Sounds to Accompany a PhD #4

The British Library, 96 Euston Road. Pack up your things, remember which locker your stuff’s in? Let’s get out of here before they close the gate at the main road.

Avoid the faster roads around Euston and let’s bury ourselves straight into the romance of Russell Square. The concrete melts away, notice the plane trees, the hanging baskets on the flats, the deep green of Coram’s fields. Let’s go back to the early twentieth century, we might bump into one of the Bloomsbury Group, or catch the whispers in English, French, Russian of local artists and political asylum seekers. Get the thrill of just passing the British Museum and imagining the treasures inside, the bones and feathers and fabric and stone all catalogued and ordered and ready to be consumed by thousands of eyes. Watch out for that cyclist. Continue reading

Advertisements

Sound Series #2: Reflections on ‘Soundscapes’

Soundscapes-The-National-Gallery
Image for ‘Soundscapes’ exhibition at The National Gallery, 8th July-6th Sept 2015

Last summer the National Gallery presented an experimental exhibition, ‘Soundscapes’, with ‘six new music and sound installations in response to paintings from the collection’. For me, it was a fantastic opportunity to see how musicians and sound artists interpret pieces of artwork as sound. Additionally, it gave me the chance to see how my own research could benefit and develop from the exhibition.

Journeying through the exhibition ignited the senses. In a departure from the whitewashed galleries, the visitor entered into a darkened room with a spotlight on the painting and the sound installation issuing from precisely positioned speakers. This created an immersive and very personal experience with the combined art forms. The eye focused on the selected painting while the ear tuned into the surrounding sound piece. It was an entirely new experience of perception in which each artist responded to the complexities of the artwork through different sound uses. Each sound piece became a creation of the painting itself. The shared aural experience demanded the visitor to actively listen to their surroundings. Continue reading

The Currency of Fieldwork

Interviews, receipts, recordings. This is the currency of fieldwork.

Sam Miles image

I interview gay men who use the digital apps Grindr and Scruff to understand how technology affects people’s everyday practice in London.

I knew my interviews would be fascinating – sex, after all, is fascinating. But what I was unprepared for is how rich the stories would be. Young or old, shy or outspoken: the men I interview pour out their stories. They talk and talk.

I understand for the first time what it means to be an active listener. I hear their stories and wind them into a bigger narrative: a narrative which presents their experience to audiences who might not normally listen.

Sam is a second year Geography PhD student at Queen Mary, University of London. His research combines sexuality and space studies with digital technology to understand the impact of GPS media on queer space-making practices. @sammiles87

Sounds to Accompany a PhD #3

I must start this post with a disclaimer: I don’t really listen to music when I’m working on my PhD. I’m a silent writer and reader, someone who needs peace in order to become properly absorbed in my materials. Sometimes, I find the vague hubbub of voices and machines in a coffee shop relaxing whilst I reference. At other times, I have listened to just one song over and over on endless repeat to encourage greater focus. I can also admit to playing various RuPaul albums at max volume on those occasions when I’m either having a slump in productivity and confidence or I need to be reminded that I am a PhD ‘Glamazon’. These sounds, however, do not a PhD playlist make and, mostly, I prefer peace, quiet, and a strict lack of noise.

I do listen to music, however, when I’m travelling around the city. Commuting takes up a significant portion of my day, an experience which I’m sure many other London-based researchers can share. Long tube trips should be the perfect time to catch up on journal reading or compose a few emails but, as anyone who has caught the Northern Line at practically any time of day will know, personal space is usually at a premium and there is no room for outstretched arms clutching unwieldy tomes. So, for me, tube-time becomes music-time, and I block out the world with a little bit of determination, a stony ‘commuter’ expression, and my over-ear headphones.

It is also in these moments that I do some of my best thinking. As I travel to or from my place of work, I’ll often use my time on the tube to think about the wider project that I’m working on. When I research, I tend to work chapter by chapter, section by section, which is great for the depth but does mean that I am also in danger of ending up with a series of isolated, disjointed articles rather than a coherent PhD thesis. When I’m on the tube, I can stand apart from my work, gain a better sense of the overall shape of my project, and clearly articulate (in my head) why what I do matters.

I’m not sure if the thinking and the music are related. But the latter does help to block out distractions around me and so it must, in some way, be conducive to the former. With this in mind, I thought I’d share a playlist. I’ve tried to pick songs which help me focus, rather than just my normal daily musical fare (which tends to be a combination of The Hold Steady, Drake and, of course, RuPaul). To call it a ‘PhD Playlist’, then, is perhaps bogus, but these are some of the sounds that help me find a much needed ‘still point’ amongst the commuter chaos. Maybe it will do the same for someone else.

Briony Wickes is a first year English PhD at King’s College London, researching settler emigration, human-animal relationships, and global trade in the nineteenth century. Follow her @brionyjoy.

Sound Series #1

IMG_0146

What can you hear at this very moment? As you continue to read concentrate not on my words but on the sounds around you. Can you hear the clattering of cutlery, the clink of glasses or the tapping of a computer keyboard? Is there a clamour of voices, indistinct and murmuring? Or does one voice drift into focus craving dominance on your ear?

Are you listening?

As you focus, your ear will switch between volumes and pitches, between natural and artificial sound: you are identifying your very own soundscape. As I sit mulling over what should be written down, my own soundscape has become internalised. Fading in and out of recognition depending on my own focus. Cars rumble past my house and my single glazed windows shake with the force. Keys clatter, footsteps thud the stairs as life goes on below my room. Builders are drilling the ground outside.

Are you still listening?

As you focus on digesting my soundscape in your imagination, your mind will have inevitably tuned out the murmuring din happening around you. But you are not perceiving silence. The noise has not stopped but remained, buzzing away in the background. What can you hear now?

Are you listening?

Charlotte Rudman is a first year PhD student in the Department of English at King’s College London whose research focuses on sound and sound representations in Medieval dream vision poetry.  Follow her @charrud