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Simon Whetham: Looking for Limitations beneath the Swinging Bridge

img  Tobias

In an interview from 2006, you mentioned that you were creating Sound Art rather than music. So does that mean you're considering sound both as the main building block of your music as well as a goal in itself?
Absolutely correct, although I think at the time I thought what  was creating was not 'musical' and therefore I felt uncomfortable continuing to use the term 'musician'. Also, presenting sound or music in a gallery or exhibition environment tends to lead one to term the work 'art'. This is one of those questions that has no definite answer, as I consider myself sound artist, musician and composer!

Most of your albums seem to be based on field recordings of one particular country or area. Is this because it awards them a certain coherency?
I think so - it also helps me, putting a limit on the material I will use for a specific body of work. I'm not the best creator when given totally free reign - I need limitations to work with, and against!

You've just released „Beneath the Swinging Bridge“ on Mystery Sea. Conceptually, what fascinated you about the sounds of the Cumberland basin?
A number of things - that fact that the swing bridges in Bristol bring the traffic to a halt is incredible. everything has to stop while this huge piece of architecture physically shifts to open a waterway and allow boats access to certain parts of the river. And bridges have always fascinated me - we use them all the time and if we're travelling over them, we very often have no idea what's going on underneath, or what's even there. It's the same with my work, uncovering sounds seldom heard or noticed...

Were you, in a way, recreating the basin aurally?
I don't attempt to recreate a real space or event, but I do feel the sound material gathered from a specific place cannot help but contain more information about the location than we're immediately aware of.

What kind of sounds were you particularly looking for in this case?
I don't go looking for specific sounds, I find them as I explore, and I still get really excited when I find a sound barely heard or discovered through the use of a contact mic, a hydrophone, a directional mic and boom pole or even a tiny lapel mic dropped into a hole (as I did in the Cumberland basin which gave me access to an incredible metallic dripping sound unheard from above).

Did you find that your sonic portrait was becoming clearer if you left the field recordings mostly untouched or did you have to add processings to them to compensate for the lack of visual information?
Ah, the old 'to process or not to process' discussion... For this project I processed quite a few of the sounds. In a way it was a kind of research to see how far I could go with altering them before they began to lose their character, then combining them with raw material and hearing the results. And strangely the sounds became reminiscent of other sounds heard in the Cumberland basin...

Your releases on Install, Entr'acte, Lens and 1000füssler were also mainly based on field recordings from a particular area. Do you nonetheless approach each of these recording projects from scratch?
Almost every project begins with an exploration of a location or area with recording gear at the ready. It's a great way to explore a new place, and people tend to either leave you alone but stare at you strangely, or come and want to listen to what you're listening to, and the smile on their faces when they hear what you're recording is priceless! To return to the point, as I mentioned before, the material guides me. I don't often set out to record a specific sound or event, and similarly I don't begin composing with gathered material with an idea of how it's going to sound in the end. I love the way the work unfolds as you compose with field recordings, sometimes triggering memories, sometimes emotions.

Would you say that as the scenes of Sound Art and pure field recordings are more and more converging, people may slowly begin to become aware of the fact how exciting the acoustic world around them really is?

I have to be honest and tell you, I didn't realise the two were separate! It seems more people are aware of field recording, and the equipment to do it is so much more accessible these days, this could in turn make people more aware of their sonic environment. But I have a feeling it'll never be mainstream!!

Image by Tamany Baker

Homepage: Simon Whetham
Homepage: Mystery Sea Records

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