Paul Purgas
Transcript of final appraisal of the site-specific curatorial toolkit for sonic arts conducted via Zoom remotely on 12 Septmeber 2023.
Matt Williams (M.W) in converstaion with Paul Purgas (P.P)
Let's break this down into sections, starting with the relevance of the dataset. You encountered some issues with data access, and how the data was formatted. But in general, which elements of the dataset did you find most effective?

Are you asking about the dataset's impact on the commission’s development?

Yes, please.

The dataset offered a well-balanced mix of historical contextual information and specific recordings related to the IWA including interviews. It not only provided cultural and political context for Coventry but also presented a broader understanding of the UK during that period.

The variety of materials available was diverse, but what stood out to me were the IWA recordings. They seemed to form the structural backbone of the dataset. Some recordings of the IWA meetings were particularly atmospheric, encapsulating the mood, context, and essence of that era. These recordings played a central role in shaping the narrative progression of the entire composition.

An intriguing element was how the IWA recordings portrayed the experience of being at one of these Coventry meetings. They served as a structural anchor, evoking a sense of the meeting and allowing the piece to oscillate between different temporal, spatial, and historical contexts. The overarching structure felt as if one was attending one of these meetings, with the narrative 
seamlessly transitioning between different memories and moments. A particularly memorable recording was of someone checking a microphone before a meeting. This recording transported me right into the meeting, creating an immersive experience and engagement with that space. It felt performative, regulating sound and audience space, a kind of conducting. 
This became the starting point for my composition.

Were there elements of the dataset that you believe needed further elaboration?

It would have been beneficial to have more field recordings. 
Having a few more would have enriched my sonic understanding of the city. However, there was already enough spoken word, poetry, and song content, which was my main concern.

What challenges did you face while navigating the dataset? I recall you mentioning some issues with the website's format when we spoke earlier.

True, the website provided comprehensive details about each recording, but on OneDrive, they were just filenames. Including a reference document in each folder would have been helpful for identifying each recording. Still, this approach was effective for me. I found it intuitive as I listened to the material and identified moments that resonated with me. However, for someone less experienced, this could pose a challenge. I believe that making all files easily accessible and pairing them with a reference document would be crucial and efficient moving forward.

From a quality perspective, having the file format as WAV or AIFF would be preferable, but if the archive only contains MP3s, that's acceptable. The emphasis should always be on securing the highest quality audio possible. It's vital to pair this with reference text detailing the content, ensuring both are readily available.

Understood. That’s really helpful feedback. And did you require any additional support from me as the principal investigator?

Once the file management of the data set was organised, I felt that you had provided ample support and guidance.

We also discussed specific tools and methodologies from the toolkit, examined various sensory elements, and delved into active and critical listening techniques. Additionally, you highlighted the significance of social and relational work considerations in your practice. We also discussed the importance of field recording, ambient and acoustic elements, and psychoacoustics. Topics such as sound archives, technical obsolescence, sonic encounters, sonic ecologies, and the challenges of interpreting Punjabi spoken word for a non-native speaker were also touched upon. With all of this in mind, could you elaborate on this process?

The process was initially daunting due to the sheer volume of sound. My approach emphasised active listening. I attempted to construct a matrix in which elements had interconnected threads. The IWA meeting was the central anchor, but I was keen to branch out into broader cultural and social dialogues. Rooted in the act of listening, my methodology involved marking significant sections on an expansive Ableton document and then methodically narrowing down to a subset to work from, which subsequently laid the groundwork for crafting a narrative.

The process incorporated the use of Ableton Live 11 software. 
I imported nearly the entire audio data set into it, listening 
attentively and marking moments of relevance or significance. 
This approach offered a streamlined method for annotating while listening, ensuring that I maintained a clear record of pertinent data set elements for the arrangement. Furthermore, I used color-coding for various audio segments, aiding in easy reference for future use.

At the outset, it was crucial to include the introductory voice, followed by the ambiance of the congregation conversing among themselves. The subsequent sound check and the inclusion of the female voice were essential, especially considering the gender imbalance.

When I listened to the IWA recordings, I noticed they were predominantly male voices. However, including the female voice made a significant impact. Her voice stood out distinctly. It felt right to include it, which shifted the narrative away from an exclusively male conversation.

Absolutely. Reflecting on our discussions, do you feel you met the objectives? Without putting words into your mouth, would you say you fulfilled the goals of the brief?

In many ways, I believe I captured its essence through our conversations. I wanted to approach the material without feeling bound by a rigid brief, and our discussions allowed me to engage with the content on a more personal level. A strict brief can sometimes be restrictive, almost like a design exercise.

I understand. It's reassuring to hear that. My intention was to keep the brief open-ended, providing a guideline rather than dictating every step. Do you think this approach was effective?

For this project, mutual trust was crucial. Our visit to Coventry gave me a deeper insight into the overarching concept of the brief. In summary, I think we struck the right balance: offering a structure without being too restrictive.

Absolutely. I never intended the curating process to be restrictive. Curation should pave the way for creativity and experimentation. The goal is to strike a balance between allowing personal exploration and maintaining accessibility. Also, did your mother assist with the translation of certain sections?

She did, in fact. For instance, she identified that the woman's voice was reciting a poem due to its structure and rhythm.

Could you provide the document detailing the Punjabi translations? I think on this occasion its essential for me to offer a transcript so listeners can grasp more than just its auditory form.

I'll see what I can do. She noted it down manually, so I'll need to digitise it first. But I'll make sure to forward it to you.

That would be really helpful.

On the topic of Geoffrey Holroyd's interview, I've got some insights to share. From my experience in radio programming, recording oral histories using two microphones is crucial. Some segments, despite their quality, were unusable because your voice overlapped with Geoffrey's. When you're conducting such interviews in the future, think about employing two mics and be mindful not to interrupt. Regrettably, those overlapping sections with Geoffrey had to be left out.

I see your point. I did get carried away during our discussion. Geoffrey's insights were so captivating. At the time of recording, I saw it as a resource, but in hindsight, it was a profound conversation that could've enhanced the final sound piece.

Precisely. There were moments that were truly golden.

Additionally, the news segment provided essential context, shedding light on Coventry's economic struggles and societal issues of that era. This was complemented by the segment discussing political unrest and voter oppression in West Bengal. Where did you source that clip from?

It's from an IWA meeting recording in the data set. A speaker from West Bengal discussed the rise of Marxism and the challenges they faced from the Indian nationalist ideology. He also talked about election rigging and police oppression in Bengal. He was trying to raise international awareness and garner support.

You introduced Indian music and mentioned a Hindi recording, followed by an interview where a man talks about his skin becoming like stone. 

That recording resonated with me personally, as my Grandfather worked for British Steel. Many migrant workers in the UK faced harsh conditions. The recording captures a man discussing the physical toll of his work in the foundry. I wanted to emphasise the hardships faced by brown bodies in the UK's workplace during that era.

And aligns with the IWA's objective to achieve union recognition at the time.

Absolutely. Even though I had extensive recordings discussing the process of unionising labour in industrial contexts, the part about his hands struck a chord. It brought the human element into the picture and vividly portrayed the struggles workers faced.

As the piece gradually fades with the melodic sound of singing, it adds a poetic touch. I'm contemplating how to classify this sound work. Would you label it as an audio essay? It stands apart from sonic fiction, leaning more towards a documentary style. The interplay between you, the location, and the backdrop appears more pronounced.

Yes, I'd describe it as an audio essay. However, it's important to note that because of my roots in a Punjabi family with a history of manual industrial labour, my approach went beyond an objective examination. On many occasions, I made decisions based on personal connections instead of strictly logical reasoning. 
Reflecting on the toll of manual labour on my family, especially seeing my mother's dedication as an NHS nurse working extensive shifts, I felt compelled to emphasise that aspect. This integration of personal narratives moved it away from a strictly documentary-style approach, adding a more personal and autobiographical touch.

Ok, that's intriguing and solidifies my reason for inviting you to participate. Given our past collaboration on We Found our Own Reality, I believed you'd grasp why I used terms like sonic excavation and sonic palimpsest to depict the layering and temporality of the integrated sounds. I was hesitant about the term "soundscape" due to its potential oversimplification and its connection to visual metaphors, a topic we touched on while crafting the press release for that project. For this venture, I've opted for "acoustic environment." I've also ventured into terms like urban curation. However, during my collaboration with Flock Together, the group leaned towards "inner city" over "urban" because of the negative undertones associated with ghettoised spaces. 

Reassessing the terminology became a cornerstone of my research, especially concerning the curatorial toolkit. Our discussions and my experience in curation influenced its evolution. Hence why I've assembled a glossary that strives to be contemporary, accessible, and inclusive. But, above all, did you enjoy the process?

I genuinely felt that the curatorial guidance was both comp
Initially, I felt overwhelmed by the volume of content. However, as I delved into it, I started to enjoy the process. Once you identify the valuable parts, it becomes more about storytelling and enjoyment. It's similar to writing; you revise it several times until it conveys what you intend.

The focus is on delivering a concise story. I apologize for the volume of material you had to sift through. I conducted extensive research for this project, and it became overwhelming. I once interviewed Andy Weatherall about his extended mixes early in his career. He mentioned that he stopped because they were excessive. He noted that no one questions the length of a good pop song, or asks for it to be extended. Having a concise presentation with a solid framework and structure is crucial.

Exactly. Sometimes, conciseness and editing are essential. 
For example, if we were to put this on a cassette, we'd have to take into account the length limitations.

True, a crucial aspect of curation and this study involves determining what to retain and what to discard.

Yes, plus, cassettes have a specified length on each side. If we were to do a split cassette, we'd need to ensure the content fits within those constraints.

I might consider returning to DeForrest and asking about creating a shorter edit for the cassette, while retaining the longer version for the broadcast of the pieces.

Yes, a cassette edit. It would need to be approximately 20 minutes long each side.