What exactly is SOUND//SPACE?
SOUND//SPACE is a mutifaceted art project. With an independent record store at its heart, SOUND//SPACE becomes a community hub celebrating the culture and virtues of independent thinking, making and doing in contemporary music and sound art.
Focussing on the handmade and designed via physical media, the SOUND//SPACE with its series of associated workshops, talks, performances, audio and film screenings seeks to incite creativity and independent thinking – through accessibility and interactive education – and thus highlights sound as a vital creative medium, and independent releasing/publishing of physical media as a perennial and compelling creative tool and means of provocative, yet accessible dissemination, within the arts and creative industries today.
What inspired the decision to set it up?
I’ve had a tiny store at the gallery since SoundFjord opened back in July 2010. It featured sound artists the gallery had worked with and a few submissions I had been impressed by. So it was something that interested me a great deal, but was not a focus, in the main because I did not have the space to allow it to bloom into something larger and focussed.
The opportunity to create a music store began to spark when I was introduced to the staff at V22 Collection via a mutual acquaintance, the wonderfully talented Andie Brown who herself was sensitive to the acoustic properties of the huge space V22 was operating its studios from at Bermondsey.
In early 2012 I’d been asked by V22 Collection to submit a proposal for their three-month long V22 Summer Club project. It was to be held in their halls, an ex-biscuit factory over 50,000 sq. ft; a fascinating and impressive space to be used by artists, creatives and community leaders as a playground for cross-collaboration and dissemination. The two main halls had fabulous resonance and reverberation, something I was instantly taken by, as well as it’s majestic, almost cathedral like visual aesthetics. I was also impressed by the openness to creativity that the V22 staff had and so was overwhelmed with ideas. In the end it made sense that there would be a focus for my project and as I have always been interested in working with others and bringing together disparate communities, having a pop-up shop of some kind seemed to make sense. It seemed right that the seed of a store that was waiting to sprout at SoundFjord would journey to Bermondsey and receive nourishment from the space and the other events taking place at V22.
So in earnest I set about devising a plan for a pop-up record store that would also be a community focus, a hub for events of educational and inspirational merit as well as the sheer enjoyment of sound and music. Something we can all appreciate to one extent or other. It was also my interest to promote the creativity of the artist/label to a wider consumer/audience, so it was important that I would showcase the most distinctive and forward thinking labels via multiple formats. I decided to have listening station for those curious or unaware of the releases/artists available to listen in-store, especially as I wanted to encourage conversation about the work but also about sounds and musical styles that may be new to a listener not acquainted with the music and sound art represented.
It was important that SOUND//SPACE was inviting to all, so the store had to be “exhibited” in an aesthetically appealing manner. Thus I used my background in book buying, and visuals merchandising, as well as my interest in artist’s books as a template to create a store that would be inviting and have a visual strength of its own.
How have you gone about selecting the labels/musicians etc to involve? Is it a case of the more the better, or has there been a particular criteria for selection?
I used my own specialism in sound art as a basis, contacting individuals and labels I knew through my general interest and research as well as my work at SoundFjord. I was interested in working with artists and labels in particular that were creating or producing work that embodied the artist edition, and thus featured customising or hand-made elements or which was made in limited quantities but still showed quality and ingenuity of production and integrity of vision.
I was also interested in featuring works by artists that used the format conceptually, i.e. it made you listen to the piece in a particular way, or in a particular place perhaps associated with or disparate to musical tradition. I was thus interested in taking not just the norms into the store, such as records, CDs and cassettes, which in themselves may be seen as outmoded or hold a retro chic/nostalgia depending on whom you are talking to – but also floppy discs, dongles, reel-to-reel tape, download codes on badges and posters and such.
The idea of the store was not “the more the better” as we did not want to overwhelm our audience nor smack of corporate businesses that “stack ‘em high, sell ‘em quick”. The concept was more like a gallery submission. I chose to highlight and indeed showcase what I believed to be the brightest stars in the arena today; an arena that might usually be overlooked by record stores because the labels are too small or the artists unknown, or perhaps the music is seen as too obscure or “difficult” for an audience’s musical tastes.
Expanding further I researched, listened to a lot of music and took recommendations from friends and colleagues that work as researchers and critics. It was also invaluable that labels often have links to like-minded labels on their websites, so the family grew exponentially yet naturally. I also always put out open calls. Of course it creates more work to sift through and listen to releases, but I’m often pleasantly surprised by work out there I’d never have found otherwise. Indeed, Lisa Busby who runs the extraordinary Editions of You distro (from her desk at Goldsmiths University) – who we now have as a concession in-store – wrote to me after seeing our call.
The single criteria that was necessarily enforced was that labels had to work on consignment – sale or return. Working this way was vital, making it feasible to run the store on the small budget I had.
SOUND//SPACE is said to instil “the necessity for and vitality of independent thinking publishing and the handmade”. Why do you consider this to be a necessity?
As an artist, the notion of relinquishing creativity to homogenised thought is a little repugnant. It’s through independent thinking that things are questioned rather than accepted on face value, and I’ll like to perpetuate that in the store. DIY music culture has been a necessary way for people to self-release, to get their work to a public whose tastes may be restricted to what they can find in-store, or what the record stores are prepared to release. It’s a way to get music from the underground to a wider audience, and to play with and subvert what is already available.
SOUND//SPACE embraces artists (and the things they make) that are on the periphery and are single-minded. Thus we champion artists that explore their instrument, their medium and the format they release works on; artists that think about how one listens, the environment where one listens in, even the fabrics and objects they bring together to make a physical release: handmade box structures, fabric rolls, sewn slip cases, mixed-media and found objects, perhaps simply subverting or indeed embracing what is known – recontextualisation and juxtaposition – painted on jewel cases, “outmoded” formats.
It’s also important for SOUND//SPACE that we question the world around us and smile at it too. I don’t want the store to seem simply as an intellectual procedure but to contain equal measures of humour, fun and sensorious pleasure. The store is there to be explored intellectually and aesthetically; the objects are there to be picked up, surfaces are there to be felt, and the sounds are there to be woken via our various listening stations.
How do you plan to take advantage of the nature of the space itself (size, dimensions, location)?
Sound and space were forefront in my mind when I first encountered the V22 Halls, so I decided to name of the store and its events after my interest, and what would become the focus for events. For me the two were so intertwined that I could not separate the two words: SOUND//SPACE. So right away I started thinking about whom or what might work well with the variety of spaces available to me. There was our project space – an acoustically untreated room 5 x 6m; a sound-proofed cinema space, larger in size; the F3 space, with it’s café and the SOUND//SPACE shop, as well as other pockets of activity; and there was also the main F2 space, huge, and monstrously empty.
For the SOUND//SPACE programme, I have specifically chosen to work with artists that I know will relish the challenge of performing in and with the unique acoustic characteristics of V22’s large F2 hall. I’ve also engaged other performers in a residency at the space, working within and around the large hall. The former will react to the space and it’s acoustic qualities with immediacy, whilst the latter will spend time getting to know the qualities of the space, finally create a durational performance where sounds will be introduced into the hall as well as shaped within the space.
I have also been working with Simon Reynell of Another Timbre, a Sheffield-based label specialising in contemporary composition and improvisation. He has curated an evening of performance by musicians who likewise will draw from and emphasise the characteristics of the F2 space.
Within the SOUND//SPACE project space I’ve organised a varied programme of events closely associated with the store: inspirational talks and educational, participatory workshops, as well as small-scale but intense label showcases. The cinema space at V22 will be use for AV performances, listening and live performance events where a focussed atmosphere is necessary.
Many events are taking place during the time that SOUND//SPACE is open. What do you hope visitors will gain from the opportunity to participate in these events?
SOUND//SPACE’s performances are there to inspire and to actively engage a public with sound and architectural space within specific and re-appropriated contexts, whilst I hope SOUND//SPACE’s in-store activities (workshops, talks, master-classes) inspire a further interest in and greater understanding of sound within a creative, social, cultural and philosophical context. These events are there not only to stimulate interest and intellectual rigour, but also to educate participants with specialist as well as practical skills, enabling them to create their own work under the guidance of experts, to feel confident when collaborating with others, and to find innovative ways to disseminate their work to the public. I also hope SOUND//SPACE events will be a democratic place for communication across interest and specialisms within V22’s creative arena.
Sound art thrives quite prominently as an online community, with the internet offering a means of artistic collaboration/connection and a retail outlet for the music itself. What does the physicality of SOUND//SPACE offer that the online community cannot?
I agree that the online community is thriving, with forums, social networks, specialist listings and news boards, online exhibitions and places like Soundcloud to promote works and Bandcamp among others to sell them. And yet, perhaps the answer is in the question; it’s the physicality itself that is missing and which is needed to get the complete experience of many sound practices and works per se. As an analogy it’s a little like when you look at a painting in a journal, you think you know the size, dimensions, colour, texture of the paint, but then you visit it in a gallery and realise you are mistaken. I think this is also the same for sound art; there has always been an element of expression via tangible formats and social transmission where direct contact is important.
Specifically, SOUND//SPACE is a location, a venue that encourages local community and those that are not actively engaged with the community to find out more. It’s about shared as well as singular experiences; and about live sessions as much as it is downloads; as well as fostering actual social networks in addition to their online counterparts.
SOUND//SPACE enables the visitor to drop by and to actively engage with knowledgeable staff, creative (tangible) material, and meet like-minded and curious individuals, as well reach out to our online networks – we often put documentary footage and photographs online, or stream live to those that are unable to visit the store. Visitors are able to listen to most items from the format they are produced on, rather than an mp3 copy or a vinyl, or CD, etc., and they have access to mixed media products such as: books + DVDs or CDs; CDs with ‘zines; dongle and print combos; music with found objects/artefacts included in fabrication; poster with downloads; badges with cassettes; and indeed badges with music downloads.
Ultimately, what SOUND//SPACE hopes to achieve is more than simply access to information: visuals and music. We all live inter-sensorially and however useful the Internet is, a good deal of sensoriousness is missing, for example, the touch, feel, even smell of the product; also kinaesthetic awareness of an individual when visiting the store cannot currently be replicated online, nor would I want it to be. When visiting a store such as SUND//SPACE, the quirks of the shop owner/staff can be perceived (how they stock/visually merchandise the store, sticker favourite releases, etc) and social interaction catered for individual needs can take place in person. An obvious thing, but some things can be lost during online communication when proximity, intonation of voice and body language cannot be perceived in person.
If SOUND//SPACE turns out to be a raving success, would there be any chance of having the space (or a similar one) open on a permanent basis?
SOUND//SPACE was always meant as an art project with a finite span, but one that encouraged others to take on its ideas and carries them forward, perhaps into their own music, the way they disseminate their artwork, or the way they work with others. SOUND//SPACE is about collaboration and encourages others to actively participate in its projects and workshops as well as being a resource and a living archive. So in this respect, I’d be extremely happy if the store lives on in a physical entity, or by way of what it gave to people on a creative, educational, or inspirational level.
I often overhear visitors to SOUND//SPACE saying it’s so refreshing to see and be able to feel and listen to works directly from the format; that it is great to be able to ask what’s new or what’s recommended; to pick out that perfect record yourself rather than have a computer do it (or recommend it to you). That it’s something that is really needed in the UK.
I must say I agree with them. I’d love to keep the store running as it is, however due to hurdles such as finding and funding a space for the store, the excessive time to research and contact labels, then work out contracts, and finally my other commitments at SoundFjord it’s not quite so simple as opening door again after SOUND//SPACE tenure is complete at V22 Summer Club. However I will carry on, on a smaller scale, holding stock at SoundFjord and will look for collaborative ventures so as to resurrect the store again, perhaps as pop-up stores at various fairs or festivals.
All photos by A Company of Enthusiasts/SoundFjord.
SOUND//SPACE website – http://www.sound-space-store.co.uk/
SoundFjord website – http://www.soundfjord.org/