Tuesday, 4 July 2017

Where you can go when you listen

Imagine this: a long dead relative, maybe one you never met, leaves behind a recording. The sound is of them having a cup of tea in silence. They perhaps, do not realise they are being recorded. The recording captures sounds like their teeth on the rim of the cup, a creak from an armchair, a breath.

I would give so much to have a recording like that, of my grandmother. I never met her though my family say I am like her reincarnation. I have one of her jackets and two photos of her (one of which is a photograph of a passport photo). I want to hear what she sounded like, just breathing or moving about.

I am editing the hours and hours of audio, video and photographs accumulated during The Handless Project. It is quite a task to catalogue and edit everything. Weighing up what might be good to share, what is important to keep and what can be discarded.

For some of us, alive in the twenty-first century, so much of our lives has been recorded. Much more than for those born, like my Grandmother, at the start of the twentieth century. What about this will still be precious to those who come after us?

I am convinced that it will be those moments that are un-curated. The sounds of a place we love. Sounds that we hear every day, but pay little attention to.

When I listen again to the recordings I made all over the city, whether it be my own living room or in the noisy Bluecoat foyer, I feel like an auditory time-traveller listening to life under a younger sun. I hear the sounds that to anyone who wasn't there are just background noise, but I hear that place in particular, those people in particular. I try to picture who might be behind the coffee shop counter, clinking cups.

Editing these conversations I hear memories within a memories and realise how true the time-travel metaphor is. Each conversation carries us around places and times that now only exist inside us. They are as real as this story told to me by Laura Yates in February 2017 with the noise of the Bluecoat in the background:
That house, I remember, really like in a child-memory way, you know. Like, I remember how it felt rather than how it... I remember physically things about it, but I also remember how it felt which is a very 'child' thing to do isn’t it.
It was dark. I remember it being dark, and it was cold. And it had these saucers of water either side of the gas fire. People used to do that then I’ve since found out because of carbon monoxide or something, or maybe it put moisture back in to the air or something. My Granddad lived there when I was a kid ...But they’ve knocked it down. 
I remember this as a feeling rather than a place.
Now it’s gone, demolished, but that’s because it was a two up two down tiny. 
If there is one thing I would want to share from the project, it is that we really benefit from telling and hearing stories - however obvious that might sound. This city is transformed for me because of what I know about it from these stories. This is a physical experience, one that brings into mind sensations and images that are not mine: of saucers of water next to the gas fire.

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