During my recent field recording work, capturing the Clap for Carers audio every Thursday, I have really become aware of the sounds of nature ‘in my own back yard’.
Below is an early morning sound recording captured in my garden and added to some video captured in the same garden later that day.
At the end of March 2020 I answered a call out from sound artist Duncan Whitley who was attempting to collate some local documentation of the “Clap for Carers” events, which were happening each week across the UK, to potentially form part of his Phoenix City project about Coventry’s relation to the phoenix (http://duncanwhitley.net/phoenix-city-2021).
I’d met Duncan before through Coventry Biennial, and greatly admired his work, so jumped at the chance to learn from someone with a wealth of sound recording experience and to find something challenging to occupy the extra time I had on my hands due to lockdown.
I’d worked recording audio for short films and experimented with recording my own foley samples before but I had done little ‘true’ field recording work. Over video call Duncan taught me how to set up my Zoom H6 to record with the RAW side mic settings, to capture the best quality sound for the situation, and offered some tips for capturing audio in what we hoped would be a noisy street.
I wasn’t quite sure what to expect on that first Thursday night on 26th March. I’d seen quite a few posts on Facebook promoting the Clap for Carers idea but I still wasn’t sure anyone in my street would actually come out.
I set up my recorder from a front bedroom window, put my headphones on and waited. By 7:55 I could already hear neighbours gathering and beginning to talk and I wished I’d set my equipment up sooner. By 8pm there were people banging pots and pans, cheering, fireworks going off a few streets away, a solitary car driving past giving a solidarity toot of the horn and even two people arguing.
The following week I decided to try recording from the back garden and set up well in advance so I could capture the atmosphere before, with the sounds of everyone coming out of their houses, this time.
This worked really well and I managed to capture the sounds of children bouncing on a trampoline in their garden and laughing, swifts singing as they flew above me and a crow being startled out of a tree when the clapping finally started. There were more pots and pans, louder cheering, extra fireworks and more conversation between neighbours, as they lingered for a little longer after the clapping ceased.
There were 3 other artists recording audio in different areas of the city each week and we would all meet via Zoom to listen back to what we had captured and to talk about our different experiences as part of a weekly Documentary Sound Workshop. It was amazing to hear the stories of each street and as the weeks went on it was as if each developed it’s own personality. The audio painting a picture of the inhabitants of each street and the atmosphere of the street itself.
It was great to have the opportunity to discuss what we had captured, learn from one another and from our mistakes. Each week Duncan would offer advice and introduce us to films and audio pieces to listen to and help us to fine tune our recording techniques. Two of my favourite pieces were Lucy Cash’s short film “A Song for Nine Elms”, and Duncan’s recording of the double-demolition, using controlled explosives, of two high-rise tower blocks named Rachel and Rathbone on the Downs Estate in Hackney, London back in 2013. Recorded in 3 segments, each captures their own unique part of the buildings’ final history.
Below is a stacked recording of the Clap For Carers audio I gathered from 26th March 2020 until 28th May 2020.
Each recording has been progressively overlaid to create one final accumulative edit, which hopes to encapsulate and convey the atmosphere of the event over a two month time period.
As I mentioned at the beginning of this post, I was quite grateful to have something to distract myself from the pandemic and the isolation of lockdown, and as the project continued I was encouraged to experiment with other audio recordings and soon found myself getting up at 5am just to capture the sound of birdsong. As someone who has always enjoyed those ‘5 more minutes’ of shut eye in the morning this was a rather unexpected side effect.
Working on new projects in, a somewhat self-imposed, confinement also led me to revisit a piece of creative writing I had drafted a few years ago entitled, Hide and Seek; a short drama which tackles themes of confinement and domestic abuse.
I’d always hoped to develop the work and lockdown felt like an important time to do so.
I shared the work with Duncan explaining I’d like to record it as an audio piece and he introduced me to the technique of binaural recording, used alongside head tracking, suggesting it could be the perfect way to listen to the work and would fulfil my wish to totally immerse my audience in the stories setting and character’s situation. He also suggested I apply for help developing the work through a further workshop or residency and this encouragement led to me apply, and be accepted for, a Virtual Nest Residency with Talking Birds, which offers support and mentoring to artists developing a new project
Interested in exploring a metaphorical end of the world.
End of a relationship.
The death of someone close to you.
Loss of a job.
The closing of a chapter of your life.
Moving to somewhere new.
All of these things can feel devastating to us and like our personal world has come to an end.
Immediately a short story I wrote in first year came to mind. It was called Hide and Seek and explored the moment in a young girls life when she suddenly realised how to move her life forward and close a very difficult chapter of her life in a rather permanent way.