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!

franco falistoco araya - despojo

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DESPOJO (Dispossession) was produced by Franco Falistoco Araya.

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Franco says

DESPOJO is a sound work which only uses sounds from an old vinyl record — clips and claps. I cut the big sound loop into fragments, creating small samples. Then I limited myself to using few processes — 1 equalizer, 1 reverb, and 1 delay. Anything else I wanted, I had to manually build inside the digital audio workstation. Another important decision during the work process was not to leave my home or sleep until the piece was finished. If I wanted to sleep, I had to finish the work. In this piece, I explored fatigue and auditory exhaustion.

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Inspiring Franco both in the world of sound

I am lucky to have beautiful connections with people I admire. Many of these have arisen from exchanges of work, collaborations, letters; they are immediate, clear, concrete and sincere references. Sol Rezza, Fabian Racca, and Lorenzo Gomez Oviedo share my passion for radio and sound experimentation. Shaun Roberts’ way of working sounds and his voice fascinate me.

And outside of it

Writers like JG Ballard, WS Burroughs, Benjamin, Jung, and Lispector; the futuristic movement; painters including Pollock and El Bosco; engravings; the tarot; typographies; cinema. My cats also inspire me — we have spent a life together and they were present at my most important moments.

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Franco Falistoco Araya is an Argentinian radio producer and sound artist. In his work, he plays with sonic nuances, textures, and tonalities, and appeals to intimate and collective emotions. He makes work in which sound communicates without needing words. For a decade, Franco has been running El RUIDO es el Mensaje, or The NOISE is the Message, a radio project which uses noise as part of a broader sonic language. Find more of Franco’s work on Instagram or Archive.org.



janna graham - to slow down time

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To Slow Down Time was produced by Janna Graham, and features voice and sounds by Yellowknife historian Ryan Silke, the natural radio / VLF recordings of aurora borealis by sound recordist Stephen P. McCreevy, music from Duo for Solo Cello by Sarah J. Ritch, and CBC North newscasts from 2014 and 2015.

It airs for the first time here on Constellations.

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Janna says

In October, 2014, Atsumi Yoshikubo, a Japanese tourist, was seen walking down the highway outside of Yellowknife with a camera and a shoulder bag. It was the last time she was seen alive. The following summer, a friend of mine, Ryan Silke, discovered her belongings in the bush, not far from town. 

Rather than delving into how Atsumi died — her death was assumed to be intentional — I began thinking about how we engage in certain processes to slow down time.  If you are tying a rope or laying out a fish net on the ice in the winter, the elders tell you to go slow. In frigid temperatures, there's deliberation and intention to every movement. It becomes impossible to move fast. Engines fail, ice fog hangs in the air.. minutes seem suspended.  I imagined Atsumi, like many tourists who visit the north, was hoping to see the aurora borealis. While it was cloudy that week she went missing, the aurora are, in fact, always pulsating in the northern sky. These natural radio signals coming from the earth's magnetosphere are always resonating. 

Natural VLF recordings of aurora borealis, which are present throughout this piece, were recorded by American sound recordist Stephen P. McCreevy. While aurora borealis are not audible to the human ear,  slowed down and processed, it's possible to hear the eerie, electric emissions. The process of environmental field recording is, to me, also a manner of slowing, or savoring, a moment in time. I have heard stories of near-death experiences were time is hyper-slowed and the soul exits the body.  All of these, as well as the beautiful yet brutal northern wilderness, are sewn into the feel of the piece. 

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Inspiring Janna both in the world of sound

Community radio, indigenous language broadcasts from scrappy studios, badass women everywhere making creative radio; community builders;  the amazingly generous producers I've met when I'm able to travel to International Features Conference, Hearsay International Audio Fest and, visit virtually at the Association of Independent Radio Producers — all solid anchors in what sometimes feels like a sea of remoteness. 

And outside of it

Long, meandering trips by motorcycle by map, two-stepping, Joan Halifax,  zydeco, Patti Smith, growing food, sound installations for very small audiences, all kinds of poetry and the hilarious and zen world of dogs.

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Janna Graham is currently based somewhere between Yellowknife, NWT and Canada's east coast. She is a radio feature maker, sound forager, and long-time community radio champion. Her work has aired on public radio as well as on neighbourhood pirate radio transmissions.

Check out a recent doc by Janna’s, a feature for SWR 2 (Germany) that explores the poetics of long distance travel by dog sled here.