Tallinn, Estonia, 2013. Early in the morning listening to the traffic below the hotel window. The sound of the quotidian sounding exotic in this unfamiliar terrain.
The act of recording that morning has deeply imprinted that simple moment into my memory. I remember a light layer of snow in the gutters slowly melting under a weak winter’s sun, the sound of traffic drifting according to the changes in the traffic lights.
It was the only recording I made while in Tallinn. I preferred to walk the streets without the feeling of urgency to capture sounds.
Years later, on the other side of the world, I listened again to that recording. With the aid of filters I pushed the recording beyond its original form. The traffic droned and washed past in previously unrealised pitches and tones. Somehow this distortion mirrored the evolution of memory, it established a new truth.
One of several telecommunication towers that rise above the farmlands of Mooste. It was in these objects that I found some of the greatest satisfaction during my one month of field recording in Estonia.
A late winter compromised my objectives in visiting Estonia. I had originally intended to explore the sounds of a frozen landscape however with moderately warmer temperatures than expected it was necessary to be flexible in what to record.
After only limited success in recording thin layers of ice on lakes and soft drops of snow on glass I had to face the fact that the weather conditions weren’t right for my intended outcomes. It was slightly difficult to give up these plans but with only a month to spend in Estonia it was important to find a new focus with my recordings.
It was at this stage that I turned my attention to the industrial and telecommunication infrastructure that dominate the village of Mooste. Ex-Soviet water-tanks, electrical fences and telecommunication towers became my new objects of interest.
Visitors to this site may have already listened to some of my recordings of towers and fences in Mooste. Listening to the objects in situ I was always hypnotised by their deep and heavy resonance. Their tones seem to carry a weight of history that reflect the village itself.
Estonia, a country invaded and occupied by Russia, Germany, Sweden and Denmark throughout the centuries, was a somewhat difficult country to understand. During my month in Mooste I never really comprehended where I was, nor was I able to read the personalties of the local people. Although this was unsettling at times I am happy to have had my cultural perspectives challenged by this remote and relatively unknown part of the world.
Each day I walked through the village to outlying forested areas or to more localised industrial areas. These walks were documented by recordings of the village of which those using contact microphones are my personal favourites.
On my second-last afternoon I walked more than a kilometre to reach this telecommunications tower. I had seen it in the distance throughout my residency but it was only with John Grzinich’s recommendation that I took the time to record it.
As can be heard in these three recordings each of the supporting cables vibrated at different frequencies in just the smallest amount of wind. With contact microphones connected to the cables I sat and looked at the brown winter landscape that surrounded me all the while knowing that I would soon be back in the heat of the Australian summer listening to a completely different soundscape.
For artists of any medium who are interested in applying for the MoKS residency program please follow this link.
Regular visitors to this site may have listened to a recording I made of an electric fence a few months ago. The sound of the electrical pulse snapping through the contact microphones is quite dramatic. I had been tempted to record the electric fences here in Estonia too, but being unaware of their voltage I was hesitant to do so. However with only a few days left in Estonia I finally dared myself to connect my microphones to them.
Near the MoKS residence is an electric fence stretching over bare hills into the distance. Perfect! After recording various sections along the fence I found that its tone changes depending on the direction that the wind strikes the cables and, perhaps, its distance from the power source. This is the first of four recordings I made. There is almost a delay effect reverberating through the cable as it sways in the wind.
This second recording was made a few hundred metres further along the fence. A harsher, more distinct, generator sound replaces that of the first recording. It builds and fades yet the electrical pulse remains the same.
On a windier section of the hillside the sound in this recording is higher in pitch. I’m not sure if this change is a reaction to the wind or if the cable itself may be different from other sections of the fence-line. There is a nice vibration that ascends and descends in pitch that is quite musical.
This final recording was made as the wind was become slightly stronger. The low rumble reminds of reverb on an electric guitar. At times the wind can be heard above it granting the recording an idea of space and location.
Walking around the countryside it is amazing to think that these natural spaces have sounds such as these that we are oblivious to without the aid of contact microphones. These seemingly tranquil areas are filled with sound and it is discoveries like these today that maintain my interest in field recording, walking, travel and sound.
As part of my residency at MoKS I will be participating in a public discussion about working with sound in exhibition and installation contexts. Rudy Decelière and myself will talk about some of the sound work that we have exhibited in the past. The presentations will be followed by questions forwarded by John Grzinich and the audience.
The official statement for the discussion reads:
As the use of sound gains prominence as a viable form of artistic practice, questions and challenges continually arise on both conceptual and practical levels as how to “frame” and “exhibit” auditory works in what we understand to be traditional visual art contexts such as galleries and museums. Both Rudy Decelière and Jay-Dea Lopez have been working within these contexts and have developed their own outcomes but through different approaches. Rudy Decelière has a diverse profile of sound based installation works while Jay-Dea Lopez has recently been developing compositions to accompany works of visual art. By showcasing several examples of their works, we can address some of the personal issues they’ve dealt with and then open the discussion to the broader context, asking ourselves, in what ways can we as artists, curators and organizers effectively present sound based works both independent of, and in conjunction with other visual mediums.
If you are in the area and would like to come along the discussion starts at 6:00pm at the Genialistide klubi in Tartu. For more information please follow these links at MoKS and the Genialistide klubi.
This telecommunication tower is my favourite object to record in the village of Mooste. I arrived in Estonia with the idea that I’d record the subtle sounds of snow and ice but instead the drones and crackles of the tower’s support cables have caught my attention. When I first recorded the cables last week I planned to return to the tower during a snowy afternoon. I was interested in what effect the tiny flakes would have on these massive support structures..
In this recording you can hear short staccato-esque sounds, almost electrical in tone, as hundreds of snow-flakes hit the wire. There are occasional pops when the snow hits the contact microphones. It was easy to forget the cold while listening to this sound playing through the headphones.
Once the snow had eased I returned to get a clearer recording. This time I struck one of the cables lightly with a stick, this being the same action Ben Burtt used to create the laser blasts in Star Wars. Unfortunately there was still a bit of snow and wind so I will have to go back again to get a recording that I’m entirely satisfied with.
As my feet moved on the ground near the connecting wires a much deeper frequency moved through the cables. Headphones might be needed to hear this recording.
The residency here at MoKS has provided some unexpected outcomes. With less than 2 weeks before I leave I hope to add a lot more of these listening moments during what is left of my time here.
Looking at this inconspicuous building in Tartu, Estonia, it is difficult to believe that it was once a site of terror and oppression. From 1940-1954 thousands of Estonians were detained and tortured by the Russian KGB in tiny cells in the basement of “the Grey House”.
Upon entering the basement this 3 minute audio file is played on a loop. Fluency in the local language isn’t necessary to understand the story that is enacted:
During the period of Russian annexation thousands of Estonians passed through the Grey House on the way to labour camps in Siberia in an attempt by Russia to quash the Estonian resistance movement. This resulted in the deaths of 30,000 civilians either directly through execution or from the deprivations of life in a gulag.
Walking through the basement visitors can see plans by Russian authorities to deport Estonian politicians, teachers, clergy and skilled workers to Siberia. Artefacts from gulags, as well as a number of devices used to torture prisoners, can also be viewed.
Estonian history is not something that I am familiar with. However after visiting the Tartu KGB museum I now look into the faces of the local people and wonder what stories reside behind their stoic expressions.
It was a strange experience to walk through a pine forest and hear no sign of life. Up above wind whipped through the tree tops resulting in a whistling sound that belonged to a gothic novel but otherwise the forest was silent.
Traipsing further into the centre of the forest a sound finally made itself heard. A pine tree, snapped at its base, had fallen against a neighbouring tree and was swaying with its movements in the wind.
By placing contact microphones directly near the split it was possible to hear every creak and groan emitted by the tree as it moved helplessly with the wind. Away from the context of the forest the sound is reminiscent of a wooden ship as it heaves and sways in the ocean.
In a much more subtle way the sound of snow falling on the tree trunk was as delicate as it was musical. It’s various notes ring with the timbre of a xylophone, there is a beauty in its unpredictable melody.
The residency here at MoKS has been invaluable for providing a new context in which to listen. It took a lot of preparation to travel from Australia but the benefits are numerous. I’d recommend artists of any medium to come here to immerse themselves in this unique part of the world.