Resonant Cities

steve roden
CD in slim jewel box
edition: 1000
trente oiseaux

  1. resonant cities 49'00"

these notes were available as a pdf file on the CD along with the music.

“resonant cities was created for the 2002 kunst radio series ‘frequencity’, curated by steve bates.

the premise of the series was to consider:
“the notion that radio be a conduit that transmits the movement of a city, its ebb and flow, its noise and its melody, its church bells, speeches, transmissions, barking dogs, parades. In this series, artists will use city sounds to create and perform works that reflect a social reality.” steve bates

once steve had invited me to participate,  i started this project many times in my head before it ever got to the compositional stage. i began with the idea of recordings based on the perimeter of the block i live on in pasadena – but i was in vancouover at the time. it moved on to include the architectural landmarks of los angeles that i remember from childhood, recording the sites where these things used to exist – but this thought came to me while in miami. i then decided on a long conceptual process oriented work for a city i was visiting for the first time – but by the time i began the recordings i had to leave miami for nyc – a place i had been many times before. at this point, jumping from one new city to one i had visit almost every year, i had completely given up on the idea of using my own city – my “home”.

it was a two week stay in japan a month later when i realized i had been to japan so many times (my wife is japanese) that i no longer felt like a tourist even though i still can’t speak the language. i no longer impatiently plead with my in laws to take me to temples and rock gardens. kobe is also my ‘home’.

over the last two years i have traveled to another city at least once every other month; and i seem to spend several weeks in one place other than my own city at least 5 or 6 times a year. it becomes very sci-fi when japan is only  nine and a half hours away, and i am so comfortable when i am there that i make recordings of the wind blowing a scarf against the wall instead of the temple bells and other ‘exotic’ things that attracted me on my first few visits.

i realize that my activities in terms of scrounging around for source materials have become the same no matter what city i am in. this almost lackadaisical attitude to being on the ‘other side of the world’ impacts my view of documentation and my choices to deal with sounds that are not expressively location specific. the things that attract my audio interest in a city are no longer location specific – but exist in a fuzzy area where cities are defined more by moments of perception than by specific audio characteristics. at this point i believe that i tend to seek the same things in every city; and similarly, there are things in every city that i always struggle to get away from.

my work has always been about what rilke called the ‘inconsiderable things’ – the things that most people don’t notice or simply pass by uncaring. in letters to a young poet he speaks of an artist seeking these ‘inconsiderable things’ as something to bring to ones innermost being as the basis of their art. after searching through my library of field recordings for material for this project, i realized that my visits to most cities are a kind of hunting activity to gather these inconsiderable audio things – and indeed as i listened to lot of these sounds they conjured up some very strong memories of moments when i have been in a city yet felt outside of ‘city’ – as though an intimate listening or soundmaking activity can completely take one outside of their immediate environment – to a place where the sound one is listening to begins to define the parameters of space. even quiet sounds, if one listens closely and intimately can direct one’s attention away from the existing ‘scenery’…

as i move from city to city i don’t feel like a nomad as much as i feel like someone who is always trying to find this kind of physical intimacy with an unfamiliar place. if the core of my visual and sound works is generally an attempt to make my inspirations my own (i don’t love the world’s robert bresson, i love my own robert bresson); then i think my attempt to record these ‘familiar’ activities in places is a way of attempting to make each city my own as well. to fit this square peg into the round hole that is my work. and thus, i have seldom used the location specific recordings of the exotic in turkey and my early temple bell gathering trips to japan – for these might conjure up every tourist’s turkey; or every visitor’s japan. it is the recordings that ultimately deny the city its uniqueness and bring it all back to abstraction – to a purer listening experience that allows one to focus on the sound rather than the source – this is the focus of so much of my work – to keep it personal and to keep it abstract so that it is open to any experience on the part of a listener.

as i went through my library of field recordings in an attempt to find source materials for this project, i found a series of investigations of ‘resonant objects’. i had recorded metal coat hangers in motel rooms in new mexico, arizona, and paris – all many years apart; i had recorded the drones of radioators, air conditioners, and other such machines in asia, europe, and here in the usa; i had recorded wind – not the sound of the blowing; but its effect on other objects such as a hanging woolen scarf in kobe, a street light in a parking lot in cabazon california, and a glass door at the pompidou center in paris – and this is only the first stage of my  audio microscope – i would call it the directional stage – the microphone pointing, the initial discovering… as i listened to my archives, it became very clear to me that now my interest is not really the traffic in greece (nor, perhaps was it then, when i simply pointed a microphone out the hotel window); but a slight high pitched sound that happens for a second or two in the background. when i make field recordings, the  attempt is not simply to document the sound that i hear or think i hear; it is an attempt to capture things in the background that my ears most likely wouldn’t notice during the initial listening and recording process – to push the intimacy of the initial discovery to a place where an even deeper discovery can be made as one goes back to the moment of initial discovery only to discover new things lurking in the backgrounds.

for me, the city – any city – is a kind of garden of inconsiderable things; of intimate listening spaces and resonant objects. ultimately it is about the quiet moments in the city – that perhaps the city can’t notice beneath the bed of its own primary sounds. i am attempting in a way to dig beneath all of the noise and confusion at the surface of the city, and to move to a place where details can be seen at a much slower pace than in shinjuku station.

this radio piece can act as a kind of reflector as the sounds of cities are indeed reflected back onto other cities – it is about the creation of a smaller quieter city within a city that is always moving – a space or a place where one can settle down and really listen – not so much to the sounds of the subway, but to the breaths that are quietly hovering beneath them – of course, there is hidden music everywhere.

this entire work is made up from the following processed, fragmented, and ‘pure’ field recordings.

traffic from a window in athens
child kicking a tin can as he walks by me in cannakale
voice reading the koran in istanbul
voices on train from slovenia to vienna

coat hangers in motel 6 in gallup new mexico
woolen scarf tapping on window due to wind in kobe japan
the ocean in mykonos
towel rack in motel 6 in scottsdale arizona
bathroom fan in hotel room in brasilia brasil
birds in birdcages in market in sao paolo brasil
glass door and wind at the pompidou center in paris
metal coat hangers in hotel room in paris
unknown location paris
radiator in hotel room in berlin
flagpole outside the museum of contemporary art miami florida
piano and voices at tonic in new york
light post and wind in cabazon california
fish seller in kobe  japan

no other sounds or sound sources were used.

resonant cities originally had the subtitle: as she gently floats away. the piece is dedicated to ruth steiner, a very very old friend who died while i was working on this piece. for most of the time that i was digging through my sound library and layering the sounds into a composition, she was slowly fading; and there were moments, such as the piano sounds near the end, where it simply felt like i was writing music for her, as a way of  saying goodbye. one of those moments where one feels that the music is simply coming to you from a source other than yourself. it flows through you as opposed to coming from you.

i have never met a person who had the kind of glow that ruth had – that had as much life in them; and had the ability to share that life with every one else who knew her. it is with love of course, but also with the humblest of gratitude for sharing that life with me that i dedicate this work to her and her memory.

steve roden, 2002

  • reviews:
  • Resonant Cities was created for “Frequencity,” a series for Kunst Radio curated by Steve Bates. The series was premised on the notion of radio as “a conduit that transmits the movement of a city, its ebb and flow, its noise and its melody, its church bells, speeches, transmissions, barking dogs, parades.” In his liner notes (which are included as a pdf on the CD), Steve Roden discusses his impressions of cities, of travelling from one to the other, of hunting for those “inconsiderable things” Rilke writes of, and remarking that “even quiet sounds, if one listens closely and intimately can direct one’s attention away from the existing ‘scenery.'” For my own part, I have also considered such things, thinking not only of Rilke but of Pessoa: “In broad daylight, even the sounds shine.” You can record the sounds of a city with your eyes closed; the sounds them-selves, when you find them, or when they find you, seem to erase the visual city and replace it with their own, intensely personal reality. Using recordings made in various cities around the world, Roden has created a piece in which reveals aspects of the city’s sounds, with a particular focus on resonant objects, capturing the sounds of those “inconsiderable things” which reveal themselves when approached with careful attention. The piece unfolds slowly and with great care and subtlety; these sounds are truly shining. I won’t describe the sounds we hear on Resonant Cities, how the piece is arranged or how it unfolds in however many movements, nor will I reproduce Roden’s list of sound sources for you here, but I will instead encourage you to listen to this piece; simply listen, and explorethis personal exploration of the sounds that surround us, in every city,or in no city at all, the sounds that can simply be said to exist.

    richard di santo
  • ‘Resonant Cities’ was created for a radio project, which seems to have influenced the structure. While it is one long track of 4X minutes, it is more ‘active’ than many other of Roden’s longer pieces (whether tracks or albums) and is composed of parts or studies (scenes from a city) which are edited into each other (either through changes in instrumental balance or cross fading). I identified about 11 different ‘bits’, although each part is not itself static. Included on the disk are extensive liner notes as a pdf-file which explains both the aesthetic decisions behind the interpretation of ‘resonant’ and the sample sources.

    For most of the piece the sounds are typically soft and restrained – there is a slight theme of subterranean rumbles, but no strong linkage other than the resonance. I started here to describe (try) each of them and it was absurd. A different tack – we open underground, hearing rumbles and little taps, occasional thuds, scraping that drifts away as a tannoy announces over a high whistling. Then one of a variety of rumbling sequences with scraping and buzzy rumble before a chiming delicacy, probably created from coathangers. We move through the city, hearing phone tone loops and rattling cans; tones that become a music box playing in the wind; active clip-scrape and then voices coming backwards though a blowing vent. We move back underground (perhaps we haven’t left) as a rumbling comes down passages where hollow winds blow – something rolls towards us, scraping; an open squeaking as gongs and little taps chime. Is that rain clicking above us, more whooshings, more obvious cuts to the loops that open out to chiming metal. A resonant dripping builds as more voices are heard flowing backwards, becoming chant-like then fade leaving the drips. Then a final, longer section. It is louder – a vent blows tonally, backward tones play over a chattering (a flock of birds, people), these sounds slowly receding until they are pulsing throbs. But a piano note plays, and a metal sound develops in the spaces created by the pulsing tones. Distant looped voices conclude the final minute of our dreamlike journey.

    Which is what this performance becomes – rather than a site installation like many of Roden’s pieces, it reconceptualises a variety of sites within the imaginary city and takes us to them. The main disappointment is more of a frustration – it would be great to spend longer at each. But we have to accept the limitations of the medium (I can imagine a DVD which allows you to stay and listen at sites for longer) and flow through in the time allotted. It is a varied and interesting journey.

    jeremy keens, ampersand
  • Roden is credited with coining the term ‘lowercase sound’ and when one listens to his work one can see why. His carefully constructed pieces bear all the hallmarks of the gentle precision of a sculptor working a base material – in this case sound – into an object of often startling beauty.

    ‘Resonant Cities’ is no exception. A single piece which evolves over forty-nine gently growing minutes, it weaves together a tapestry of textures culled from the world’s cities. Roden scoured his “library of field recordings for material for (the) project” before fabricating a mesmerising series of intertwined soundscapes to create what in essence appears to be the archetypal city, a steady stream of drones and careful field recordings.

    From a diverse series of sources ranging from a ‘fish seller in Kobe’ to a ‘radiator in a hotel room in Berlin’ Roden forms a portrait not of one specific city, but of an idealised city, an imagined location rich and resonant. His captivating passages paint a picture of his extensive travels – a sonic postcard which leaves the listener eager for more.

    CM, array/fallt
  • I’m gonna rely a lot on the liner notes for this review, because details are everything. The single track is 49+ minutes, composed of ‘inconsiderable things’, which mr. Roden summarizes as distinct environmental characteristics which are normally dismissed. For this work, mr. Roden has chosen to begin with such sounds as coat hangers, a woolen scarf, glass doors, and a side-effect of traffic sounds in Greece. He performs his usual manipulations and transformations on his source, yet in composing them together, he largely allows the sounds to stand on their own. It’s a sparse collage which only bleeds together at the edges — that is, until the end of the piece, where he just goes hog wild with everything. Yes, so that’s the details… but it says very little about what the album sounds like. In brief, I find there’s something curiously voyeuristic about the listening experience, probably because it’s apparent that most of it was recorded from hotel rooms. Yeah. ‘Experience’ is probably the best word I can think of. Like most of the artist’s work, it was available as a limited release, so you may want to check the inventory at Trente Oiseaux.

    ambience for the masses