Sound and memory: Helsinki

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Sound and memory. We turn to the visual image for reminders of the past. Leafing through personal archives we view photos for clarification and confirmation of events blurred by time.

Although photographs depict certain scenes and events, I find them to be lacking in ways that field recordings are not. Looking at old photographs I remember the scene through the object itself, it is an external act, the gaze failing to unveil the hidden layers of experience within the subconscious. Compare this with the act of listening. Turning the ear to personal field recordings a free-flowing association of memories rises to the surface. The sounds of place act as a conduit to the past.

Helsinki, December 2013.

We had left Estonia earlier than expected. After 5-weeks in an isolated village, our inability to read the local attitudes had divided us. We had planned the trip for over 1 year, anticipating a sense of stimulation in the unfamiliar post-soviet neighbourhood of Mooste. The stimulation was present but so too was a sense that we didn’t belong. We were an openly queer couple viewed with suspicion and derision. Walking through the village we felt vulnerable, it reduced us to silence, our minds turned inwards separating us from each other.

Arriving in Finland we felt a flood of relief,  but the experiences of the past were not forgotten. The previous 5-weeks of unnatural and forced communication had wedged a sense of disconnection between us. The dark winter light spread a quiet across Helsinki, it amplified a level of gloom that now pervaded our interactions.

Only once did I take my microphones outside. We took a ferry to a neighbouring island, the fog on the ocean sometimes cleared to reveal our destination. Upon arrival it began to rain however the knowledge that we were leaving the next day forced us to make the most of our remaining time there. We walked in the rain, a favourite past-time of ours, but this time it left us feeling despondent.

Before catching the ferry back to the mainland I took out my microphones for my only recording in Finland. I recorded the waves gently gurgling against the rocky edge of the island as the rain continued to fall. It is a completely unremarkable and flawed recording. At the end of the trip, home at my computer, I listened to the sound file and was annoyed at myself for not having recorded more while I was there.

Only recently did I listen to the recording again. Overlooking its faults, memories began to surface. I remembered the damply muted colours, the cold wet wind, the tour groups competing for seats on the ferry. More acutely the recording returned the sense of hopelessness I had felt while walking around the island, the sinking feeling that another attempt at reigniting a warmth between us had again failed. I remembered the silence between us as we caught the bus to the airport.

The water lapped against the island’s edge as I wondered who we now were.

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