Sound Series #3: Sound and Architecture

I finally found it. A real architectural structure of sound. Muttering and uttering voices, music and speech along with an ever-present echo of static.

There is nothing quite like a moment of inspiration. It is childish glee: Christmas come early. That moment you realise there is someone else who has made that same connection. Rather than worry about the lack of original thought, it is affirmation and excitement that sparks my brain into action. It is moments like this when I remember why I study.

IMG_3509 Recently, I have been playing with the idea of ‘visualising the invisible’, considering the architecture in Chaucer’s The House of Fame dream vision to be structures built of sound. It was Cildo Meireles’s Babel (2001) which – when I visited before the June re-hanging – was positioned in the centre of its own room at the Tate Modern, and sparked so many ideas.

Meireles’s piece explores ideas about the unity of humanity despite language barriers, paralleling the story of the Tower of Babel. The work is an imposing structure made of hundreds of radios tuned to different stations in many different languages. I was most struck by my reaction to take a picture of this architectural structure of sound. Pressing the shutter-button, I realised that this was not an experience to be captured as a still image.

The hearer/viewer moves around the structure; the eye is looking for something that is not there. I took in the barely audible noise, the music I recognised and started to hum too, the languages I cannot speak and wondered at this at once static and constantly moving piece of architecture, like the House of Rumour in Chaucer’s dream vision. It was a moment of connection, with the music and speakers, with those in the room moving around me and the tower. It was a moment that will never happen again. And yet a memory of it lives on in the sonic space of the room.

The sound is heard and disappears and it is held in the sonic structure. While Meireles is concerned with exploring ideas of overcoming barriers and unity, I question how do we deal with the transitory nature of sound? Do the radios demonstrate a fixity? Or simply a way of transmission? The room was almost overwhelming with the various sounds and yet most of the people around me where silent when experiencing Babel (2001). I, however, was speaking rapidly to my very bemused friend. Sound can become tangible in these moments, for language, for communication, for the artwork; adding another layer human radios.

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Charlotte Rudman is a second year PhD student in the Department of English at King’s College London, researching sound and sound representations in medieval dream vision poetry, @charrud.

“Let Scholarship Fly Free”: Keynote Interview with Dr Caroline Edwards

This interview between Dr Caroline Edwards and James Fisher took place on 13th July in London, after her talk at the School of Advanced Study: ‘Social scholar: transforming scholarship in the digital environment’.

We chat about the way the digital environment shapes us as individual scholars, challenges academic traditions and offers new opportunities for ‘Open Access’ in humanities scholarship.

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Designed by Becky Chilcott for The Open Library of Humanities (under a CC BY 3.0 unproved license)

Dr Caroline Edwards is a Lecturer in Modern & Contemporary Literature at Birkbeck, University of London. Her research and teaching specialisms are in 21st century literature and critical theory, science fiction and post-apocalyptic narratives, Marxist aesthetics, and utopianism. She is currently completing her first monograph, Fictions of the Not Yet: Time in the 21st Century British Novel, and has recently co-edited two collections on contemporary writers – Maggie Gee: Critical Essays (Gylphi, 2015) and China Miéville: Critical Essays (Gylphi 2015).

In January 2013 Dr Caroline Edwards founded the Open Library of Humanities (OLH) with Dr Martin Paul Eve. The OLH launched in September 2015 as a humanities megajournal and multi-journal publishing platform – for more info, visit: https://www.openlibhums.org/

Follow @the_blochian and visit Dr Caroline Edwards’ website

In Paris, 1913

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I’m sitting at my desk, time-travelling.

Outside, 21st century Paris is heavy with the first infestation of springtime tourists, snapping up the Opéra on selfie-sticks as they emerge, blinking, from the Métro.

Inside, in a stuffy room in the Bibliothèque national de France, unbeknown to those around me, I’m not there. I’m in 1913. Continue reading

Three Hundred Years of Birdsong: Sound and Nature

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Last Monday it rained, and on Hampstead Heath a record of birdsong included greenfinch, goldfinch, coot, long tailed tit, song thrush, chaffinch, stock-dove, jay, green woodpecker, crows and rose-winged parakeets (not to forget a pond-life of tufted duck, shoveler, cormorant, gadwall, mute swans and a great crested grebe).

In 1728, after a spring shower, the poet James Thomson listed the sounds of the cuckoo, blackbird, wood-lark, song thrush, nightingale, linnet, bullfinch, stock-dove, rook, crow and jackdaw. He then used this to map human intrusion into a non-human world, to explain the intangibility of the spaces we inhabit, even in our desire to quantify them.

Thomson’s poem is peppered with an incompatibility of natural world and human understanding; a boy disturbing a trout and shattering the water surface, a plough breaking the earth and the toil of the ox pulling it, the corrupt lovers tainting the woods. Faced with this, Thomson tends to look back, desiring an inaccessible arcadia.

Our time is characterised by understanding the natural world through a language of loss and crisis, and, even three hundred years later, it is tempting to view nature through painful nostalgia. A golden age now closed to us.

Searching for nature in his own time, Thomson transposes the non-human into currents of sound, wind and water. His is a poem of noise and light, of elements, breezes, clouds and vapours, filled with mingling winds, ‘rustling deer’ and birdsong. He uses observation of noise to create verse, and places ideas over this, a transparency secondary to the world they exist within.

On Hampstead Heath today, the birdsong is joined by shouting, by flight-paths, sirens, traffic, music, dogs barking [1]. A post-pastoral understanding of the natural world creates space to understand the necessary journey away from Thomson’s golden age. The task now is to understand a natural world free from nostalgia, to accept the mixture of sounds, of nature and of intrusion, and to look at what is left, and what can be done.


Jessica Frith is a PhD candidate in the English Department at King’s College London. She is interested in taking the study of literature closer to the physicality of nature, in reconstructing the eighteenth century poet-naturalist in a modern age, and in the importance of words within the environment. Follow Jessica @lutra__

[1] Audio from the London Sound Survey, Highgate Cemetery, recorded by Chris/dashanna and available at ‘Hampstead Health, Highgate, Archway’ on the sound map.  Listen to and contribute sounds from all around the city via their website.

The Secret Autobiography of my PhD #3

Sound has always filled my house.

charbookcasesmallWind whistles through the old doors and windows, stairs creak  and floorboards groan. Every genre of music has issued from multiple instruments and iPods. My house has never been silent.

I am a dreamer for what could be and what might have been. I am a lover of fantasy. Find me a literature student my age who didn’t grow up with Harry Potter? I read my horoscope. I am interested in the nature of dreams. I am absorbed by a good story.

Medieval literature, particularly the dream visions, ticks all my boxes.


Charlotte Rudman is a second year PhD student in the Department of English at King’s College London, researching sound and sound representations in medieval dream vision poetry, @charrud.

Sound Series #2: Reflections on ‘Soundscapes’

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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

Sound Series #1

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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