Dominic Smith – The Exploded Lunch – Report Five – Small Objects Of Power

Do objects have an aura? By aura I mean, does an original object create a unique atmosphere amongst those viewing it, or does it trigger a distinct feeling that it is imparting information to the beholder that a perfect copy of the object would not? What you are about to read is an account of an experiment that I undertook for this report. It does not follow a robust method, there was no real effort made to establish a control group or to seek peer review and oversight. It was a creative investigation. The broadcast report and these show notes are therefore presented as an artwork.

For the sake of this report, let us presuppose that object aura as pondered is real, without getting slowed down by all the arguments that exist around this subject. So, in the world that we have created for this report, how do we then go about capturing this sensation. How do we record the indescribable exchange of information?

When working on the last report, I wrote about my rationale for asking participants to record their dreams to electromagnetic tape. I had a hunch, or a maybe a moment of intuition that it felt right to use a recording medium that would be affected by the environment in which it was used and stored. This was a thought that extended beyond the report into a series of thoughts until I began to see a clear path towards the next real-world experiment. I began to wonder, just how sensitive is cassette tape to its environment and how do you go about using it to record and decode external environmental influences?

A plan emerged.

I placed nine, 30cm strips of audio tape in identical plastic pots, each pot also contained a unique object. I chose objects that had different material properties. Objects that had had different uses and journeys since their manufacture or growth. I then stored the pots with their contents for several days. Once I had the sense that enough time had passed, I removed the tape and scanned it with a bespoke hand held playback head I made from an old cassette recorder[1] (media art types reading this, think, Nam June Paik’s ‘Random Access’ piece). The resulting audio was what you would expect, mostly silence with a few clicks and pops. I could have given up at this point. But I didn’t.

I sat on the audio files for a few days, thinking to myself “I really don’t know what I expected” and wondering how to explore it further. How do you magnify a sound? What instruments exist that enable you to target the smallest part of a recorded sound to seek new information and understand its hidden nature? Out of frustration I took the first recording, Object One, ‘The Key’ and I stretched the two seconds of audio so that it lasted for around ten minutes. I hit play and I could not believe what I was hearing. The resulting audio is a complex landscape that sounds inhabited. It has a sense of space and a resonant quality that must be heard to be believed and understood. I wondered, could this be a mistake, could it be a fluke? So, I did it again with object number two, ‘The Shell’ and a wholly different soundscape emerged, this time it sounded alive, it had portrayed multiple layers of pulsing electricity that intertwined and resonated to produce endless ghost notes and harmonies that vanish just as they start to form recognizable patterns. I played it back to friends and family and they were stunned.

The thing is, with this project, the temptation is to produce interesting stories. I had been tempted to open my bag of tricks and ‘swede’ it. To fake it till I make it. To put my sound design skills to work and make a bunch of fake audio landscapes. But I genuinely didn’t have to. This was was perhaps one of the bigger surprises. What I present to you here is a set of stretched recordings that have had a bit of EQ work done, so that the low frequencies don’t pop your speakers and the high frequencies don’t hurt your ears. There is a bit of reverb added just for showbiz purposes. But other than that, they are presented as is. And that is something I am still trying to wrap my head around. Perhaps imagination is a powerful and pervasive thing.

I continued working through this process until we have the current report.

This one feels a bit special. It is perhaps another new road to travel, (which, to be honest each report to date has been). There are definitely more experiments to undertake and more to learn from this process. But then, too much prodding might kill the magic. As I said at the start of this piece, the work is presented as art, and I get the feeling that this report would make a great live performance…

[1] I tested the tape head with pre recorded tapes and it worked surprisingly well.

Thank you to everyone at the Star and Shadow (thank you Mike in particular) Thank you to everyone at Radio-On And thank you to members of the growing circle of trust around this project for your encouragement and really useful feedback.