Project Background

Flexible Audio first began as an investigation into how I might recreate and share the haptic experience of writing and drawing in a journal (before becoming adjusted to the circular, buoyant motion inherent to I’m not sure all ships, but most definitely our ship), while listening to the structure of the boat pass through the ocean. The sound within each flexible audio disc is a direct recording both the ship’s bowels, where the hull of the ship would glide through the salt water and would sometimes encounter sea ice, and of the ship’s sunbathing deck, where we pulled ropes and where some people smoked. (I don’t smoke personally – I hear its bad for your health.)

 

In 2014 I arranged these recordings into a two minute piece, which builds first as a more narrative environment, an introduction of sorts to the interior and exterior of the place, and which then develops into more of a rhythm, which matches our daily process. Ship time runs like clockwork.

Technical Background

Phonautograms, invented in 1857 by a typesetter who wrote a book on the history of shorthand writing, transcribe sound onto blackened paper or glass as an undulating line that can be used to visually measure the amplitude and waveforms of speech and other sounds. Phonautograms were never intended to be played, but were created as documents of sound and speech that would preserve not just spoken words, like stenography or shorthand might, but the environment and ambience surrounding these words. He was interested in all of the special details that made great performances shine. And he created a library of these sounds, all of which remained tucked away… safe and sound… until they were found, scanned, and played by a team of scientists at Cornell in 2008.

 

If Phonautograms are literal translations of sound into lines, then I knew that there was a way to directly translate what we hear into lines that could flow through a drawing. I converted the wavelengths of the completed Arctic audio file into numbers, then into text, then into vector lines which could be laser engraved at a scale that would match both the diameter of the laser and various ways of “playing” the drawing, whether manually or on a traditional turntable. I then manufactured these wavelengths onto flexible plastic discs at the correct scale and timing for a 7” / 45 RPM record. And voila – the over and under-sounds of the boat have been stolen by the paper.