presentation IN THE FIELD International Symposium for Field Recording at the British Library, 15/16.02.13

Writing as Phonography | Hong Kong Soundwords


A sudden curtain of sound, rushing, instantly cooling. A fluid thickness, solid, veiling its own transience. Screening all other sounds it cleans the room. It does not mute them but fades them down into a distance that is still near but impassable for now. 

August 21, 2010, 10:12pm,

Language has great difficulty reporting on sounds and finds it hard to testify to their existence and agency. The name ‘the sound of the rain’ is not the sound’s name, it is the rain’s attribute, and thus I cannot place the validity of the thing of the sound in it, I cannot make sound an object. ‘The sound of the rain’ has the function of describing the rain, that is however not the quality nor materiality of the sound, it’s the function of the description ‘the sound of the rain’. The sound itself has no function, nor objectivity, and so my experience of it, once we disregard the signification of its source, is much harder to locate, and harder indeed to articulate in language.

My field recording practice does not involve recording technology in the sense of a microphone and a recorder. It is not an act of recording and playback, but an act of listening and transcription. The listening is pretty lo-fi, simply my ears, the transcription happens in the form of a blog that is written after listening, sometimes quite a while after.

This presentation starts from my phonographic practice of writing the everyday soundscape. It discusses the relationship between words and sounds and puts forward a language that is part of the listening practice, and that understands that this participation is generative and reciprocal in that it produces words, the material of language, in response to the material of sound, and invites listening as a material process also that uncovers in language the process of listening, rather the source of what is being heard.

Such writing challenges the nominal relationship between object and sound, and gives us access to an alternative state of affairs, revealing in sound the “what could be” or indeed the “what there is” visually, if we would only listen. It writes to draw attention to what there is constantly and contingently produced in listening, hearing the complex plurality of sounds, its processes and materialities, and invites a reciprocal listening on the part of the reader to hear the possibilities in his or her landscape too.

For the past month I have not been doing these phonographic writings myself but have been working in collaboration with the artists in residence at the Around Sound Art Festival, which took place in January/February 2013 in Hong Kong, organized by soundpocket and Yang Yeung. These artists produced a guest edition of my blog, entitled Hong Kong Soundwords: writing the sonic city there, and inviting me to generate it in my auditory imagination here. I will be reading some of the artists blog entries, you can peruse all at your leisure at home of course, and in between readings I will consider the writing produced in this exchange and consider the consequences of such a field practice for the reality, actuality and possibility of the city thus produced.

Tse Chun Sing February 04, 2013, 2:22pm

Wednesday night and Thursday morning

I was jogging along the route of the river

in a gentle night, by one glimpse stopping my hasty steps

accidentally, and sacred

wonderful-lonesome white in sight

yet pure harmony in sound

Come, listen

within same vocal cords

we are speaking principles

that always different

How do you sure

To eliminate this little hiss

which not such matter?

sound of the wind

wind is the silk 

silk weaving the cloth of world 

world giving you rights to listen

listen manifest the existentialism in sound

How do you sure

To blow up this tiny voice

which not such matter?

Time flies as floating breeze

escaped from slit of our griping hand

cohered at creator's memory like me and you

You know you have this power

One tiny clue reveals the general trend

Come, listen

next time when you hear

something totally being neglected

from this busy city, shrinking vitality

Tse Chun Sing

The recording, in words, of what he heard, invites not recognition, but a further act of interpretation, re-invention: The production in your auditory imagination of what it possibly was he heard, and which we relate to something we have heard too, or might go on to hear.

Our exchange is tenuous, fragile, maybe it never takes place at all, and we hear nothing in his words but only our own environment.

The transcription of an event heard is not an invitation to recognise but an invitation to listen, to listen to our own field rather than his. His is a particular sonic field but becomes a mute generalisation until it becomes a sound again in the particularity of our listening environment through which we imagine or relive Hong Kong, from films, from a previous visit, from our imagination, …or maybe it is not Hong Kong at all, but the communality between his place and ours: a fantasme invented in interpretation.

‘Jogging, the City, a shrinking vitality…’

Viv Corringham  February 01, 2013, 5:34pm

Walking by the harbour.

Singing with the sounds I hear:

eeee/ beep-beep/ OOooh/ khkeee/ ssssst/ krak!/ wee-ee/ mmM/ yip!/ gagagaga

Pause. I trill: drrr?

A chorus of birds joins in:


Viv Corringham

Recording in words rather than with a microphone mimics and elucidates how I understand the technological act of sound recording and reproduction to work too. Either has its technological or linguistic givens, and neither makes a dispassionate recording, but always implicates and thus explicates the subject recording. Both phonographic practices produce what I like to call a ‘phonographic sonic subject’.

Recording in words or with technology, centres the subject in the world of his or her recording into which we recentre ourselves in reading and listening. Corringham is a listening subject who is at the centre of what she hears and writes about, and who hears herself in the process of hearing and writing about whatever it is she hears. Reading her text we re-invent what she heard and a bit of her too, recentering ourselves in a world that was hers and now is ours but triggered by her, and in which she remains as its author, enabling our own phonographic subjectivity and inviting me to listen and write about the sounds I hear in my world.

Mike Cooper January 29, 2013, 6:20pm

Orange plastic bucket

Six five and four inch nails

Akio Suzuki takes his time hammering

Each one into a line sound

Along each of several lengths

Of 4x4 timber laid end to end

On wooden trestles

That have three legs

He takes his time

Ferry boat arrives waves wash

Concrete disturb fish and rubbish

Floating sound

Walk away toward Viv Corringham's

Shadow Walking siren sounds mixed 

With turned up transistor radio 

Protest of ferryboat ticket collector 

who asks -

"why did you have to make this music so horrible?"

And a voice replies "...the shape of words" 

Meanwhile Matt Cooke's small heath robinson like constructions

of wood wire and electric motors

delicately tinkle and scrape and buzz and whir 

In a corner unpreturbed sounds

Returning upstairs Akio and Hiromi

Miyakita are rolling beer bottles full

of water on concrete floor sound

Whistle and footsteps on metal as

passengers board and the ferry departs. 

Mike Cooper

Cooper’s words produce a narrative of his world heard: The space and time produced in his phonographic texts suggests a sonic geography that observes not the solid infrastructure of the visual, of maps, and roads, buildings, and towns, but hears temporal processes and relationships, actions and agencies.

He writes a geography of connections, not of things connected, and thus it always includes the agency of connecting understood as the action of building a place, temporarily, invisibly, from all that sounds.

His place is not pre-formed but is built continually as the fleeting space of his present listening, then mine and now yours. It does not provide recognition but invites curiosity and even doubt, in the place perceived and in ourselves listening as we read.

Sonic Geography is an agency, a practice of walking and listening, doing and redoing, rather than mapping and measuring. There is no measure, there is no map, just the present materiality unfolding in our ears. Cooper’s phonographic writing gives us the connecting of his audition that we keep on reconnecting in our reading about his place - hearing our own geography.

Wong Chun Hoi February 05, 2013, 10:27pm male

6:00pm , Yue Wan Estate, Chai Wan, workdays.

Birds are super excited and crazy. I can’t imagine if they are sparrows. That will make more sense if they are living in a big cage all together. The banyan implanted in the middle of the public square in the public estate.

City skyline

Winds in leaf

Public estate Atmos

Medium busy traffic

Park Ambience

Old men talking and gambling


Metal pole, heavy, long, thick,  DROP

With Resonance, reverb by the 7-floor walled design estate, pre-delay time is quite long.



birds tweet are cut off, definitely no fading encoded by me.

One small bird first said he/she is hungry. And all the birds become crazy again.


But I have never seen them once. Going back to office on time or leave the office as soon as possible.


Turkish-blue submarine and 5/F spaceship.


50Hz analog sub-bass low hum

24 hours a day

6 days a week

dizzy harmonics

a cell in Eastern State Penitentiary on Sundays


I was called hoi-chan by some tomodati and we become nakama.

Wong Chun Hoi

Wong writes his day in sound. It is a sonic day of no chronology and sense but a lot of simultaneity and non-sense as in ‘sensate sense’: sensorial sense that involves the body and the thing in reciprocity. Through his words we hear the pathetic as in the affective nature of the world. This pathetic is not its fallacy, it is not a criticism or an untruth about an absolute world, but is the truth of the world heard in its blind mobility. Writing phonography captures it in a geography that exposes another truth about the place: the sense of its affective geography. Between words of apparent sense slips listening which subverts their direction and gives them a different use to show us not what is real but what it is possible to hear and to respond to.

‘One small bird first said he/she is hungry. And all the birds become crazy again.’

Tsang Sin Yu  February 07, 2013, 9:31am female

move / wolf / wind / murmuring / run / cling /
crash / smash / air pressure / hit / resonance / presence /
rotation / motor / refraction / vibration / huh / echoes /

breathe / tweet / whisper / blow / slow / heartbeat /
leave / lever / shout / howl / laugh / whistle / palpitate /
bake / loud / chat / hum / sweat / evaporate /

Tsang Sin Yu

Sound sounds as verb in the location of the noun, generating time and space as timespace, as reciprocal and dynamic production not of an object but of a thing thinging. It does not describe a place and neither is it a place, instead it is the spatiotemporal mobility of sound that sounds the invisible dynamic of the world through which I hear its sonic geography as the mapping of my auditory imagination, triggered by Tsang’s words.

So maybe it is not a matter of writing as recording, as translation, but as continuation: a doing again and again, rewriting the words until they have an entirely new meaning, a meaning that remains obscure until it is brought forward, out of the material, out of the processes, temporarily shining briefly on the surface of knowledge until it is overshadowed by a plurality of other as yet unknowables.

This implies an ethics of participation, a need not to read, from a distance but to do, to be actively immersed. A call for a contemporary “musica practica”: a sonic practice of listening, recording, hearing, writing, listening again and making sound.

Sound invites to walk and produce uncertain paths that build a contingent geography between the self and the world in which we live.  Without insisting on a central or determining authority or a certain map we remain embodied in the fluid obscurity of what we cannot see, rather than positioned on a certain path. Writing words from the obscure materiality of sound I try to bring its mobility to the surface of language not for it to become signification but to become significant.

With my blog I try to write this invitation, working with language that eschews naming, that challenges the noun and its centrality in our perception, and instead seek to explore the predicate, the doing and the action of what is being done, established not in outcomes but in process: sonic processes, linguistic processes, material unfolding, refolding, folding, offering not object nor subject but a glimpse of the audible as an alternative state of affairs.

Increasingly sound does contribute to social and human geography, but there it remains an embellishment to a visual taxonomie, often still overshadowed by the persuasive nature of the image. However, it could make another layer available to geographic explorations: the observation not only of actual spatial constructions and processes of the landscape, of society and identity, but also the possible spatial relationships and subjectivities that each sonic action makes thinkeable and doable.

Listening we do not observe but generate, and so we do not simply see the actuality of sound but produce its possibilities. We take part in the production of invisible maps that create a plural and temporal geography that does not show and tell, neither social relationships nor its topography, but that generates a plurality of sonic timespace environments produced from socio-sonic materialities and relationships that involve memory and sentiment.  Affective environments that we inhabit, recentred in the world of phonographic writing, listening to it as our own that tells us not only about the over there and but also about the recordist’s relationship to the over there, and ours to here.