research & recording project by Peter Lenaerts
Belgium, China, Australia, 2013-2015
In his experience all rooms possessed a tone of some kind and he tried now to pick something out of the air, to isolate a measured breath or two, a warp in the monumental calm. (Don Delillo)
I can't stand the quiet! (Hal Hartley)

MicroSleepDub (working title) is about micro sound, architecture and urbanism.
It’s first a research & recording project, and then a durational sleep performance built around a sound composition for dubplates.

1. Research & Recordings
MicroSleepDub wants to look for sounds that are too quiet or too small or that disappear behind something louder; sounds that are too vague, too low, or too irritating, or that don’t match with what we see. By using the microphone as a microscope, MicroSleepDub wants to zoom in and amplify these neglected, underexposed and discarded sounds.

Our ears are very intelligent. They save us from auditory overload by carefully selecting what is and isn’t worth hearing in the surfeit of sounds that surround us every day. We hear what our ears deem necessary, no other action is required. Listening on the other hand, is an action and a decision: to hold still, focus and listen. The act and art of listening.

What we see is quite often what we hear. Most of us are guided by our eyes, and all too often our ears are but an extension or the soundtrack to what we see. MicroSleepDub wants to question the dominance of sight. Why is the (western) world so focused on the visual? From an early age on, we learn how to look, why don’t we learn (how) to listen?
This project is not about negating or discarding the image, though, it’s not about going blind, but about first listening and then looking. It’s about how our perception of reality changes if we look by listening rather than the other way around?

MicroSleepDub continues where my previous project Quies stopped. I had travelled along the Oodnadatta Track in Australia’s arid and desolate center on an absurd and ironic quest for silence. I knew that silence didn’t exist, or that if it did, it couldn’t be recorded, or that if it could be, it couldn’t be replayed or reexperienced. And yet, I went out looking for it, hoping to fail, curious to hear what it would make me find instead.

What do we hear when there’s nothing to listen to?
What do we listen to when there’s nothing to hear?

I came across several extremely quiet locations but the near-silence was almost always impossible to capture. Whether it was wind, flies, or me, something would take up space and make sound. And even though I was expecting this, even hoping for it, it was still frustrating. It quickly became very clear that our ears will always try to hear something. We are hard-wired for sound, plain and simple. So when I found myself in an underground church that was dead quiet, I heard my blood and nervous system (and the occasional stomach growl). Outside it was usually the wind that destroyed my recording attempts. And if the wind settled, the flies would rush in. But then one day, on Lake Eyre, an immense, dried out salt lake, something else happened. I had been trying to capture the quiet on the lake, but there was too much wind, screaming loudly into the microphone. So I let my arm drop in disappointment and then it happened, the beginning of MicroSleepDub, crackling, sizzling, like a drop of water on a hot plate. The kind of sound that gets under your skin and sends little shivers down your spine.
I hadn’t heard this sound when I arrived at the lake. Was it because it hadn’t been quiet enough, or because I was looking for something else? I took off my headphones, and once more there was only wind. As soon as I put them back on, and pointed my microphone towards the ground, a whole new world opened up, with hardly any wind, just the sound of saltwater, melting and evaporating in the sun. There was not enough water to undo the visual impression of a dried out lake, but just enough to generate a soundtrack that rewrote the overal picture. Visually there was only flat, white monotony and horizon, audibly there was only detail, rich, amplified and noisy. Image and sound were still in sync, but it felt like synchresis instead. The overall picture didn’t fit anymore. The start of MicroSleepDub.

Where Quies was about isolation and stillness, MicroSleepDub is about immersion and acoustic overload. Its natural habitat is the city, the metropolis. Densely populated, stretched out over vast distances, full of auditory microclimates. Sounds layered and stacked together, embedded in the reinforced concrete of new architecture. Cities murmur, whisper, and rumble; streets buzz, hum, and purr; buildings breathe, whir, and vibrate. Architecture produces sound, whether voluntary or not. Every room sounds different, every space resonates. No building sounds the same.

Not only do I want to capture the sound of buildings and new architecture, I also want to research the role and importance of sound when planning and designing new buildings. I assume that acoustics and sound are not entirely ignored, but how planned are they?
I’ve been recording empty theaters for years. For MicroSleepDub I want to focus on the sounds that are present though: the air buzzing through ventilation shafts, the crackling of electricity in the ceiling, the low, deep humming in the floors and floorboards.

And then I want to open up my ears even further and listen outside the buildings, to the streets and cities themselves. Because the same questions apply. What’s the importance and role of sound in planning a new city? Most cities grow organically over centuries. All the major cities in the Western world are the result of centuries of trial and error, of traditions, and rules and regulations. MicroSleepDub is not interested in these cities, but in cities that were built from scratch or that grew dramatically in the last century. For now I am focussing on two cities, Nansha, China, and Sydney, Australia.

Nansha was suggested to me by Els Silverants from The Institute for Provocation in Beijing. Official information about Nansha is sparse and sketchy at best. The little I do know is from Els, Tripadvisor and Airbnb and comes down to this:

Nansha was built from scratch 10 to 15 years ago to accomodate 1 million people. But a stone’s throw from both Macau and Hong Kong, it was constructed as a port city in Guangzhou province, where most of the made-in-China factories are. When Els visited Nansha ten years ago, it was fully functional, but hardly anyone lived there.

These days, according to someone I found through Airbnb, there’s roughly 300.000 people living there. In a city designed for a million.
Through Els and the Institute for Provocation I’m hoping to meet Doreen Liu, who designed several of the buildings in Nansha and has her architecture firm there. I’m also hoping to meet with Jiang Jun, one of the urban planners.

Apart from the city as a whole, I’d specifically like to focus on the Nansha Grand Hotel, a 5 star hotel with 319 rooms, tennis court, 2 swimming pools and 5 dining options. According to tripadvisor, it’s a very big hotel that’s almost always empty, which makes it a perfect location for MicroSleepDub.

Then I want to prick up my ears in Sydney, Australia. This metropolis at the end of the world is full of auditory and architectural contrasts. As a city only 250 years old, but in a region and continent that’s been inhabited for at least 30,000 years. I want to focus on the short urban history though. How does a city become a metropolis in a short time? What was planned and what wasn’t? And how does this translate to sound? European cities like London or Paris were once extremely loud but noise pollution has been curtailed throughout history. How does this apply to Sydney? Sydney can be much louder than Paris or London, but also much more quiet. This contrast and dynamic is very fascinating. Especially because it’s also reflected in the architecture. The CBD consists solely of highrises, whereas most people live in small one family houses. Big apartment buildings like we know in Europe, are rather rare.
I dream of getting access to the Sydney Opera House in order to capture the small and almost inaudible sounds of this iconic architectural masterpiece.

2. Dub Plates & Durational Performance
With these recordings I then want to compose a sound piece for 5 dubplates.
Dubplates differ from vinyl LPs because they’re most commonly pressed as one-off copies on a different kind of material that doesn’t have a protective layer. Because of this the groove will wear itself out and the sound will disappear.

With this notion as the starting point I will make a performance. A performance in which I invite the audience to listen together with me to this process of disintegration. Every dubplate will be 12 minutes in length, and apparantly it will take at least 50 plays before the sound starts to deteriorate. The performance will last at least 10 hours, in other words, which is why I would like to invite the audience to spend the night in the theater with me.

The evening will start with text, delivered halfway between lecture, reading, and bedtime story. I will talk about micro(scopic) sounds, about Nansha and urbanisation, Sydney and contrasts, about zooming in and amplifying. All in the format of a bedtime story, for it will be my task as a performer to put everyone to sleep. By using repetition, boredom, and entertainment. All the while restarting the dubplates every 12 minutes, all night long, as ignorant about the end as the audience.

Simultaneously I want to generate a second soundscape. In tribute to Alvin Lucier I want to reenact his “I Am Sitting In A Room” and incorporate it into MicroSleepDub. I will record my text in other words and play it in the space afterwards. And record the recording, and replay it. And rerecord the recording of the recording. All night long.

I can not predict what the theater will sound like at 8am when this performance concludes, but as far as I’m concerned, that’s pretty exciting.

- Second draft, November 2013, Peter Lenaerts

all rights reserverd © 2013-2015