament for the London Olympic Site a field-recording composition broadcast through the Radia network, on Resonance FM and a dozen-odd other (mainly european) independent radio stations in the summer of 2007. Luckily the project is completed before the blue barricade prevents the easy transportation of audio equipment into the site.

For a while though, on every visit I went equipped with microphones, headphones and mini-disc recorder. At this time the pre-olympic zone was a field-recordist's dream (perhaps with the exception of the large amount of freight traffic). Abundant wildlife existed amongst hulks of resonant metal, trains rumbled above marshland, the wind activated everything. Removed from the extraneous background noise of the inner-city, here was contained all the sonic potential of both urban and rural environments. One night, using a discarded tyre as leg up onto the fence, I clamber from the Arena Recreation Ground (at the north western corner of the current cordon) into the yard behind what I assume is a recycling plant. Pressing my ear against the galvanized side of gigantic water tank, on which a bemusing NO SNORKELING sign is pasted, I can just about discern a steady drip. Using a palette to close the gap to the bottom of the ladder and climb to the top. I lie there for half an hour, microphone suspended inside capturing the reverberating drips, staring at the stars, cold. And this is my first tentative intervention, exploring here is no longer a hobby. I am captivated by the place.

On a later (post-fence) visit to the same place the tank has been adorned with the largest and best work of the proficient 'teeth' graffiti artist, enormous exposed gums and pearly-white molars wrapped around it's steel. This is the point where my suspicions that I am far from alone in disregarding the cordon are confirmed, which makes me happy, on the way out that night I notice that the top of the fence where I am climbing shows the signs of its abuse, a dirty patch where it has been scaled, not just by me. Here's where it stood:

The sound hunting gathered pace from that day on. I kneel outside Pudding Mill Lane station, two contact mics attached to a towering lamppost, filtering the all of the nearby activity into a metallic drone. One Christmas day I crouch on a towpath recording the groans of corrugated sheet hanging from a lone strand, sounding like a detuned cello. And I start to bow fences. This discovery soon takes on a life of its own. I become fascinated by the acoustic properties of the city's protective barriers and conceptually enamored with the re-appropriation of these hostile, divisive objects as musical instruments. They contain a seemingly endless range of frequencies and timbres beneath the thin coating of zinc. In a short time, numerous recordings are made under the pseudo-scientific banner of Attempts to shatter steel with sound. But up to this point I remain blissfully unaware of the role fences will continue to play in my life for the next three years.

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