Reviewing a CD for Furthernoise is usually a pretty straightforward process: the CD goes in the player, I play it for a few weeks, and later I sit down with my laptop and write a review. But Sympathetic Vibration prompted me to question the relationship I have with the works I review. Often, recordings exist as complete works in themselves, or as documents or mementos of a live performance. Sympathetic Vibration is one of a growing body of works that do not fit easily into either category. It’s formed from a number of interlocking projects (including a sound walk around the York St John University campus and recordings made from the inside of an internal mail envelope) and blurs the boundaries between recorded materials and live event. The people and places that shaped the work seem much more integral to it than in many recordings of this genre. What relationship did Sympathetic Vibration have to (and with) these people and places? What was I to review? What was the work? Was it the initial ‘live’ project, or the recordings that were left over afterward ?
These questions troubled me. Was it fair to review the Sympathetic Vibration without having ‘been there’? In order to find some answers to these questions I had a chat with the work’s creator, musician and phonographer Markus Jones.
SS: Sympathetic Vibration has been performed at various festivals and on the radio. How do you think the experience of the work differs when it is presented in locations other than the one where it was conceived? Do you think that people familiar with York St John have a significantly different experience of the work to people who have never been there?
MJ: This is a very good question and one that I thought about a great deal throughout the process. Without a shadow of a doubt it’s a completely different experience. I found that people who were familiar with the campus, when sharing their listening experiences with me, on the first time of hearing seemed to be concentrating more on individual sounds, trying to identify their location and then listening to the entire work a second time began to hear the work as a whole. I hope people unfamiliar with the campus gained an understanding of what it might feel like. Perhaps they may even relate to a similar location. I recently presented the project in Canada at the University of Toronto, where a number of staff and students felt it would perhaps not sound too dissimilar to their own campus.
SS: The experiences of students and staff in York are key to the work, what sort of reactions did they have when they heard it?
MJ: On the whole the reaction has been very positive. Some students asked more technical questions, for example about the tools & software used. Others just enjoying the listening experience and now listen to many other surrounding environments in a completely different way.
SS: I notice that, for me at least, the work tells a ‘story’ about a place. How much of a narrative did you aim to give the piece?
MJ: I was really hoping that it would paint a larger picture about how myself and other view and hear the campus. Without a doubt I wanted to present a collection of mini stories about both the place and the people.
SS: One of the key ideas behind the project was to explore how sounds change through time. What sort of changes occurred, and did they happen at the periods expected? Did they follow any pattern? Were you surprised by anything you discovered?
MJ: Well, I am very familiar with the campus so I always had an idea of what sounds I could expect to collect at key times throughout the year, but of course there were always one or two pleasant, or some might say not so pleasant, surprises. For example, when carrying out part of the project where I placed a microphone and recording device into an internal mail envelope for people to carry around with them, one cheeky chap decided to record his whole toilet visit experience! I thought I had better leave just the highlights in the piece, mainly just the flush and the washing of the hands. More generally, as the seasons change the surrounding sonic environment seemed to follow suite, the birds seem to disappear, the students left for summer break etc…
SS: How did you decide which material to use in each part of the project and on each track?
MJ: Well, one of the key areas across the campus is the Quad. It’s a place where people gather, throughout the summer in particular, sitting around on the grass eating lunch etc.. For me this was the obvious starting point, taking into consideration the time in the year, when new students arrive. To end the work, I wanted to reflect the campus at night, kind of representing the end of any given day. So I stayed up one night in one of rooms, recording the sounds at night, but mainly wanting to reflect the light or perhaps the lack of light, zooming in on the lights as they were being turned on and off. The rest of the project, I hope fills in the rest of the day, focusing on people at work, wandering around or chatting away to colleagues.
SS: How do the parts of the project fit together: is there one overarching project derived from all the sonic materials, or separate, smaller ones?
MJ: Well, I really designed the work to be listened as a whole. Basically the project is 50+ mins long. I originally intended to release just small sections, but then felt it is best listened to in four much larger parts. Part one gives a general feel of the campus as a whole, part two is the internal mail broadcast, part three is the sound walk and finally part four is the sounds at night, well night-ish! Early evening, early morning.
Sympathetic Vibration presents a picture so vivid that, although you don’t need to have ‘been there’ to appreciate the work, you might just feel like you have.