Does a field recording have to sound like its subject in order to be authentic? BJ Nilsen ponders this question and concludes that “a pure field recording is not the most accurate representation of a place”. As an artist-in-residency in London, he spent many hours walking and capturing the sounds of the city. And yet when it came time to present these sounds, he chose to re-present them, molding them into a compact shape and shuffling impressions to create something new: an imaginary city called Londonium. What sounds like a walk may be a series of walks; what sounds like a source may be a combination of sources. Of course, this is what sound artists do: they attempt to reflect their locations through symbols rather than aural mirrors. When successful, their new creations seem more real than reality, in the manner of poems.
Local residents may recognize some of the specific sounds: the bells of a Westminster Church, the pings of metal detectors by the Thames. Nilsen’s concerns, however, lie in the underexposed. He’s less interested in the wink of recognition than in the promotion of the underheard. If sounds were people, he’d be the champion of the underdog. Nilsen’s Londonium is hidden in the cracks and crannies of old London, beneath the surface of drying rivers, behind the clearer, more noticeable noises. The lesson to his students is simple: don’t go for the obvious.
In “Coins and Bones”, the edges grow blurred. The piece sounds at times like a drone work, thanks to the accumulation of sounds. But in a city, everything can sound like a drone, as constant din can produce an aural or philosophical tinnitus. The trick is sorting it out, filtering the pink noise from the white. As a more “musical” work, the track references Nilsen’s Fade to White album, which traveled further into cacophony yet investigated similar concepts. As if to balance the impression, Nilsen closes with the clearly natural “Twenty Four Seven”, a reflection of the woodlands and wildlife of Lee Valley. The triptych has traveled far afield: from what is heard, to what is sensed, to what is seldom noticed. Londonium may not have existed before, but it does now. (Richard Allen)
Release date: 16 December