Grand Union Canal at Harlesden: Willesden Junction
A crow and a Recycling Facility
Text and sound by David Velez
Photos by Lina Velandia
My interest in recording sounds is just part of a larger interest in documenting my experiences to have material either to analyze, utilize as raw stock for creative purposes or just present as documentation.
When I went to Grand Union Canal at Harlesden I found the location particularly appealing and emotionally significant: the mixture of residential and industrial buildings, the invading vegetation towards certain decaying constructions, the 150-year old train station where old and contemporary mix and contrast; the canal with the still water reflecting the landscape, the commuters returning from work…and for some reason all I thought about was footage and photos of documentaries of British rock, punk and metal bands that grew up and started to play music in areas similar to these where loud factories and residences coexist under some imposed tolerance and harmony.
On Harlesden it was the first time –other than in workshops- that I worked in the same location with two other phonographists. My reaction to this situation was to walk away from the team and find a lonely spot where I feel I could stay at and record long fragments of sound. I always need to be as lonely as possible in order to record sounds. I feel the presence of people distract me from establishing an emotional sense of resonance with the environment I am recording. A question I ask to myself is whether solitude is just a technical aspect to recording or if I actually record to search for solitude, and I think they both equally apply.
Once I thought that when I am the only human in an environment I somehow become the eyes and ears of humanity: I embody the universe being self conscious and self aware of its existence. Likewise when I am alone and my interaction with the environment is minimum in a way I feel like I am not there, I feel like I am just a witness of a world that I am not a part of. Loneliness creates a membrane between the world and me. A membrane between my perception and the world that is build through the perceptive process. In a way solitude is a membrane that splits myself in two: inside and outside.
So there I was alone between a singing crow and a Recycling facility with just me and the canal between them.
Once again my solitude reflected properly in an environment build by the sounds machines and birds; a situation that is familiar to me to the point it has become recurrent in my practice.
But why birds? Why machines? What is what I look / find in them?
The songs of birds are culturally linked to the origins of human verbal communication and also to certain sense of lyricism in music.
In the other hand machines stand for noise, for sound pollution, for unwanted songs that are potentially disturbing and even unhealthy to the ear. The sounds of machines reminds us of the overwhelming presence of progress and the how we cope with it to the point that this noise becomes an essential part of our everyday environmental experience.
But are those definitions related with my actual interest on them? Are those the reasons that motivate me to record them? Or is it purely a formal and aesthetic quest? Is there a possibility of actual formalism when the basis of my practice is untreated documentation?
For me the purpose of an artist whether sonic or visual is to find meaning in the form and to express meaning through form without necessarily being aware of what this meaning is in terms of human language.
I remember a Jazz musician, whose name sadly escapes my memory, that when asked about the meaning behind his work in an interview, he said that if he could articulate it with words he probably wouldn’t need music to do it. The more I work with sound and the more I explore other media, the more I agree with him.
Recordings and photos captured on 19/02/2013. London.