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The Silences of (2013)

John Harvey: Studium on September 09, 2013 19:56

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In the rehearsal studio of Aberystwyth Arts Centre, after the final session of 'The Noises of Art' conference on Thursday 5 September, the digital recorder and microphone were accidently left on and remained active until 8.35 am the following morning. The recording captured some 16 hours of sound, including technicians turning off equipment at the end of the afternoon, the voices, footfall, and movements of unspecified people around 9.30 pm, and someone locking the outer door for the night, close to 11.00 pm.

The audio recorder was set to the auto-level recording mode. In the absence of any significant sound in the studio, the device’s automatic gain control adapted by increasing the volume of the weak input signal and with it the level of the device’s floor sound. As a result, the acoustic ‘silence’ of the empty space is drowned out by the insistent hiss, spit, stutter, and crackle of the technology itself. The ‘silence’ is noisy.

Curiously, between 2.30 am and 5.30 am (when one would expect the Arts Centre to be void of personnel), the microphone picked up a number of clacks, several of which were similarly sounding and very loud (at 0.25 and 0.34 on the recording). Later (at 1.43), there is a somewhat different noise, but again singular, percussive, and abrupt. Further on (at 2.07), we hear what sounds like someone trying a door handle (although there are none on any of the doors leading to or from the studio).

We use the word 'noise’ to describe a sound, the origin and cause of which is unknown. In seventeenth and eighteenth century ‘spirit histories’ (accounts of ghosts), noise was the aural manifestation of the noisome spirit: a disagreeable entity that disrupted and disturbed unstoppably and without cessation. Our contemporary usuage of the term ‘noise’ has retained some of those connotations.

Personnel: [unknown].

Instrumentation: Olympus DS-50 digital recorder and Sony ECM-MS957 microphone.

Context: the rehearsal studio, Aberystwyth Arts Centre, Wales, UK (4.20 pm, 5 Sep. to 8.35 am, 6 Sep. 2013).

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