In partnership with the Des Moines Art Center and some amazing connections made around the city, I’ll be installing solar powered sound recorders around the city to collect sounds in the month of May. There’s lots to figure out but the opportunity and possibilities are really exciting. Collecting the unheard and the ignored. Sounds that no one else might hear. Machines running out of my control. Wondering what all might be collected.
-n 1. a noisy confused place or situation.
Listening to the broadcasts of the unwanted that stem from the desirable.
We live in the city about 200 feet from the train tracks, 1 block from the courthouse clock tower and within ear shot of the flights that leaving form the airport. I’ve been enjoying collecting noises from our balcony but it hasn’t been easy. Being several floors up and overlooking an expanse of open space the balcony tends to be breezy. I’ve been playing with some nice little microphones but the foam windscreens that were included with them just aren’t doing the job. So I’ve tried to make my own small dead rats for them. Lately I’ve been wanting to 1) make more things 2) sew more with this great sewing machine I was given and 3) record more noises for my projects so this quick little project ticks all three of those boxes quite nicely. I made two and the whole thing used about ¢25 worth of fabric.
Listening at the fabric store is also an interesting adventure. Although nothing says “I don’t really belong here, do I?” like a guy with hiking paints and a long beard holding long fury fabrics to his ears at the middle-aged woman crafty fabric store.
Cutting through the city of Des Moines is an active railway line with trains passing all throughout the day and night. They begin early in the morning and can run well after the sun sets. The main line near the city center is parallel to the stretch of road designed to run from the capital building sitting atop the hill straight down through the urban center, cross the Des Moines river. Up against the tracks on either side throughout this expanse of the urban landscape are parking lots, alley ways, some office buildings and a few buildings converted into hip residential communities. The depot has been converted into a facility with a sports bar with a jokey name at one end, a German restaurant at the other and some sort of cube farm in the center by the looks of it through the windows. While the function and interiors of the this historically recognizable elongated structure have been altered, the exterior with it’s arched windows and covered waiting platform remains much the same. You just see two lovers about to be separated for an extended period of time exchanging handkerchiefs through an open train car window. Extending in both directions along the track is a series of parking lots that run adjacent for the duration of the west side of downtown ending at a slightly wooded area where some of the sub-urban arterial roads begin. A few streets of the city have been given a second layer that rises up over the tracks so drivers have a one-way north bound and one-way south bound option for getting around the city at times of the train’s intervention which can be any combination of long, slow and frequent. The rail line cuts across a dozen or more numbered streets paired with nothing but flat asphalt for blocks.
Because the trains cross so many streets, the horns sound almost constantly. The wailing drones are varied in pitch and texture. The drone carries. The flat parking lots don’t abstract the sound as it is hurled towards the expanse of tall stone and class buildings several flat blocks away. The echo is amazing. The reverberation of the whistles as they reflect from the train to the south off of the city to the north and back creates a cacophony of alert that folds and resonates back onto itself. Being underneath the concrete overpasses, the relation to the noise changes yet again. What is originating from one side is now also raining down from above. It’s an enveloping experience of noise washing over from all sides and all directions. It’s physical as well. Heavy loads and massive amounts of energy roll within feet of living, driving, parking and walking spaces. The physical effects are felt 5 stories up from blocks away. But as the train moves through, the reflection changes in density and time. It takes on different characteristics of the material and orientation of the buildings in relation to the train and to each other. The signature of the location not only being the city but at a particular place within the city adds to the depth and character of the sound. The modulation form capital area, over the river, to the downtown business and entertainment district becomes a performance in which the noise travels and the infrastructure becomes the affecter, shaping the listening experience for anyone willing to listen. It’s a city-specific, urban-centric performance at industrial scale. A noise wandering exploration of the caverns, surfaces, vacancies and occupiers of the space. The need for warnings is an indication of activity. The listening experience is the result of a heard intersection of industry and infrastructure.
All content ©2014 Alex Braidwood unless otherwise stated.
- mysterious hum
- sonic fiction