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Interview with Grant Smith

by Maria Papadomanolaki

Maria Papadomanolaki interviews artist Grant Smith about a new project entitled Reveil/soundCamp. Grant Smith has a long-standing engagement with the study of place, nature and the experiential through the use of text, sound and image. His work also merges philosophical enquiries about art, ecology, politics and the use of technology. As part of the locus sonus live open microphone network, and with reference to a history of camping as environmental action, reveil/soundCamp imagines how the network can participate in celebrating and amplifying the dawn chorus as a unique and in many ways endangered phenomenon. Linked to International Dawn Chorus Day, the streams will be gathered and mediated locatively to interested listeners in London through soundCamp, a london-based organisation who will set-up a camping site and a series of listening activities in a specific location from the 3rd to the 4th of May 2014. 

Q. (MP) What is Reveil/Soundcamp?

A. (GS) Reveil will be a radio broadcast of sounds of daybreak. It will last for 24 hours, transmitting  sounds from live audio feeds supplied by people at different points around the globe. As the sunrise travels West, we will hop from one feed to the next, finally looping back to our starting point near the Greenwich Meridian. The event runs from the 3rd to the 4th of MAY 2014, which is International Dawn Chorus Day. We will set up a soundCamp in London over that weekend, where people can come listen to the dawn chorus locally, along with remote sounds from other places.

Q. When did the idea occur?

A. So I started talking about this project in 2011. But as an idea, it existed well before that : Don Kroodsma wrote an article titled ‘Surfing the dawn’  in 2001, which imagined riding the wave of sound produced as the sun rises [1]. In 1990 Gordon Hempton created a sequence of dawn recordings from wild soundscapes arranged to evoke the progress of dawn [2]. And Bernie Krause over a long period has assembled dawn recordings from fragile wild places which together comprise a kind of treasure map of sounds which, in fact, are often now lost [3].  There seems to be something compelling about this paradox: wherever you are listening to it, the dawn chorus feels like a unique and transient event, which of course it is. But you are also aware that the wave of sound sweeps on over you and continues some place else, just as it has arrived – And of course these experiences are closely linked to our sense of something that is under theat.

I later discovered that Ragnar Olafsson had already made the installation daybreak, forever in Reykjavic in 2010, using live feeds from the Locus Sonus open microphone network, which I was just finding out about [4].

 Q. Who is involved in the organisation of the project?

A. The project aspires to be a fully global collaboration. At the moment we are well short of that, for practical and random reasons. The center of gravity for the project is the global open microphone network pioneered by Locus Sonus, in Southern and Central France [5]. Locus sonus are engaged at all levels, from hosting the network to developing streaming hardware and promoting research. In London, we are working with the Centre for Sound Arts Practice (CRiSAP) at LCC / UAL, and in Belfast with the Sound Arts Research Centre (SARC) [6]. Reveil is catalysed and coordinated by soundCamp, who are based in London [7].  We are very interested now to make links further afield, especially beyond the global North.

 Q. How will the project be set up?

A. There are 4 parts:

1. STREAMING

As the broadcast date approaches, people are invited to set up streams. You can set up a live stereo stream on mixlr in around 3 minutes [8]. You can stream from a computer or a phone. Even better, you can set up a permanent stream at Locus Sonus. The free dedicated streaming app Liveshout is in beta for ios7 at SARC [9]. The release is scheduled for early FEB. The app will integrate with the locus sonus global streammap to pick up mobile streams as they come online and make them available on the interactive map. See notes on participation below. There are close to 100 streams on the Locus Sonus network already, although not all of them are up at any one time. We know of just a dozen or so streams beyond those. There may well be many more we have not yet discovered, which we would be very happy to hear about. The more streams there are, from different kinds of places in each time zone, the more varied the broadcast can be.

2. BROADCAST

The full 24hr+ broadcast will be available for any broadcaster to take, for an extended transmission or to dip in and out of in the course of the 24hours. Radio stations can ‘stick a  microphone out the window’ at dawn on 4 MAY and broadcast their local sounds. See below for other ways to be involved.

3. LISTEN / CAMP

Reveil will be broadcast from the London soundCamp, which offers a place to pitch a tent, listen to the dawn chorus on Sunday morning, tune in to remote sound streams from around the world, and related workshops and activities. The soundCamp will host discussions around evolving the open microphone network as a resource for researchers, artists, activists, and others [10].

4. PLATFORM

We are building an updated platform, based on a live streaming map, that will allow listeners to interact with the different streams in different ways, including an automated earth loop that follows daybreak, as Ragnar Olafsson said: ‘forever’. Again, this is work that locus sonus has led; we would like for it to be opened to a wider audience, with better audio quality and a more flexible interface.

 Q. What different sounds will someone experience throughout the duration of the event?

Very many people already stream live content to internet radio stations around the world. REVEIL is different in one main way. 99% of live radio content is music or talk. And most of that 99% isn’t, really, live: it’s pre-recorded. (I have no idea what the real figures would be.) But for Reveil, every sound is propagating live in real time somewhere in the world. Most [not all] of what you hear isn’t music; and most [not all] of the time there’s not much talking.

By cutting back on talk and organized human sounds, reveil / soundCamp opens a space for hearing and listening to other things. What those things are is at least partly to be discovered. But a few things can be anticipated:

// Birds. Reveil is interested in the dawn chorus as an extraordinary sound event in which the vocalizations of birds and other non-humans come to the fore, at a moment of the night / day when people are relatively quiet. It is no accident that the dawn chorus continues to engage listeners and still has a kind of mythical status for birders, acoustic ecologists, and a wider community of field recordists and drop-in listeners.

// Wild soundscapes. Reveil is interested in the implications of listening attentively and especially listening live to fragile soundscapes. There is an intersection with the concerns of bioacoustics on land and under water, as these involve monitoring, habitat conservation / reconstruction, and environmental advocacy / activism.

// Machines. As living organisms are regulated by circadian clocks, many machines also wake and begin to function in the period around dawn: boilers, computers, transport systems and timers themselves spring to life..

// Human beings. Ambiguously biological, harbouring hormonal tides analagous to those that trigger the daybreak vocalizations of other animals, some of us are waking up while, in the same place, some of us are already at work or returning from nocturnal shifts. Reveil is attentive to our everyday sounds – often, paradoxically, unheard [11].

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Specifically: you can check out the AWI / PALAOA feed from under the Antarctic ice  at  http://www.awi.de/en/news/background/]palaoa_what_does_the_southern_ocean_sound_like/livestream/  (For more on that, see below).  Or more mundane: my own backyard in London: airplanes, chickens, my neighbour practicing drums in his shed.

These and an evolving list of streams are  available at     http://soundcamp.self-noise.net/

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[Image Courtesy of Peter Sinclair Locus Sonus]

Q. Can the audience participate in the stream of sounds? If so in what ways?

A. Absolutely! The REVEIL logo shows a nightingale with headphones. For us, soundmaps demonstrate that the experience of listening to a sound locally gains a dimension when placed in the context of other sounds  and listeners elsewhere – whether from the street outside the auditorium, or ‘the other side of the world’.

Stream: we invite and encourage people to set up streams – temporary or permanent – during the reveil event on 3-4 MAY 2014. Go to http://soundcamp.self-noise.net/       for details of simple streaming solutions for computers, phones and diy streamboxes (see below).

Broadcast: Any radio station can pick up the broadcast in whole or in part. Radio stations can also provide a stream and/or promote the project, as a number have already. Check the link or contact us for more information.

Take part in a Dawn Chorus event: These already happen annually around International Dawn Chorus Day, first held in 1984 at Moseley Bog in Birmingham [12]. Check IDCD, especially nearer the time, for details of events near you or advice on setting one up yourself. Download Liveshout or mixlr and stream live from your event using your phone.

Artists, recordists, activists : live streaming can add a dimension to our existing practice. Think about adding a stream to the map from a residency or listening event, or as a permanent listening point. Setup is simple and you can contact us for advice and support. We are also very interested to hear about existing streams which we aren’t aware of.

Build a Pi box:

Raspberry Pi mini-computers were recently the subject of a week of workshops at the Ecole Superieure d’Art d ‘Aix en Provence. Based on experiences building Pi streamboxes there, we are now finalizing  affordable recipes for setting up Pi Streamers, including  versions which require little or no technical expertise. See  http://soundcamp.self-noise.net/ for more information, or contact grant_smith@mac.com directly. Raspberry Pi’s are widely available, and SD Cards pre-configured and loaded with the streaming software are available from soundCamp and Locus Sonus. This is as near as possible to a plug and play setup. Check for details on attending or running a Pi workshop.

Set up a soundCamp.

Q. Are there any plans as to where the event will take place?

The soundCamp will happen in London at a venue to be announced. The first event will be on 3-4 MAY 2014, with a further one planned for MAY 2015.

We imagine people elsewhere might set up their own soundCamps and stream daybreak sounds from there, which will in turn be available to hear in the reveil live broadcast.

Check the links for updates.

Q. How do you imagine Reveil/Soundcamp in the future?

We think reveil / soundCamp has the potential for further instances in future and elsewhere. SoundCamp exists as an organization to deliver the first event in 2014, and beyond. And we welcome inquiries and proposals for related activities.

We think of reveil as an evolution of field recording, with the addition of the live to our experiences of remote locations. Bernie Krause has said that most of the locations where he has captured sounds since 1968 are now severely degraded if not actually ‘without voice’ [13]. We are more and more aware that the large archives we have accumulated in a relatively short space of time are in very many cases archives of lost soundscapes. We imagine a live microphone network bringing a particular immediacy to ways we experience and respond to these situations.

Q. Where can someone find more information about the project and its progress?

The best place to look is on the soundCamp site at

http://soundcamp.self-noise.net/

Or contact us directly      grant_smith@mac.com

Q. Is there something else you would like to add?

Sure: I think there is something to be said about why these sounds and this approach might be interesting. When I talk about REVEIL, people sometimes ask if it matters that it’s live. I always say it does matter – if anything the live part is the main thing. So why?

Well we can take the PALAOA hydrophone as an example.

The Alfred Wegener Institute operate a hydrophone which relays live sounds from under the Antarctic ice [14]. When I first stumbled on this stream on radioaporee I went around telling everybody about it [15]. A little group was formed, who began to spend hours listening to sounds under the Antarctic ice, when they should maybe have been doing other things. This is what I imagined. I emailed the AWI and got an automatic reply saying that Lars Kindermann, the person responsible for the hydrophone, was on an extended expedition. Sometimes on the feed you can hear what seem to be engines or motors; and I imagined this was Lars Kindermann himself – conducting research on the Antarctic ice.

In fact this is an extraordinary thing. Not only is it a remarkable technical achievement, to maintain this hydrophone under the ice, including through many months of total darkness, but the sounds themselves are quite captivating, including shrimps, cetaceans, moving ice, various electronics and equipment. Also, there is something exhilarating about listening to it  – something related partly to the tenuous and barely credible link with this very remote location – something maybe like early experiences with telephony, as a child or a telecoms pioneer [16] – a sense  amplified, in this case, by the fact that for many months of the year this hydrophone is transmitting from total darkness, above and below the ice,  in what we take to be a frozen wilderness, entirely uninhabited by people. There is an analogy to deep space or the zone of beetles recorded under bark by David Dunn – openings onto worlds decisively closed to sight [17].

In some ways it comes as no surprise that here, under the Antarctic ice, all kinds of creatures are routinely calling and carrying on. If the Antarctic is out of sight, maybe it is our constant, unfocused  preoccupation. But live remote listening does seem to give a quite distinctive sense of location.  Listeners commonly report that, as they are listening to what is going on under the ice, they often become much more closely aware of local sounds as well. The juxtaposition of two live audio fields seems to be brought into relief, curiously, by the more or less conscious effects of latency, which creates a disjuncture of a few seconds if you listen to the same sound locally and via the network [18].

There is something quite immediate and probably quite specific about the quality of attention and especially the sense of time associated with these live open links. I am reminded of the old days of telephony where sometimes there would be glitches when somebody put the phone down without hanging up and you could find yourself listening in to some room somewhere – an unsettling and strangely intimate experience..

So maybe you can think of the reveil / locus sonus  project as an elaborate arrangement to leave the phone off the hook in a bunch of interesting places –  and not say anything

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[Image Courtesy of Grégoire Lauvin]

* Upper image: Portrait of Grant Smith by Sam Baraitser

References

[1] Kroodsma, D. E. (2001). “Surfing the dawn.” The Living Bird, Cornell University Laboratory of Ornithology 20(Spring 2001): 38-42.
[2] Hempton, G      http://soundtracker.com
[3] Krause, B    http://www.wildsanctuary.com
[4] Olafsson, Ragnar daybreak, forever: http://cargocollective.com/ragnarhelgi/DayBreak-Forever-v-1-0
[5] locusonus.org      and the global streammap at   http://locusonus.org/soundmap/034/
[6] The Centre for Research into Sound Arts Practice is at http://www.crisap.org     The Sonica Arts Research Centre is at    http://www.sarc.qub.ac.uk
[7] http://soundCamp.self-noise.net/
[8] mixlr.com
[9]   http://www.somasa.qub.ac.uk/~liveshout/
[10]  Opening  a channel to seemingly remote zones and organisms can raise our awareness or mobilize our concern. Just as planning debates are swayed by footage of slow-worms on proposed development sites, David Rothenberg argues that the voices of cetaceans have literally been eloquent in their own defense. (Rothenberg, D:  “Playing Along with Whales” in Carlyle, A and C Lane (2013) On Listening.  An expanded open microphone network has the potential to be  a resource for research, advocacy and activism around fragile ecosystems – even, in Bruno Latour’s terms, to ‘bring non-humans [and their voices]  into the collective’ [Latour, B: Politics of Nature, cited  http://self-noise.net/chameleon/chameleon%20as%20end3.html ]. In this it intersects with projects such as those by Arbimon, which are using re-purposed ipods for remote acoustic monitoring of amphibians in Costa Rica   http://arbimon.com/arbimon/index.php/home-acoustics
[11] A philosophical point of reference is the account of ‘everyday tactics’ as developed by Michel de Certeau eg in The Practice of Everyday Life  (trans Stephen Rendall, University of California Press, 1984
[12]   http://www.idcd.info
[13] Bernie Krause: Personal communication.
[14] http://www.awi.de/en/news/background/palaoa_what_does_the_southern_ocean_sound_like/livestream/
[15] radioaporee.org is a global soundmap project by Udo Noll
[16]  Eg  Maryanne Amacher:  City Links, in which from 1964 on she brought live sounds of the Boston Harbour into her studio / lab at MIT
[17]  David Dunn talks about bark beetles http://content.lib.utah.edu/cdm/ref/collection/wss/id/1005
[18] .. something like watching and hearing a woodcutter in the distance. Except that here both channels are audio. So the disjuncture works something like a conceptual stereophonic effect.