Wednesday, 20 March 2013

Sounding is Doing

Text by Jack James, Children & Families Project Assistant.

During February 2013, children from Southampton Way estate, Sceaux Gardens estate and Bethwin Adventure Playground explored sound and space with artists Isa Suarez and Tom White as part of Play Local.

Recording: A Play Cue?

Both Isa and Tom gave children the opportunity to record sound through the introduction of digital and analogue tape recorders, devices that have a specific purpose but that invited an open response in their use.

When given the opportunity to record sound within the environment, the first instinct of the children was to listen to actions that they had created. Talking, shouting or singing into the tape recorders or making contact with other objects. Most excitingly a tin was rolled down the playground slide on Southampton Way estate to crash into a tape recorder at the bottom. The individual sounds created seemed less important than the realisation that those sounds were a consequence of actions. The presence of the recording equipment allowed for both the creation of new actions and a new type of reflection on the sounds that they made and their subsequent re-play.

 Music and Noise

Music is frequently used as a tool for engaging with teenagers in particular. They are given access to instruments, software and other facilities along with guidance from experienced musicians who enable them to engage with music. Their choices of how to use their musical ability enables them often define their relationship with wider society.

Although the material created during the children’s experiments with sound and recording were often melodic, rhythmic and sometimes borrowed from pop music, they were not within the dominant sonic paradigm of music.

This wasn't music, it was noise. It lacked the desire to create a product or performance but instead was about the process of unstructured doing. The sounds made were explored or discarded according to immediate interests and not brought together in relation to one another. The noise heard was a demonstration of children working out their relationship to the material world and their local community and how to make an impact on both.

 The Right to Make Noise

Adults are generally warm to the presence of children in the locality but sound, and particularly the unstructured sound that we could call noise, requires from us something other than mere acceptance of the presence of children; it demands the acceptance of the ‘doings of children’. Sounding is the doing that tests our tolerance to the situation and the people within it.

The sounds of neighbours can quickly begin to feel like an incursion if they impede into your own space. They can forcibly overlap with your own personal sounds whilst being impossible to turn away from. Sounds of social gatherings and excited activity quickly highlight the fact that despite close proximity you are not involved in the fun (1) and in the case of children it encourages the questions:

· Why are these children out?

· Why aren't any adults supervising them?

· And if there are adults present, why are they being allowed to or even encouraged to make such a racket?

· Why aren’t they being taught to achieve something more constructive rather than cause a disruptive noise?

Over hearing the noise of children, places you in the position of having no control over their lack of control as their actions are forced upon you. It is often assumed that noise is aggressive, forcing knowledge of other people’s actions but demanding silence can perform equally as violently (2). The requirement for children to keep quiet is asking them to be but not to do.

Sound tests our tolerance for the actions of others as often the presence of their sounding interferes with our own agendas, reminding us that we are in close proximity to people who represent values and interests different to our own. Our response to the noise of others could be considered as strong an indication of social harmony as the respect shown by keeping quiet when appropriate.


· Salomé Voegelin, Listening to Noise and Silence: Towards a Philosophy of Sound Art

· Brandon LaBelle, Acoustic Territories: Sound Culture and Every Day Life

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