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Interview with Mark Peter Wright

img  Tobias Fischer

The North East coast of England seems to be an alluring place in sonic terms.
The majority of the tracks are from that area but there are also recordings from other places including Herefordshire, Manchester and Poland. Many of the sounds presented are rich in natural timbre, depth and resonance. I am drawn to unorthodox structures and chance patterns that naturally sounding elements produce. One of the aesthetically ‘alluring’ things about these sounds is their inconspicuous nature. You walk past these ‘sound events’ everyday without noticing or paying much attention, but when you start listening to an environment attentively, these imperceptible elements suddenly start jumping out all around you. I grew up in the North East of England, so I am sure in some way it’s alluring for me to return and experience the things I walked past without noticing during childhood.

Would you say that the aim of the project is to provide listeners with a reference frame, so they can make up a catalogue of their own?
Absolutely. All I’m offering is 50% of the work, it’s really up to a listener to engage with that other 50%, to bring their experiences and listen. The tracks are not listed in numerical order so the listener has aural and imaginary autonomy on what they want to, or think they’re hearing. The catalogue really is an invitation to listen, to browse and settle on something you find interesting and to move on - if this auditory awareness carries through into everyday life then great, all the better.

You once mentioned that ‘you have to wait, gradually the environment comes back in and you become part of it’.
As far as I can recollect the project started with a personal experience of time passing. Dwelling, standing still - in this scenario things unfold around you, you become sensate, aware. Some of the recordings came from hours of listening in one place, but only two minutes of that is what I wanted to present. Time and change seem to be connected to place. Movement suggests change, but in this instance, by staying in one place, I really grasped a sense of change and of time passing. There’s one particular recording that did not make it onto this publication that I vividly remember. I was recording marram grass amongst howling sand dunes and a pulverizing coastal wind. I was totally transfixed whilst listening and when I finished I could barely move. I’m not sure how much time had passed but I became really aware that the act of listening, and the environment had imposed a type of physicality onto my body.

What kind of conclusions did you draw from these sensations?

In fact, I have arrived at more questions than conclusions! The marram grass experience keeps coming back to me, maybe the recording never made it onto the CD because it could not live up to my actual physical and mental experience of the event itself. I am not sure if this is a conclusion but it’s certainly opening other doors to what is essentially the same room of investigation. I want to explore listening in all its potential, from the object/phenomena of sound itself to the experiential, corporeal, and intertextual ways in which we listen to the world around us.

Does spirituality play into this?
Spirituality does not inform my work directly. A previous work, A Quiet Reverie was an exploration of four ruined abbeys, clearly these are places of spirituality but I was more interested in the use of silence within this belief system. Silence was part of a monastic daily ritual, actively observed with monks communicating through hand signals and gesture. For me this is another interesting allusion to the fact that listening does not have to be communicated through sound alone. Overall my work is informed by conceptual and site-specific art histories and is very much an incremental, process-based approach to practice and research. I believe listening can be an affirming, self-conscious, cultural and political act - a platform for social, historical and ecological endeavour. That’s really my starting point. In terms of spirituality influencing environmental sound, from my point of view its influence is more one of genius loci, or ‘spirit of place’. Using sound to capture and induce a sense of place or audible presence.

Part of the intrigue of Inanimate Life was to record something intangible. Why would you want to do that with audio?
I just like to make life difficult for myself really! To capture something as transitory and slippery as sound through a non-visual media is a great challenge. Overall though, my work focuses primarily on conveying the experience of listening rather than delivering a sound object per se. I have always worked with other media alongside sound - photography, film, text and want to continue exploring other inter-textual ways to mediate the experience of listening.

What happens once you take away the corresponding images?

A sound can be a terrifying thing without its visual location. The amount of times I’ve woken up in the middle of the night looking out of the window, trying to locate a sound and being in this heightened state of confusion, the imagination running wild. It would be nice to think some of this comes across in the recordings, a sense of projection and engagement from a listener’s point of view. So, without the image it seems to be more about processing absence, filling in the gaps when perceptual and cognitive support mechanisms are disturbed. I’m talking from the perspective of somebody who has a good level of sight and hearing, so it’s a different experience for every individual.

To you, listening is a durational experience. Does that play into how you'll organise an album?
Many of the longer tracks on the record simply demand more listening time in order gain a fuller understanding of the complexity of sound. The wire fences and trees in particular reveal so much complexity over time. The shorter tracks - between two and three minutes - intend to act as bridges for the longer pieces and to ultimately create a diverse temporal sense of journey for the listener.
As the track listing evolved it became clear that certain pieces I had recorded just did not fit in. There were a lot of domestic sounds that did not make it onto this publication, for example window frames and doors banging in the wind. This was not due to the sound itself, but a consideration of the overall composition of tracks. The only criteria I imposed for selection in this case was how/if a recording contributed to the overall journey of the listener.

Next to your work in the field, you're also maintaining the ‘Ear room’ interview site. What are you finding out about sound by talking about it?
With Ear Room I want to create a space where discussions can take place and an archive can be built for others to engage with. The fundamental idea is that anybody with an interest in exploring sound can access a whole catalogue of voices, all under ‘one roof’. I’m lucky to have met and been in conversation with some truly fascinating people, and hope their contributions can evolve discussions of how we talk about sound, what vocabulary exists and what can be built. One of the strongest points of revelation to arrive from Ear Room is the complex philosophical, social, cultural, political and ecological borders that sound constantly spills between and disturbs.

Inanimate Life by Mark Peter Wright is available from 3Leaves Recordings.

By Tobias Fischer

Mark Peter Wright Discography:
A Quiet Reverie (self-released) 2008
Mal de Mer (Compost & Height) 2010
Inanimate Life (A Catalogue) (3Leaves) 2010

Mark Peter Wright

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