Manchester Material

2008, multi-channel fixed media (4'16")

This multichannel, surround sound work is based on sound material collected on a journey between Dublin and Manchester. Representative sample recordings were made at each leg of the journey. The recorded material is arranged in spatially animated, multi-layered sequences that continually transverse a simulated space from front to rear. These ‘sound-streams’ do not evolve but remain in a steady state of flux. The listener can focus on the colour of the rippling surface texture as the near continuous flow of layered events rapidly and repeatedly invade, envelope, and then retreat from the space. There are twelve sounded sections, each of similar duration, and each separated by a short silence.

I wanted to capture sounds that would be typical of the immediate acoustic environment surrounding the traveller, as well as sounds that would be representative of the entire journey itself. More importantly, I wanted to expose the wider sonic environment of the ‘meta-space’ between the cities. The focus is maintained on this higher level of representation through selection and treatment of source materials. Source material is chosen not because the sample captures some interesting or curious sound event, or has some intrinsically interesting quality in itself, but because that sample is representative of the general case, the quotidian. The recorded material used here reveals continuous sound in busy public areas of modern travel: trains, airplanes, and stations.

From the auditor’s perspective, the formal arrangement of material exposes an apparent contradiction between the inherent movement of the journey and its seemingly dynamic sound sources on one hand, and the apparent stasis of the sounded material on the other. At the higher level of organisation any narrative relationship between the various sections is undermined by their block-like sequential arrangement; one space becomes equivalent with another and it becomes difficult to speak of flow or direction of time.

At the local level, randomly selected sections of each sampled environment are reiterated throughout each section. Any evolutionary quality of the original material is rendered static as we hear the original section of time as an on-going and repeated series of now similar ‘non-events’. The colour, or quality, of the recorded space is preserved and brought into focused, while the temporal aspects – spectral evolution and narrative qualities – lose their meaning. One moment becomes equivalent to any other, and any moment seems to persist together with other moments. Similarly, each moment becomes equivalent with the space from which it was recorded, that is, the spatial and temporal representations seem to merge.

At the same time, the constant, repetitive and persistent nature of the original recorded material is reinforced: the train arrives at the station again; and will arrive again in a moment, and again tomorrow; the shoppers go home by bus again; the train continues to arrive; the airplane departs repeatedly; every point is a station; movement is rendered static.