sound

phil smith - the space between stories

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The Space Between Stories was produced by Phil Smith and airs for the first time here on Constellations.

It uses moments from an improvisation with violinist Alison Blunt, recorded in Phil’s kitchen in Berlin. The voices are from conversations with friends, and interviews recorded with poets and musicians and artists over the last few years. The rufous-and-white wren and the symphony of car horns were recorded in Colombia. The piece includes an extract from Rilke's Book of Hours: Love Poems to God, a translation by Joanna Macy and Anita Barrows.

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Phil says:

This piece expresses the ongoing search for home and meaning in a time of ecological collapse and the disintegration of old ideas about our place in the world. It’s an expression of conversations I’m having with friends, and of things I’m reading. It's an attempt to make something spiritual and honest in sound! There are no facts or environmental insights in the piece. It's more about the internal flow of feelings and emotions that come from the desire to believe that we might be on the verge of something truly beautiful, despite (and perhaps also owing to) the health of the planet. I'm reading about the idea that personal traumas and feelings of disconnectedness might well be very much tied to the dominant civilization’s wider sense of separateness from, and superiority over, nature. As Krishnamurti writes, "It's no measure of health to be well adjusted to a profoundly sick society." Joanna Macy describes how we are slowing unhooking ourselves from the "business as usual narrative" (the "world-destroying machine" in Charles Eisenstein's words) and that a "great turning" is underway. Sometimes I want to shout: "All this time we spend not marvelling at existence! All this time spent working, and drinking, and running away from death! All this time spent feeling negative about ourselves and each other! We all mean well! Now let's eat apples and go swimming!" Written down, I can't work out what that looks like. I often worry about that kind of thing. In any case, the piece is a call to ask ourselves the big questions, to “go there”, to contemplate, grieve and heal, and to commit to life and living and joy and mystery. It’s a big exasperated “I don’t know what to do!” and a “but I’m going to do this because it feels right” as well. I tried to bring that spirit into the editing process. It was fun to see how "but the factories needed people" could become "people need trees" with a bit of editing. The piece is imperfect, messy, chaotic, poorly mixed and confused and I quite like it that way.

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Inspiring Phil in the world of sound:

I am recently returned to Europe after six months in Colombia. I loved being surrounded by the sound of Spanish and learning about how it's put together. It was incredible to encounter so many different styles of music and the instruments from different regions as I traveled around. (Here's a show I made in Cali: ) In the dry tropical forest in the north east of the country, I fell in love with (and recorded) the song of the rufous-and-white wren. You hear it whistling in this piece. I also loved the sound of the frogs at night; and in the morning, the bicolored wrens and the fruit sellers ("papaya! papaya! melón!")

And outside of it:

I'm reading Joanna Macy and Anita Barrows' translations of Rilke, and Ursula K. Le Guin's version of the Tao Te Ching. In the last year I've been exploring Thich Nhat Hanh's mindfulness practice and it's been incredible to acknowledge how much of my time on this earth is (and has been) spent in the past or the future rather than the present moment. I'm noticing and appreciating more and more people who do things well (with love) for the sake of it. They're usually quite a bit older than me. I'm finding Charles Eisenstein's book The More Beautiful World Our Hearts Know Is Possible utterly inspiring and comforting and generous. I revisited it in the process of making this piece, using ideas and chapter headings as a way of generating the speech clips that I use (all the voices come from my archive of interviews). Eisenstein also has a podcast: A New And Ancient Story.

Here's a quote: “The more beautiful world my heart knows is possible is a world with a lot more pleasure: a lot more touch, a lot more lovemaking, a lot more hugging, a lot more deep gazing into each other’s eyes, a lot more fresh-ground tortillas and just-harvested tomatoes still warm from the sun, a lot more singing, a lot more dancing, a lot more timelessness, a lot more beauty in the built environment, a lot more pristine views, a lot more water fresh from the spring."

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Constellations Says by Amita Kirpalani:

Phil’s piece begins with a spotlit moment of connectivity - a voice in a crowded bar singing about listening. His melodic and plaintive voice fixes us in an intimacy which leads us both inside and out.

This play with what might read as unaligned disciplines - song, instrumentation, first person spoken tape, field recordings - is absorbing, and this piece demonstrates a dexterity in and between these forms that relays both a fullness (in the world) and conflict (within the self). Voices of sincerity, panic, learned assurance and searching eventually find a resting place rather than a conclusion. The birdsong is a deliberately ironic grounding force, perhaps pointing to an instinctual finding-one’s-way.


The composition makes a metaphor of the audio artist as researcher: navigating a dogged line of enquiry whilst being ensorcelled, distracted and even thrown off course by other sounds. Time can’t help but be spent querying said labour, synthesizing (literally) and questioning the question: surely there are other more urgent or practical things to attend to? And so perhaps this piece is also querying a kind of productive passivity, or intellectual FOMO. Thinking or tinkering with the sound of thought?


This piece reflects a poet’s attention to form through symmetry, where for example a typewriter's clicks recur as crackles in a piece of tape. Phil deploys persuasive speech as an engine in the work, and so by  contrast a casual turn of phrase, spoken in a one-sided phone conversation, can be devastating. And finally we find unexpected comfort in the denouement, set against the whistle of a boiling kettle - that familiar referee who calls a stop to play.

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Phil(ip Mark Christopher) Smith is an artist working with words, music, sound, and radio. Find him @jazzdisjunction.

And check out his piece A Very Different Time, here!

rachel ní chuinn - heavy summer

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Heavy Summer was produced by Rachel Ní Chuinn with Fán O'Toole on piano. It airs for the first time on Constellations.

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Rachel says

I had a baby last February. I wanted to make something that reflects some of my feelings about what that means, without necessarily too many words. Obviously being a mother is a huge change for me. Fán is 9 months old at the moment and sometimes we put her in her high chair and put her up to the piano, and she really enjoys playing and sometimes singing along. I had a recording of Fán playing the piano and singing. I also rediscovered a field recording of a lawn mower in the Botanical Gardens in Dublin that I took a couple years ago which had this compelling drone-like sound. I placed both recordings together and responded by playing the clarinet, which I've recently started playing and love for its expressiveness. 

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Inspiring Rachel both in and beyond the world of sound

I've been a huge fan of Benjamin Walker's for a long time and I am really impressed by his treatment of the real and the fake. I am generally low on sleep and inspiration these days but if it isn't too cloying to say it, watching a tiny human's reactions to sounds is ultimately what I am finding most inspiring as she parses everything with such curiosity and enthusiasm. 

There is a movement in Dublin called Take Back the City that is occupying vacant properties and standing up for families who are being evicted. Dublin is in the middle of a housing crisis and it is inspiring to see people try and tackle the problems with direct action.

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Rachel Ní Chuinn works with sound, movement, text and electronics. She produces sound works for radio, live performance, theatre and installation. Her radio features for RTÉ lyric fm include The Shape of Sounds to Come and Mean Time  — a collaborative concert with 10 sound artists for live broadcast. She has worked on exhibitions and electronic performance with sculptors Vanya Lambrecht Ward, Gillian Fitzpatrick `and Renata Pekowska and many great experimental Irish musicians. She has also recently performed her own music with clarinet and live electronics for Martin Sharry's Running + Walking in the Phoenix Park and is working on a new feature documentary for RTÉ lyric fm about a verbatim opera called The Woods & Grandma.

chris connolly - black beach

photos by chris connolly

photos by chris connolly

Black Beach was produced by Chris Connolly, from a conversation with Andrew Thomson.

Thanks to artist Lee Rosevere for permission to use his track "Illuminations" in this piece.

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Chris says: 

This wasn’t the piece I went searching for as my first extended production, but it was the piece that found me. The heartache at its centre was all I could manage to focus on when I recorded it almost a year ago. It was so off-the-cuff that I forgot to record any extended ambient sound, which left me with only a 12-second loop of waves to work with. I decided to use this as a creative constraint that ended up shaping the piece in an important way.

Initially, I imagined the piece being led by the dialogue, as two men stumbled into and out of the dehumanizing language of masculinity. They seemed to be re-learning something new with the utmost of imperfections -- a way of being together in their pain and loneliness and longing. But as I worked with the tape of the waves, I began to see what I had been missing in own conflicted relationship with masculinity. By layering the waves in crescendos and decrescendos, they began to sound like the breathing of a restless and wakeful presence. I knew that this formed an important character who could bear witness to the powerful forces and voices that are left out whenever men gather -- especially to talk about their pain in relationships of difference with the women and trans* people in their lives.

I wanted to suggest how there are voices and forces that are acting on these men and holding space for something bigger -- whether or not they can see or hear it happening. As these men fall in and out of dialogue with each other, they are also falling in and out of dialogue with the spaces that hold and held them. They still have a long way to go. There is so much that they do not and cannot know. But there is something vital about the instinct to surrender: to fall into those surging waves as they move over and under and through.

Inspirations from the world of radio and sound and beyond:

I’ve been most drawn to the sonic landscapes of poetry lately, especially the book “Passage” by Annishinabe/Mètis writer Gwen Benaway, “Islands of Decolonial Love” by Michi Saagiig Nishnaabe writer Leanne Betasamosake Simpson, and “Devotions” by American poet Mary Oliver. And something about these times has me listening to a lot of classic country albums. (Willie Nelson and EmmyLou Harris have both stopped me in my tracks during each of the last 2 days.) In different ways, each of these speak to me about the counterpoints of love and hardship beyond simple romance, and the dignity of surviving what must never be accepted.

In the sound world, there are two pieces that I returned to while making this piece: Sayre Quevedo’s ‘Espera’, and ‘The Leaves, Frost-Crisp'd, Break from the Trees’ by Jaye Kranz.

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Constellations says:

When we first heard this piece, it was at an earlier stage in its development, at a gathering with a group of Toronto audio aficionados. We both were moved by rawness of the tape. This sort of vulnerable conversation about masculinity was something we'd rarely, if ever, heard before. We love the piece's intimacy, not only in the words spoken but also in its style - the stereo recording, the feeling of being able to drift alongside its narrators as they walk the shoreline. Black Beach is Chris' first foray into audio, and we're so glad to be able to share it here on Constellations.

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Chris Connolly is a producer, design researcher and community organizer. This first extended production marks a career leap into the realms of documentary and sound art, following a lifetime of ephemeral passion projects in live storytelling, poetry, fiction, and creative non-fiction. As a producer, he orchestrates sound-rich stories from fearlessly intimate moments—when uncommon everyday people challenge and reinvent the mainstream cultures they just can’t abide. He has called his home Tkaronto/Toronto, within One Dish One Spoon treaty territory, since 2012.