Jan Mertens
1 year ago
Post has 2 notes.
audio field recording

JrF Workshop and thoughts on listening

A couple of months ago I participated in a 2-day workshop on field recordings led by Jez Riley French. The event took place at sound//space, and was hosted by the people behind Soundfjord. Sound//space is a temporary record shop/event space/community hub lodged in the V22 project space at an old biscuit factory in Bermondsey. Jez is a seasoned field recorder, having curated exhibitions, given lectures, and held residencies worldwide. Outside his recording practice he also runs his own label, and makes a variety of microphones (more on this later).

The first day started of with a brief introduction on the technical side of things: exploring different recorders, pre-amps  microphones, etc.  This way everyone who wasn’t already familiar got brought up to speed, and useful practical experiences were exchanged. After that we got the opportunity to make some recordings in the space. While being there I also got to witness a re-enactment of Steve Reich’s “Pendulum Music” which was happening in the adjacent project space – a lucky coincidence. Jez had a wide range of microphones with him for everyone to try out, amongst them his own line of contact, hydrophone and coil microphones (http://hydrophones.blogspot.co.uk/). There was also a stereo condenser and lavalier microphones, and a range of professional tools such as a parabolic reflector, windshield and shock-mount accessories. He made all of these available to borrow and take into the space to experiment.  

Beside all the useful practical tips (both on direct and filtered recording) and time spend actually recording, a significant amount of time was spent on listening: listening to our own and each others recordings, and sharing opinions and experiences on the act of listening. Being fairly new to the field, these conversations offered some valuable new insights and thoughts. Carrying a long lasting love for slowly evolving and droning music, the concept of long listening was very inspirational. First of all, long listening starts with long recording - or longer recording depending on the objective. By recording a certain space or environment, it is almost impossible not to disturb its initial state. Therefore, regardless whether the person recording stays present on the scene or not, it is necessary to allow some time for the environment to re-conciliate with its intruder. Similarly, it is necessary to let your ears accustom to a sonic environment, whether this is a played back recording or just being and listening in the actual environment. As time goes by one will become accustomed to, and comfortable with, the aural landscape. In doing so, subtle changes to the environment and small details become more apparent providing the listener a more detailed picture. These techniques can also be applied in everyday life, to develop an awareness of everyday sounds, noise and silence that constantly surrounds us. Ironically, the constant presence of sound results in it being taken for granted and remaining unnoticed by most. It’s only when you take time and allow yourself to consciously listen to it that it will reveal its sonic qualities and beauty. Long listening can also work therapeutically as a form of mediation. In a fast paced society it can be soothing and bring solace by forcing the listener to slow down and listen. Taking time, and solely focusing on listening also brings a certain enchantment with it. It’s a bit like being involved into a ritual that slowly takes you to a different state of consciousness.

Another thing that struck me while we were listening back to each others’ recordings and playing my recordings to the group is the different perception between listening in the environment while recording, and listening without - or in a different - context. Thinking back on it, it seems pretty obvious but at the time it particularly made me realize how strong the relationship between sound and image can be. In this respect even just looking at a single picture while listening might gave you an entirely different listening experience. I’m also convinced that different details emerge while listening without visual aids, or if you find yourself in a live environment with visual cues grabbing your attention and thus shifting your focus of the details heard. Nonetheless I believe recordings can certainly serve as an artefact recalling memories of when and where it is recorded. In this respect sound holds similar qualities as pictures do in archiving experiences and memories.

Actively being involved in field recording and carefully listening also made me accept the imperfections in recordings. Sure, it is nice to record a very clear isolated subject, but it can certainly be as interesting to have “unwanted” elements present. In a way they can make the recording more real, or raise awareness of location-specific issues. For instance if you were recording in the middle of nowhere, you would expect to have clean nature recordings but having the “unwanted” sounds of a highway miles away or planes flying over would pose some interesting environmental questions. In my experience with studio-type recordings, the aim always seems to be to have as sterile a recording as possible. However one could argue that studio recordings are still momentary snapshots, therefore “unwanted” sounds creeping into the recordings are still a part of this particular moment in time and thus holding relevant value.


All in all this was a really interesting workshop. I’d like to thanks Jez and all the other participant for this really great experience, and Soundfjord for organizing and hosting this fantastic event.

2 years ago
Post has 1 notes.
field recording audio workshop

Featured on Sound out (Resonance fm)

During the weekend of 2nd-3rd June 2012 I participated in the ‘A Quiet Position’ workshop on field recordings by Jez Riley French. The event was organised by Soundfjord and took place at Sound // Space in The Biscuit Factory (Bermondsey, London).

I’ll soon post a more in depth review of the event, but for now I want to give notice that tomorrow between 2pm and 2.30pm (BST) Carole Chant will be hosting a radio show about the event. The show is called Sound Out and is aired on Resonance fm. She will talk about her experiences and play some of the recordings she made. Beside her own recordings she will also play some by the other participants. I’m honoured to announce she asked to play one of mine as well. So if you’re interested, please tune in to Resonance fm on 104.4 fm is you’re in the London area or listen to the online live stream.

As I said before, I’ll soon post in more detail, but for now I can say that I can’t imagine a better way I could’ve escaped the Jubilee weekend.


I’m With You - Scarborough

Last July I participated with I’m With You when they took over UK artist Kane Cunningham’s Cliffside House in Scarborough, North Yorkshire. A house that is soon to fall off the cliff. Together with a group of other artists I was invited to respond to this on site. This resulted in a series of performances-for-documentation. This documentation is now bundled and published in a really nice book.

I contributed by creating some field recordings of objects found in the space, as well as sounds found around/surrounding the house. I explicitly did not limit myself to sounds in the space itself, as the space had to be seen in it’s context. Since this was not a stand-alone house, but it was part of a complex community. Therefore I did not want to look at the space as an isolated project, but also respect the grief of the surrounding residents. As I turned these recordings into a soundscape I tried to incorporate both the storyline of the residency as well as the tensions and dynamics with the environment.

Participating artists included the I’m With You organizers Christa Holka, Johanna Linsley and R. Justin Hunt, as well as residing artists Eirini Kartsaki, Liz Rosenfeld, Owen Glyndwyr Parry, Season Butler and Sophie Robinson. The publication itself was beautifully designed by Vanessa O’Reilly and Emma Leslie.

This publication can be purchased for £7 (+ additional postage). More info and how to get your own copy: here

3 years ago
Post has 4 notes.
soundscape audio

Aware+Present soundscape (mapping sites)

It’s been a while since I updated, but this is the first in a series of new projects I’m working on and participating in. So there should follow more soon!

Aware+present by janmertens

This soundpiece was written, recorded and mixed on 1 night as one part of the multi-layered project by visual artists Aimée Xenou and Nora Rabins. They travel for two weeks from private home to private home where they will be hosted for one night and co-produce sculptural art with community members. One component of their project is also to create a soundscape orchestra. This orchestra consists of 14 sound artists working from their homes, activating private homes as sites of artistic action on yet another level. For each specific day of our travels, one sound artist ‘translates’ our emotions, as generated by the movement we perform, into a sound-scape. The day on which the travel performance ends an additional sound-scaper will sample all sounds and, hence, create the sound track of ‘mapping sites’. During the project’s closing event, an affiliated group of movement artists will translate this soundtrack ‘back’ into movement, conceptually closing the circle of action.

The 2 emotions I was given for day 8 of the project were: “Aware” and “Present”. This piece is intended to reflect these emotions.

More information on their project can be found at: http://www.mappingsites.org

It’s been a really interesting project for me to work on, and I totally recommend anyone to check out their blog and the rest of their work!

3 years ago
Post has 5 notes.
video soundscape audio

Fun with cancer patients: action #1 - Tommyknockers, Tommyknockers

I’m very glad I was able to participate in this admirable project directed by Brian Lobel. The goal of this project is to offer people a platform to identify some key changes and effects that resulted from the cancer they have experienced/are experiencing. Having lost someone very close to this disease, I’m very proud to contribute to this project.

The different contributions to the project are catalogued as actions. For the first action Brian was looking for someone to edit the 1,5 hour recording of the action into a 5,5 minute piece. This piece is used as a soundtrack to the pictures of the action, taken by Christa Holka.

Watch the result

Read more about this action and others on Brian Lobel’s website, or on the fun with cancer patients website.

3 years ago
Post has 5 notes.
lay-out cleaves magazine

cleaves three: \ london: miraculous continuum

Some time ago, I was asked by Johanna Linsley to assist her with the lay-out of her London feature in the Cleaves journal (issue #3). The cover features an amazing painting by Olga Raciborska.

Read the article

Read More


Y-K-W Catalogue for the Library of You-Know-What

I’ve been really bad at maintaining this blog over the past few months, but time has come for change! I’ve been travelling a lot (more on that soon), and moreover I’ve been moving countries, I left Ghent (Belgium) for a new adventure in London.

As a first update on these exiting times, I’d like to inform you on another edition of “Cruising for art” at the Forest Fringe performance festival in Edinburgh on 11 August, 2010. Brian Lobel threw another edition of the lovely concept originally performed at the V&A. I provided the soundtrack for Johanna Linsley’s sexy library: Y-K-W Catalogue for the Library of You-Know-What. Which is another variation on the library-inspired performances previously performed at the V&A museum and Shunt.

For more pictures (by Christa Holka) and information on the series visit Brian Lobel’s website

Other artists contributing that night include: Season Butler, Johanna Linsley, Eirini Kartsaki, Mamoru Iriguchi, Liz Rosenfield, Arkem, Rachel Mars, Benjamin Sebastian, Jonathan Kemp, Owen Parry, Justin Hunt, Xana Marwick, Ellie Dubois, Kim Donohoe


4 years ago
Post has 4 notes.
performance soundscape report sandra le stav b

Are you with me? I’m with you! - by Sandra Le

Picture by Sandra Le

Sandra Le put up a very nice review+pictures of the “I’m with you #3” event on her blog.

At the moment she’s also having a photographic exhibition in London, curated by Stav B. I haven’t got the time to check it out myself, but it looks very promising!


Are you with me? I’m with you!

picture by Sophie Allen

I’d like to thank all the lovely people who showed up at the I’m with you event last Saturday. As Christa Holka said “it was a day to choose between either sports or art, and I’m glad some people chose art”.

I had a great time checking out the other artists, and watch people explore my installation. This installation is still in an early stage of development, I was more than happy to learn of your responses (both verbal and non-verbal).
Also make sure you check out the other participating sound artist of that day: Barbara Lambert (blog/myspace).

Pictures of the event can be found here.


Are you with me?

As we speak I’m finishing a new piece called “Are you with me?”. It’ll be an interactive soundscape, inviting visitors to sequence pre-made loops and apply effects in real time.

The piece will first be performed at the “I’m with you event” this weekend, in one of the three lovely garden in Lower Clapton, London.

For more info on this amazing live art event check out the "I’m with you"-blog and join the facebook group. To get in the mood, read this preview by Eleanor Weber.