In Summer 2010, myself and two friends created a public soundscape, exploring the sounds experienced around the city of Leeds. It condensed 24 hours of city life into 24 minutes, all contained within a spectacular audio-visual exhibit in a disused shop.
We did this as part of the Leeds City Council initiative called ‘Art in Unusual Spaces’, and we thought that a good way of exploring this would be to turn this around and take a mixture of familiar and unfamiliar spaces, but document them in an unusual way – through sound.
Borrowing a digital hand-held recorder, we trekked around Leeds over the course of six months capturing sounds from places like Kirkgate Market, offices, restaurants, demonstrations, pubs, lectures, children’s choirs, people having dinner…you get the picture! We also managed to record a scrap metal orchestra rehearsing in a different empty shop unit, which makes for fascinating listening, and spent an awfully long time in search of hooting tawny owls (we finally got one on the last night of recording).
We decided that we would make three separate recordings of each place, before mixing them all down into 24 minutes of multitrack audio. More or less all of this was done by Josh, which took him absolutely ages but sounded amazing in the end. I think he maxed out his state-of-the-art Apple Mac to the point where he only had 2MB of space left on his hard drive, but he kept going!
On top of this, we hired a camera from local AV company Lumen Arts, and created a 24-hour timelapse video that we synchronised with the sounds. The camera was good enough to take about 5,000+ images, about one every five seconds, and once again it fell to Josh to stitch these together and create a long, continuous video out of it.
Our space was in the Leeds Shopping Plaza, next to the old Virgin Megastore. We used four speakers and a projector to create an immersive soundscape that, I think, made us all pay attention to what our city sounds like a little bit more.
Our initial proposal to the Art in Unusual Spaces team:
The project aims to map the ‘acoustic ecology’ and sense of place evoked by the different sound worlds of the city.
We are currently producing a surround-sound installation consisting of 24 sixty second recordings capturing the spatial-temporal rhythms of Leeds’ cityscape during a 24 hour period. By revisiting localities during the day and night and through the use of transition sounds, we explore the contrast and diversity inherent in the everyday life of the city. We are employing a variety of recording methods to create a sense of scale from the intimate to the ambient, and to emphasise the diffusion of sound through a city in motion.
We hope to challenge the dominance of visual culture by considering the relationship between sound and space, for example in the production of anxiety, leisure time, rush hour and ‘switching off’. In doing so we reflect on the unusual and shifting pitch of the post-industrial city, imagining an urban environment more sensitively attuned to human interaction.
In addition to the surround-sound composition, we are exploring time-lapse photography to produce a corresponding visual cityscape. This will be projected simultaneously over the 24 minute performance and will contextualise our recordings in time and space.
The empty retail units in the city centre provide a unique opportunity to showcase this project. The ubiquitous soundscape of consumer space is the ideal juxtaposition to our vignettes of the subtler sounds of city life drawn from all corners of Leeds. This type of space could also enable us to make use of window-mounted speakers as trail space, territorialising and extending our installation in a similar way to the functioning of sound in commercial space.
Below is a video of the timelapse, with a stereo audio mix of the soundscape.