Crowd noise contains a mass of fascinating auditory data. As we listen we instinctively pick up a basic emotional reading of the situation at hand. We may make a stab at guessing the number of people, where they are, and even why they may be gathering. We may then decide how we ourselves are going to act in response.
Crowd Control Vol 2 is a series of tracks leaning into sonic cues found within different types of crowd noise. In a post-Covid world, can we be sure our social instincts about gatherings are still correct?
During October I took to my studio to further develop ideas I’ve been exploring during my recent live works made under the title ‘Crowd Control’.
I used the techniques I’ve been gradually establishing as staples of my practice over the past 2 years: experiments with drone, noise, algorithmic generation and granular processing, firing random triggers at stuff to create coincidence and unexpected juxtaposition. But I added new elements too as I explored the qualities of my own voice in a recording for the first time. This felt nerve-racking, but also a long time coming and a really important hurdle to get over: I first started thinking about incorporating my voice in my pieces at the ‘Ugly Singing’ LADA DIY back in 2018.
Unable to get out into ‘the field’ to record, what with there no longer being crowds, and with everyone’s social contacts with the outside world necessarily mediated by digital at present in any case, it felt fitting to mine pre-existing recordings for the crowd noise. I looked to libraries and sound collections for recordings made of groups of people gathering together, in different circumstances and different types of spaces. I made no distinction between places I’d been or had a personal connection with and places far-flung (to me), other people’s worlds I will likely never get near to in person. I figured at present we are tied by a common affective thread: feeling the same subtle changes, confusion, and paranoia: all oscillating wildly perhaps between allowing ourselves to feel a little casual to thinking “oh well I guess this means we can never see each other again then?” about dear friends and loved ones, swinging back and forth countless times each day.
I did a lot of research into crowds and related phenomena: their physicality, their behaviour, why crowds gather, common myths, how density affects movement and emotion; the difference between physical crowds and psychological crowds: how one naturally mutates into the other in an emergency situation. How, in the end, human beings are incredible at self-regulating and acting in solidarity on instinct: how our best sides show up just when we need them.
Partly because of my process, and partly because of lack of time, there are tunes here that didn’t get made: points of entry into the subject matter that never got a chance to reveal what they might have had to offer. I had collected and recorded a lot of material about commerce – recordings of bustling outdoor markets across the globe, echoey shopping malls, news articles about fights in IKEA and crowd surges at shopping centres to see JLS and the like. Similarly, football matches, sports games, fireworks night celebrations, parties. None of this material surfaced during the recording sessions. I almost delayed the release to try and get some of it down.
Instead what made it out into the light fell into four types: public transit and office ambience (Rush Hour); lunchtime at a busy family restaurant (Eat Out to Help Out); bicycle bells and chanting at a Critical Mass rally, the sounds of an unconnected street riot (Our Streets); pedestrians en masse in town centres (High Streets). In terms of lyrics, I recorded myself reading out a few thousand words collected from a whole host of sources – excerpts from authors and thinkers, as well as from newspaper articles and academic journals. The snatches that made it through have their origins in: William Allingham’s poem, A Dream; Simon Critchley’s NYT opinion piece To Learn How To Philosophise is To Learn How To Die; and a passage from Discipline and Punish by Michel Foucault.
The result is a 4-track EP, ‘Crowd Control Vol 2’, a meditation on human contact set against a backdrop of field recordings of the hustle and bustle of crowded spaces sourced from around the world. Tracks contain layers of loosely intelligible words that seem to become song in the process; bursts of sculpted white noise clash with bursts of sculpted crowd noise; synthesized melodies range from saccharine to jaunty, from powerful to melancholy.
The EP opens with the pacy wonky noise pop of Rush Hour. Spoken words are frozen in time to resemble sung notes and a saccharine synth line is tempered by the sounds of subway platforms and unsettling lyrics floating by on the ether. Eat Out To Help Out is all percussive, glassy, resonance paired with rumbling sub frequencies, playing with freezing the sounds of the familiar ‘tink’ of cutlery hitting crockery in a busy café at lunchtime. Our Streets fizzes with tight sizzles and big kicks; frequency modulation and granular processing come together to evoke something alien and futuristic. The final track on the EP is High Streets, a solid swirl of 1980s Roland synth sounds puncutated by the rhythm of my voice caught in repetition, cut through with snatches of shoppers’ conversation and the shuffle and bustle of moving feet.