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Found Lost Sound

20.09, 2009.

The title is a pun.

Some of you may know that other than just 'lost sound' Lost Sound is also the name of a short film that was made at the turn of the century by John Smith and Graeme Miller, who are, respectively, a british film maker and a british artist/composer. Both live in London.

Already a number of years into my Found Tapes Exhibition (henceforth to be referred to as FTE), one day now an even larger number of years ago, on the web I chanced upon a description of John and Graeme's collaboration:

"Divided into short sections titled by location, Lost Sound shows discarded audiotapes around London - strands clinging to a fence, trapped in the crevices of a tree trunk, intertwined with weeds. The sound track combines the voices and songs on the found audiotapes with ambient sounds recorded on location."

[from a review by Fred Camper, Chicago Reader (sept. 2001)]

lost sound london

Because of its obvious and close kinship with the FTE the sheer existence of Smith and Graeme's film alone was an exciting discovery. Lost Sound has ever since figured on the FTE's list of references.
Even though I never saw it.
And continued not seeing it for many years. Then at some point it was Alain Bolle, one of the Brusselers in the Brocante Sonore, who re-mentioned Lost Sound.
He had seen the film.
In Brussels.
And he loved it.

"I will bring you a copy," he told me. "Next time ..." And then there was another next time, and a next one, and a next one ... and indeed everytime that we met at least once between beers one of us would bring up Lost Sound again. That meanwhile I stubbornly continued, persisted, to not see ...

Hey, but all of that is now no more!
All of that has changed!

For I have found Lost Sound!

All that it took was finding John Smith ...

lost sound london

Which is what I did on the evening of friday july 10th, when I took the overground from Willesden Junction to Dalston Kingsland station. In an email John told me that the journey time would be about 30 minutes. Luckily though I stepped on the overground early, as traveling that line turned out to be something of a steeplechase, with trains dumping all of their passengers at some random station, and then continuing without them; speakers after a long wait solemnly declaring there would be no more trains running that day, just seconds before one was pulling into the station; et cetera. kingsland casssette Not unusual for London Transport, I was told. But I was in no real hurry, there was a fine sun shining, and eventually I did get to Kingsland, an interesting East London neighborhood that I could not remember ever visiting before.
Of course it was no coincidence that I stumbled upon the discarded old cassette that you see in the picture. When I walked along Kingsland Road, up to John Smith's home, I knew I would pick up some tape along the way. This one, as you see, came as part of a pile of rubbish put out somewhere on the pavement. "Mystical pan pipes moods" is its title, and though I did not get round to repairing it yet, I am pretty confident that "mystical pan pipes moods" is what eventually I am going to get. It was sort of muddy and the tape inside was broken, spilling out over a couple of old black and white negatives that I pocketed as well. Together with the other handful bits and ends of audio tape litter that I collected in the streets of London this summer, it'll become part of the FTE's 108th acquisition.

That evening I sat with John in his fine garden, where we drank a bottle of red wine and talked about 'foundtaping' (as it was baptized by our penning angel Agnès Aokky). We discovered that we had an awful lot in common, sort of like aging hunters sharing a long time passion for tracking down the same type of game. They will find how they both learned to spot the beast from a great distance, and how - willy-nilly - they became sensitive (almost to the point of feeling conditioned) to the signs and symptoms signaling its presence.

lost sound london

Exchanging our foundtaping adventures had John relive the days he and Graeme Miller were doing Lost Sound, and were going about the very neighborhood that we sat talking (and where John spent all of his life) tracking down the many wads and threads of tape that in some way or other had become part of the streetscape. I will not repeat here my usual discourse on the sudden decline and fall of the cassette as the supreme ruler among portable carriers of recorded music, but it will be clear that at the time that John and Graeme did their film, the sight of discarded tape in our citystreets was far more common than it is now, on its way as it is to becoming exceptional. But at that time, some ten years ago, it may even have been at its highpoint, with millions and millions, especially among the younger generations, keeping large collections of cassettes that were listened to extensively in public space, be it on walkmen, or on car-stereos; or, indeed, on city-blasters. It therefore also indeed is curious to notice that, when asked about it, many seem to be or have been only vaguely aware of this aspect of our cityscapes: the dangling, glittering, waving strands of tape from broken cassettes, blown along by wind and draught until caught by some suitable 'tape catcher' where, due to its high tangle-factor it will remain stuck for a loooooooong time; which, in most cases, will be until someone removes it manually.

As someone who used to work there once told me: tapes were a major problem and annoyance for the people operating the machines cutting up the green waste collected by municipal gardening services as part of their maintenance of parks and public gardens. The tapes caught up in shrubbery and branches got entangled in the moving parts of the machines, which then had to be stopped in order for the tape trash to be removed by hand ... It seems obvious that over the last couples of years this problem must have become far less. (I should follow up on that, really.) In garbological (or, indeed, archaeological) parlance, magnetic tape has become a horizon marker: an easily identifiable object that over a relatively short period of time was widely diffused, but then more or less abruptly disappeared ( * ).

lost sound london

Future generations getting to see Lost Sound unprepared will wonder about all of those threads made of brown plastic trapped under parked cars' tires, caught up in fences, in the shrubbery, in barbed wire, in and on trees, between the pavement stones, around little stems and leaves of weed and by satellite dishes ... They will appreciate the devious esthetic, and then probably react with disbelief when being told that almost all people back then went about their daily business without noticing this bizarre artificial flora that was flourishing all over their cities. Until someone pointed it out to them. Like John and Graeme so admirably do in Lost Sound.
It is proof of how little one does really pay attention to the images that make up the scenes of one's everyday life. I vividly recall that indeed it took me quite some time to learn to always see the tapes. It probably boils down to setting some switch somewhere inside your brain that will allow you to notice even when not consciously looking. It takes training, but then at some point that switch will be set permanently. You will not know beforehand when it is going to happen; but when it does, you'll know. John and Graeme will agree. It is sort of an enlightenment :-)

Watching Lost Sound, for most of its 28 tableaux, interestingly, I could readily think of times and places where I had chanced upon pretty similar constellations; there are a certain number of typical caught tape situations that will occur again and again, because there is a limited number of 'tape catch' candidates within the lay-out and build of our cities. In hindsight it is sort of curious therefore that I never came upon a piece of tape caught in a satellite dish, which one sees in three of the scenes that together make up Lost Sound. The film lasts 28 minutes, and like Gunter Krüger's 'Magnetic Eye Jerusalem' it makes for a fascinating city-portrait. Whereas in Gunter's film the tape-debris itself is no longer there, has already been removed, Lost Sound focuses upon the tapes that were caught by all sorts of objects in a relatively small part of the city of London (see the map above), while the soundtrack wonderfully combines the sounds recorded at the moment of filming and the music as it lay trapped there on the tape 'trash' that we see.

bassline

Graeme Miller had not been able to join us that evening at John Smith's, but, after my rjdj-ing weekend, I met him in the Barbican where his Bassline: London had just opened, a multi-screen video and sound-installation in the spaces of the Barbican Centre’s Car Park 5.
londontape I arrived early at the Barbican, so I strolled along Whitecross Street market, and from there further on through the neighborhood. Walking back up to the Barbican to meet Graeme, on the crossing of Old Street and Golden Lane I chanced upon the bit of tape that you see to the left, wound around a pole on a traffic island. So when a little bit later Graeme and I had a coffee in the Barbican's restaurette I was able to provide a fine introduction for myself just by opening my wallet and showing him the wrinkled strand of cassette tape that I had just picked up ...

Graeme Miller continued foundtaping also after his Lost Sound collaboration with John Smith. In 2007, between march 06th and october 7th, he collected tapes along the Paris roundway, the périphérique. That was another surprise. I had never before heard of Graeme's project, on which he was working while I myself diligently picked up Paris tape trash on my end ... Graeme Miller's Periphery, based on the 36 tapes that he picked up, was shown at the exhibition Residents, in the Espace EDF Electra in Paris from 7th November 2007 to 30th March 2008. Unfortunately, all that time I remained completely unaware of that.

notes __ ::
(*) See for instance on page 17 of William Rathje en Cullen Murphy's Rubbish!: The Archaeology of Garbage (University of Arizona Press, 2001) [ ^ ]

tags: London, Found tapes

# .330.

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