Isolitude

Thursday, November 6 to Sunday, November 16, 2009 - Jealous Gallery, Crouch End, London.



Isolitude is a collaboration between street and installation artist, Mike Marcus, and me. Mikeís work is a recurring image of a mannequin wearing a gas mask and explores the experience of alienation in the urban stampede. For Isolitude he has peopled the Jealous Gallery with larger than life cut-outs, who are both excluded and excluding, from my contribution, an 8 channel ambient surround soundscape.

For me Isolitude has been a great learning curve, showing me that with careful scheduling, and attention to detail, I can take this scale of project from beginning to end within a fortnight, and in one week from pressing record to mastering to the hard disc it plays back from.

Methodology:

Friday evening, Field recording, city centre, between 9.45 and 11.15. I haunted the streets, accompanied by engineer/husband, Daz Disley, collecting street ambiance and some crowd noise.

Saturday: edited Fridayís material.

Sunday, wrote loose script for additional voices to add light and shade. Arranged with some of my wonderfully tolerant neighbours to meet in the street, for recordings later on. In the evening, gathered wonderfully sporting neighbours, and recorded them, delighted and slightly afraid by the enthusiasm they brought to the session! I canít thank them enough, but donít think theyíd thank me for naming them here.

Monday: edited neighbours, arranged final session, edited some additional samples. I always promise myself to be more ruthless in my editing, but I just canít help getting drawn into tiny snips of sounds and/or voices, which entrance me, but are often unnoticed, by most people. Whenever Iím editing there always turns out to be a few files of samples I just canít bear to do without, even if they donít fit the project. They might all get used one day, if I ever remember where Iíve saved them! The Isolitude samples and snippings, Iím pleased to say, all got used, though. No collected sounds were wasted, which means I must be getting more efficient Ė hooray! In the evening recorded one last voice, telling tales of dark deeds. This file works nicely, I think, slightly time stretched, with a little reverb. I edited the file straight away, which meant I had everything lined up, ready for the main work to begin.

Tuesday/Friday: Chopped the main source file into 4 easy pieces, and, with Dazís help, rooted them into 4 stereo pairs, arranged facing each other. Thus the street sound was overlaid on itself, creating an endless space of milling humanity, in all stages of hilarity and misery. I added reverb to the pairs at either end, increasing the size and washiness of the space. I added additional files, rooted to adjacent speaker speaker pairs, forming bridges between stereo pairs, to flesh out the soundscape. Once these files were in place, in stereo, I mixed their pan and volume manually, to create a more sophisticated sense of movement.

The further addition of two original songs, written by me, arranged by Daz and performed by us both, helped overcome the eternal worry of accidentally including licensed music in the mix, and a file of distorted pub noise, turned backwards for extra menace, filled the Ďscape out into a tangle of disorientation. My favourite additions, however, are one sample of a repeating voice, deep in the action yet dissociated from it, making both a plea and an observation with her selected and digitally delayed words and Ö an evocative fizzy drink can, being kicked through the piece in time and space, processed in the kind of detail I would have applied to much more of the piece, if the timescale had allowed.

Friday/Sunday: Dazís turn to sweat over cable connections and boiling my finished mix down to hard disc.

I must confess that the overall effect is not quite as dark as I intended Ė largely due to the commendably good humoured nature of the Friday night revellers Iíd recorded. However it does have an unsettling sense of confusing movement, traffic and people, often difficult to pinpoint in space, milling about or bearing down on the listener.

The beauty of taking part in Isolitude, as a joint show, is that my work acts on, and reacts to Mikeís figures, both giving them a reason to isolate themselves, defensively, and being itself darkened, by their still, silent, yet strikingly dominant presence. Thinking about it now, the phrase Ďelephant in the roomí springs to mind, although trying to unravel exactly who or what is the elephant here, and what or who is the room, causes my thought process to dissolve into an inner loop of the phrase, processed and panned around my skull. Basically, ask me another!

One thing I do know for sure is that the single most useful tool on this project was a gismo we refer to as the Pen Panner, one of Daz Disleyís fiendishly clever engineering concontions. This one allows me, once heís spoken to it firmly, to use a graphics tablet to move sound around the full 8 channels, in real time, and a handily tactile environment, and affording me easy control of a sound, for live mixing. When you listen to my can rattling, for instance, youíre listening to the Pen Panner in action. Itís brilliant, but Iíve got the only one, so far!

Daz has, as always, been invaluable Ė coming up with solutions and work-arounds, whenever needed. I still have at least one crisis per piece, about whether Iím cheating by having Daz get between me and inaccessible (without eyesight) audio production software, not to mention between me and the soldering iron, but Iím way to much of a control freak to let him fundamentally participate in the creating of the piece. He is far and away the best engineer Iíve ever met, but that wasnít the reason I married him Ė at least, not the only one!