Tuesday, 12 November 2013

Elevator Pitch

I've found a spot to listen to elevators. I was here for 20 minutes or so, it's kind of hypnotic.

I've never really gotten into listening to urban noises but I figured I probably should. I like sounds and I like the juxtaposition of foreground and background. Foregrounds and backgrounds are relative ideas, always subjective and sometimes arbitrary. But it's pretty lame to take them for granted---what sound is a background noise and what makes it so? I want to try to actively listen and consciously decide on what sounds should come forth to occupy my attention. I can't do that ALL the time obviously because that would drive me insane, but I want to start doing it once in a while and seek out soundscapes that I don't usually notice.

I think a good listening spot needs to meet two criteria. Firstly, you should be in a position where you won't disturb the sound source. Following this, you should probably also not be in a place where you would directly creep people out because then they would alter the soundscape by loudly saying things like hey what the hell are you doing here man get out of my garden. This relates to the second criteria: you should be in a position where people won't disturb you. Thirdly, I prefer a place with the acoustics for mad reverb but I guess this one is optional.

This elevator spot meets all criteria and more. It's on the highest(8th) level of a parking garage, on top of the HEMA in Beursplein. It's called Q-Park. I was here on a Friday evening and there were no cars parked on this top level at the time, so the elevators never came up to this floor. I think most people don't like to park high if they can park low, and at a time where there're not many cars in town they can park pretty low. The way it worked out is that there were still cars coming in and out the lower levels, and on Fridays the HEMA stays opened until 9 o'clock, so there is a pretty big time-window in which the elevators are constantly in use but no one who uses it would come to where this spot is. It makes for an ideal listening set-up. Also the reverb is siiick.

My priority is not in recording so the footage above is pretty rudimentary but I just wanted a sample to share. There are several components to the sound here: that 2-step-ringing when the elevators reaches a floor, the motors working, the sound of a metallic scrapping, and of course the sound of people stepping in and out of elevators*. The two elevators both produce these sounds upon triggering and sometimes they harmonize, with every sound travelling up the shaft. Aside from the elevators, there are also secondary sounds from the streets and the city outside. They are dimmer, but if an ambulance on sirens rushes by or something it also plays a prominent part. When I was there it was raining pretty hard and this contributed to the general mooding too.

This soundscape is actually aesthetically pleasing, and if I brought a chair and a book I could potentially spend a long time here. But also in terms of meanings, I like the idea that these sounds are each initiated by people interacting with the elevator, with the building, and although they don't notice it, it is as if they are playing the building as a grand musical instrument. My listening to this live performance and their not being aware of my presence is in itself a kind of unilateral relationship. I have made it pretty clear that I am very fond of these sounds, and I don't even know any of these people. Nevertheless the setting provides a system by which anybody can participate to produce something that I, in a listener's position, can enjoy. And this is a system that I have found, the elevators were probably not designed with this purpose in mind, but maybe they should be. If buildings were designed to receive, remix, direct and present sounds, they can potentially generate a lot of unique musical experiences and social practices. I hope to find more spots for these sonic observations in Rotterdam. The quick idea is checking out other multi-layered parking garages and their elevator spaces.

*the thought that there's some dude listening to you walking in and out of an elevator is probably very creepy in itself, not to mention that you might have also had a conversation with a friend in the elevator or something. But if I did park my car and were just waiting for my elevator in that space, I could've heard you anyway. Although the enclosed elevator gives the appearance of private space, it is not always designed to keep your sounds private and doesn't claim to do so. If someone overheard your conversation in public, is it just as creepy? Maybe. It's a pretty grey area. These considerations again remind us to be aware of what we expect spaces to do, what they actually do, and how we can always give it some extra thoughts when we use any space to do anything.

and elevators are already a little creepy. Have you seen that film?

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