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The way John (Chequerboard) used his recording of the gallery, which was a space which held some emotional resonance with him, led me to think about how sound can be used to document spaces or objects which have some emotional connection to the person recording them.
Such recordings do not always necessarily convey these emotions to a third party listener. Sound is recorded without the emotional coloration felt by the person who recorded them. It is an objective documentation, whose emotional resonances are felt by those with whom they hold some significant connection.

I think John highlighted this by adding a more ‘musical’ element to his piece which suggests to the listener that the preceding sounds were of some emotional relevance to him. While a recording of an object or space can tell us so much about its physical attributes (size, mass, density, texture etc.) it does not necessarily describe the emotional significance it holds with the person recording them. It can of course, trigger an emotional response in the listener, which may be relevant to their own experiences, which may or may not correlate directly with the original source.

For example, a recording of an empty building might remind a listener of a time when they got lost in an empty building when they were young, or a recording of waves crashing against rocks might trigger memories of time spent by the sea with a loved one.
A lot of my own work tries to explore how these recordings can be used to suggest a particular emotion, or at least lead the listener in a particular direction with regards their emotional response to them. Processing, or manipulation of the sounds, is one way by which the listener can be ‘manipulated’ towards a particular response. Context is another method by which the composer can suggest a particular emotional environment, in which the listener may be placed.
For example, a recording of a buzzing fly set against some birdsong might suggest a summery atmosphere of calm and relaxation, while the same buzzing fly recording with some reverb applied, set against some creaking, tapping sounds, might trigger a more fearful or ominous response.

My own piece attempts to describe an exaggerated sonic portrait, or caricature, of my own empty house while I am sleeping. Playing on the old question of “if a tree falls in the forest…”, I tried to imagine what the house, and various objects in it, (ornaments, cutlery, clocks, the ticking of an alarm sensor) might sound like if it could hear itself as I slept. I imagined these sounds to be completely different to what I might hear were I to be awake listening to it.

When I was a child, I always associated sounds I could hear while going asleep with something completely different to what they actually were. The water gurgling in the pipes became rushing rivers and the sound of the blood pumping in my ears I imagined to be big, clanking factories where hundreds of tiny insect slaves marched to and fro. Stories about how things in a house might come alive as its inhabitants slept always struck a chord with me too.

The piece is an extension of this idea, whereby there is another layer of hidden sonic activity going on just beyond our consciousness. Towards the end of the piece, as I approach waking, the sounds slowly become a more ‘real world’ representation of the house, as if it senses my conscious presence and is afraid of letting me in on its secrets.
Jimmy Behan / July 2008



Jimmy Behan is an Irish composer working with acoustic and electronic sounds, computer processing and field recordings. Debut album 'Days Are What We Live In released on Elusive Recordings in 2004. Awarded M.Phil in Music and Media Technologies from Trinity College, Dublin in 2006. Released 'In The Sudden Distance' EP on Zymogen in June 2008. Second album 'The Echo Garden' released in May 2009. Also records as Glissen with Kate McKeon.