Peripheral Conversations, the work you will present in Helicotrema, is composed of a sequence of recordings made along three points of the perimeter edge of Sahaviriya Steelworks in South Gare (UK). Can you talk about the production of the piece?
Peripheral Conversations is part of a long-term project working with an area along the north east coast of England called South Gare. It’s a man-made stretch of land, built from slag (by-product of steelmaking) and acts as a breakwater between the North Sea and Tees Mouth Harbour. It has spectacular wildlife, sand dunes and recreational activities; it also hosts Europe’s second largest blast furnace and with it, a tradition of steelmaking that goes back more than a century.
The piece was made over an 18-month period of walking, sitting and listening along the edge of the steelworks. It’s along this area that the relationship between nature and industry is most audibly apparent. So I focused the recordings in this way, within a particular area of South Gare; where these environmental conversations come to a point of confluence.
The piece was described as highlighting the co-existence of nature and industry as mutually shared processes, not as separate or isolated entities. Can you expand on that?
South Gare has a very complex geopolitical situation. I’m interested in how these relationships play out audibly onsite; what is the affect of listening in such an integrated environment? How does an environment like South Gare inform and shape the way I listen and document that experience?
It’s clear to me now (after some years working in the area) how complicated and complimentary the relationship between nature and industry is; the two are almost indivisible. So I’m trying to keep that in mind at all times – I’d hate to go in there and separate those aspects from one another through any technique, technology or language for that matter. What I want to do is re-present the entire sphere of what surrounds me when I listen in South Gare; that includes my own subjective presence as well.
Can you talk about the role narrative plays, within your practice?
I think narrative is tied up in the process of listening for sure. It may not be linear, but I do experience a sense of events unfolding and relationships coalescing. Whilst making these recordings I was not necessarily listening to the steelworks and the stonechat per se, I was listening to a process integral to ‘coking’ and to a species of bird calling for its mate. So for me, these sounds are like ongoing events rather than objects; they have a sense of narrative, or at least time and process built into their DNA.
Of course narrative can be stretched and played with, particularly in post-production if that is what’s required. For this work I split each recording with some kind of rupture or alarm signal as a way of moving from one situation to the next. So that is a device I employed within the narrative of the whole piece. Overall, I wanted to let the recordings stand as documents in their own right. For me listening is more often than not a process of hearing simultaneous events unfold. They can be happening in South Gare within a conversation between the skylark and siren; within the smell of iron ore; within the pain in my back; within events connected outside the site itself; within the co-mingling of all these activities, at any one time. That’s what is important to me, that these ‘narratives’ if you like, are multiple and resounding. What I’m endeavoring to do more broadly in my practice is make those processes felt as much as they are audibly understood.