I got an invitation : let's talk and think about the sounds of Beitou.
I do have a method : I listen to the place, I record its sounds, I organise them in time and space, then I share them.
In two words : observation & description.
Before this project started, I have been very often visiting Guandu Nature Park, participating to some of the activities related to amphibian surveys, learning about the ecology of Taiwan from the experts working or volunteering there, and last year I participated to the nature art festival. To me, this area is an island in the Taipei Basin, a shelter for the flora and the fauna. There, I could hear so many animal sounds, from frogs songs to ultrasonic signals of bats and even the voices and breaths of organisms under the surface of the water of the ponds.
Like many visitors, I have been attracted in Beitou by the volcanism. But to me, hot springs don't mean a relaxing bathing time in touristic buildings, but it represents the strongest energy of the planet - yellow white grey black - toxic gazes coming through the solfatara, warming and shaking of the soil, incredible sonic textures when gaz and water meet. I had the chance to record some sounds that seems to come directly from Yu Yonghe's fantastic descriptions towards the end of the 17th century.
Beitou presents a too wide range of topics, of layers of history or diversity of habitats to make an exhaustive project of collecting sounds. An archive would be meaningless without a point of view, a perspective. I decide to just grab a handful of threads in this complex weaving.
The first step of this project was to follow the curator, thanks to Ubike, travelling along canals and rivers. The water in Beitou is not only omnipresent, it is expressing the transformations of the land by its inhabitants. Through the history of the place, the flow of water has constantly been conveyed, controlled, with a variety of techniques. Navigating in acoustic spaces, the human ears can detect some of these transformations.
Meeting with local activists - people who grew up there, and/or identify to a place, who are attracting with passion the attention of inhabitant and visitors on the essence of an inhabited area.
Who can live in a city who hasn't a readable past ? Who can bear an environment where all traces of activities of visible and audible lifeforms have been erased ? How to connect with a place if it functions are only practical ? How to play with a urban area if all dialogues are designed by commercial brands ?
Sediments - accumulation of grains and stories. The weight is progressively condensing them into a thick physical memory. One can follow the layers of time by the colours, and in Beitou these are golden, brown, yellow, sometimes light purple. And also, shiny because of the silicium contained in good quantity.
Master artisan Xie knows how to be heard by the stones. His technique allows him to slice them quickly into regular rectangles and he's devoted to the sedimental rock of Beitou, which has been a presence among his family for already three generations. Even his tools are witnesses : car parts weekly hammered into chisels or pieces of metal from recycled boats when Taiwan was hosting such dangerous activity. Nowadays the sounds of stone carving can still be heard next to a metro station, but the melodious sounds of the quarry in the hills, they're only in Master Xie's memory.
- Did you regret leaving this area ? I asked.
- No, I was excited to move, there were no kids of my age there. But I still continue to visit this place, I work there.
We moved from one tiny house to another one, passing by kitchens or balcony, moving like transparent beings in the rooms. The voices provide both a descriptions of the place and a texture that make the audience feel the size, the emptiness of each room.
The village is no more inhabited, it'll be transformed, but luckily I could visit and record during this very special moment : abandoned but not ruined - still can relate to the spaces as living habitat with occasional traces of human presence. And our guide can still tell who lived there.
Architectural spaces were usually designed to have a rather long existence. Their presence and their slow transformation into ruins is a recording. What we usually expect from old building is dust, rust, water dripping and cracks in the walls. But how to get some sound material when entering into an historical site which is empty, clean and dry, where one can hear only the rumour of the city ?
Rare occasion to enter into restricted can't be missed : I have to record some sound, I have to bring back something, not unlike a fisherman going at sea, spending money on the gas for his boat, he needs to get something in his nets.
Public transportations have always been a wonder for the ears : in the past century, as soon as the audience could afford buying vinyl records, there were some publication of train sounds. Sound recording culture has always kept a little niche for those kind of railway acoustic fantasy. Of course, public transportation can be a source of conflicts, such as the noise for the neighbourhood - but at least it is possible to request the authorities to do it better. But hey, who is going to solve the problem of the omnipresent and ear-hammering motorcycles ?
Noise, loudness VS voices, quietness.
Some sounds are meaningful, some other attract our attention, some are disturbing us.
Sound editing is a difficult process of selection : what if all the sounds I would choose are all soothing and bringing satisfaction ? Or what if all sounds in this work would trigger epidermic reactions or provide stress ? An unsafe balance between what is needed to bring pleasure and to push audience to react, to think.
Here are some imaginary versions Guandu :
- a large and wide area of highly polluted sandbanks
- some abandoned field, devoid of any animals or plants, only plastic thrashes and construction wastes
- an industrial area of petrochemical factories
- a homogenous group of high-rise, with empty luxury apartments and parking lots
It could have been like this, and it so frustrating that the stories of the people who fought against these dystopia are not often shared or recognised.
Sound artists are often searching for new ways of listening and sound recordists can't resist to try special microphone. There is no secret tool, no invention, we're just tinkers, recycling and borrowing techniques. The sounds in last section of this piece were recorded with electromagnetic sensors : simple coils connected to a recorder can reveal the incredible variations, interferences of the electromagnetic field that surrounds us. Most electronic, digital, mechanical devices are producing these futuristic signals which are usually inaudible, but ubiquitous.
The mountains on one side and the river on the other side, the rice fields in the middle. "Moutain & Water". So why is shall we exclude the gas station of this big street nearby as a typical landscape ? How do we sort the visual elements in order to observe and think the landscape ?
In the same way, we can't use the concept of soundscape as a synonym for sound environment. Soundscape is not simply the collection or the sum of all the sounds that exists in an environment. It is a process of listening to the place, going back and forth between the physical space, through its acoustic events and structures, and the representation of those sounds. We are hearing according to those representations, which are present in onomatopoeia, literature, proverbs or film soundtracks for example. Strangely, we are most of the time participating to the soundscape by adding unconscious and involuntary sounds.
Listening as an access, an entry point. Can help connecting and relating to place.
Thanks to : Zheng-Liang Huang from Yangmingshan National Park , Geng-Lin Lee and Bo-Wei Zhong from iTA gallery, stone carving master Yan-Shan Hsieh , Chong-mo Chang from Heart Village, Tsai Hsu from Guan-du Nature Park and Tevin Chang from Taipei Rapid Transit Corporation; Wan-Shuen Tsai for the translations and the use of her voice ; Lysianassa Dauby for the announcements; Shai Tamir for the logistics; Nigel Brown for extra audio equipment.This work is partly inspired by the courses by anthropologist Philippe Descola about "Anthropology of Landscape" at Collège de France.