Grand Union Canal at Harlesden: Willesden Junction
Text and sound by Yiorgis Sakellariou
Photos by Lina Velandia
Most of the time I make recordings on my own therefore when I record with other people it’s a rather exceptional situation, certainly more fun and more social. Nonetheless, the feeling of having a personal experience is unspoiled. After setting up our equipment we immediately wandered away in our own little private worlds where we independently selected which specific sounds attracted us more and started recording in our personal tempo. A recording session with others can be, perhaps surprisingly, more explorative. Being somehow all together makes it easier for me to walk further than I normally would in order to discover more sounds, helps me concentrate more, record longer and, influenced by my peers, to listen from different standpoints. If I was totally alone I’d be less comfortable to work in this way and I would probably just get upset about people walking and biking around. Generally in urban environments, such as the canal near Willesden station where we decided to record, I always feel like I am some kind of “invader” that interferes with people’s lives. No matter how discrete I try to be, the headphones and microphone that I use become noticeable by people. Of course this doesn’t affect the overall soundscape but it does give me a feeling of urgency and pressure. The presence of my fellow recordists reversed this feeling; it was as if we were claiming the territory for our recording purposes and people passing by were trespassers that disturbed our sonic world. We turned the canal into a big recording studio and that gave me the chance to explore the area without rush or stress. Also, I seriously doubt I would have visited this place if Maria hadn’t suggested it.
As for the canal itself, the first impression when we got there was that I was listening to a rather typical urban soundscape where industrial sounds and traffic hum juxtapose with the singing of the few courageous and persisting birds. Nonetheless, we can always try to listen to the extraordinary in what appears to be ordinary. So, as time was passing by and I was starting to listen more carefully, I noticed a hollow and haunted drone which I suppose was created by the sounds of the machines of a construction work area that were resonating across the canal. Since the machines’ sounds were also preserving their metallic and percussive nature, they formed a peculiar pair with the resonating drone. It was quite mystical and spooky, contradicting to the “realistic” environment of the location. A bit further down the canal the soundscape changed dramatically. The machines’ sounds were heard from bigger distances and crows were emphatically marking their presence. Is this “nature vs. factory” combination of sounds unwelcomed? In my ears it is not. If I focus on the crows’ sounds there’s obviously a lack of clarity in the recordings and if I’m interested in the power and tension of the sound of the machines I should have been much closer to them. But sonic environments created this way are very characteristic and familiar and they can offer many moments of listening pleasure. After all, the cities that we most live in, throughout a main part of our lives, sound somehow similar to this, so we should continue exploring and listening with more open mind and ears. We might be surprised with how many interesting details we can discover and eventually start enjoying and appreciating our normal everyday urban soundscape.
Recordings and photos captured on 19/02/2013. London.