Change is inscribed in noise faster than it transforms society… Society is much more than economistic categories, it is a way of perceiving the world, a tool for understanding, it prompts us to decipher sound as a form of knowledge. 

― Jacques Attali 

Having spent my childhood living near Coventry’s Ring Road from 1976 to 1997, my initial understanding of the area was shaped by personal experiences and family tales. On Saturday mornings, I would often venture into the city centre with my mother and older sister to shop or watch Godzilla movies at the former Art Deco cinema off Cox Street. In these films, the monster’s trail of destruction seems, in retrospect, to echo the pervasive fear of nuclear threats during the Cold War of the 1980s and the reconstruction of the city after the Second World War. Today, the cinema building has been repurposed, becoming part of Coventry University’s extensive property portfolio. 

During these outings, my mother would share stories, orally mapping parts of the city that held significance from her own youth during its extensive rebuilding phase. This was set against the ceaseless drone of vehicles circumnavigating the Ring Road. Her narratives depicted a time when the city was prosperous and drew migrant workers from across the Commonwealth and the British Isles. Among these workers was my grandfather, who, after relocating from the West of Ireland via Manchester, played a pivotal role in Coventry’s redevelopment. He oversaw teams of road workers as they tarmacked the newly built infrastructure projects as part of the city’s Post-War reconstruction, including the Ring Road itself. 

Returning home, we would often wait at a bus stop at the bottom of Warwick Road, where my grandmother had once lived during her youth as a Jewish/Irish émigré from Canada before she met my grandfather at a ballroom dance. The construction of the Ring Road significantly altered the topography of the city centre and its surrounding areas and presented not just a physical barrier but also a sonic one, marked by the noise of vehicles. In my youth, the Ring Road stood like an imposing fortress, seemingly resisting human entry. My encounters with it were mostly while strapped into the backseat of a car, often my grandmother’s Ford Marina during our weekly visits to a speech therapist at the Coventry & Warwickshire hospital, or when I was aboard the number seven bus. But as I grew older, especially in the late 1980s and mid-1990s, it came to represent a civic boundary and served as a threshold to Coventry’s countercultural sites, including early Rave and Dub Soundsystems at places like the West Indian Club, TikTok Club, and The Eclipse. Crossing it, whether darting across junctions or navigating the ominous underpasses, was a rite of passage which guided me into the city’s transgressive spaces that existed just on the periphery of and beneath the Ring Road. At the time, the neglected city centre faced high crime levels, following years of high unemployment rates due to de-industrialisation and abandonment by Margaret Thatcher’s Conservative government. Localised gang culture and well-documented acts of racial violence towards migrant communities occurred and persist today and are factors that contribute to Coventry’s ranking as Europe’s second most violent city [1]. 

Despite the antisocial behaviour I witnessed there as a young adult, one primary reason I return to the Ring Road for this practice-based research is its distinctive acoustics and the rich cultural history of Cox Street which significantly influenced me during those formative years. Positioned beneath the concrete pillars supporting the raised section of the Ring Road, Cox Street remained relatively intact while the surrounding medieval streets and industrial buildings were destroyed by bombing or demolished. This major spatial transformation made room for the imposing infrastructural edifice, and also led to the creation of several peripheral spaces. These spaces—coupled with the adjacent civic buildings constructed around the same time—are pivotal to my research as historical sites of cultural resistance and set the geographical and conceptual framework in which I evaluate the efficiency of a curatorial praxis or “toolkit” I have fashioned and used to explore them. 

This site-specific research project focuses on three sites within that framework. At the intersection of Cox Street and Lower Ford Street, The Eclipse once stood. Although it was closed in the early 1990s and later demolished, it holds the distinction of being the UK’s first inner-city, all-night rave club. This establishment is at the heart of a case study and soundwork by the artist DeForrest Brown Jr. Approximately a hundred metres further down the road, towards Hillfields, stood the Sidney Stringer Centre for School and Community Use. A devastating fire in 2007 led to its reconstruction and renaming as the Sidney Stringer Academy, although, originally, in the late 1970s and early 80s, it garnered international praise for its innovative approaches to education and social care within a predominantly migrant community. This institution is the focus of another case study and audio work by the artist Paul Purgas. In the opposite direction, moving towards the civic area of Cox Street, which experienced significant Post-War reconstruction, and is now the site of Coventry University, an active listening workshop led by the artist Vivienne Griffin took place in the same year. The opportunity to combine the existing audio-visual materials from this workshop and the two case studies offers me a unique opportunity to understand how the complex recorded sounds can act as a medium for interpretation and storytelling, given the ability of the auditory to evoke memories and transport listeners to historical or imagined spaces. Furthermore, this curatorial endeavour intends to elevate listening as a vital practice for exchanging knowledge and underscore the significance of sound art as a document or chronicle of historical events in the context of the Coventry Ring Road, illuminating the three aforementioned sites.  

To preface, before undertaking this research project, I had a decade-long tenure as a senior curator in public art institutions. During that period, I organised myriad exhibitions and events, but I grew disillusioned with the proliferation of outdated systems of art valuation, prevailing institutional frameworks, dwindling state funding, and increased dependency and imbalanced relationships with private sponsors. These factors appeared to constrict artistic experimentation and discourage complexity and the use of intricate terminologies for fear of alienating not only philanthropic but also mainstream audiences. Countering this, I embarked on a period of curatorial self-reflection and orchestrated a series of activities through durational residencies, offering spaces for experimentation and development. During this time, I examined routine aspects of institutional practice and the inherent protocols to avoid a sense of stagnation and adapt to social or cultural changes.  

Moving away from an exclusive emphasis on visual media, I channelled my energies into a public programme focused on sound and music that engaged with vibrant genres such as Grime, Drill, Vogue, Chicago Footwork, Techno, Afrobeat, and Pirate Radio. These genres are not only reflective of inner-city life but also serve as cultural expressions of the global majority diaspora. The objective was to showcase the inherent creativity within these musical genres and to cultivate engagement with their communities. Placing a curatorial and production emphasis on shared authorship as a method to redefine institutional authority, enriching cultural experiences, democratising culture, counteract mainstream media’s superficial narratives, and involve historically marginalised practitioners and communities. This approach was intuitively designed and implemented to encourage dialogue, welcome uncertainty, and allow participants to co-define the engagement terms.  

This experience prompted this research project, beginning with the influential text by the theorist Jacques Attali titled Noise: The Political Economy of Music, (1985), which delves into the deep connection between music, economics, and politics. Attali perceived noise and music not just as a form of entertainment but as a marker of economic or political developments in society. I interpreted this understanding of noise as a metaphor for societal disruption, which reflects, and challenges values accelerated by the state and capitalism.  

However, this did not entail discarding all forms of visual material with a critical foundational influence being The Exit Photography Group’s Survival Programmes, (1982), a long-term photography project that captured the raw realities of deprived inner-city communities in the UK during a period marked by stark socioeconomic shifts, rising unemployment rates, and declining industries. Using a direct, journalistic style, the project makes a political statement, presenting images accompanied by interviews with its participants, who range from children in abandoned buildings to struggling pensioners. The content foregrounds historical and persistent issues such as poverty, racism, and housing crises, encapsulating a critical epoch in the inner-city chronicles of Britain, inclusive of depictions of Hillfields in Coventry. These references inspired an exploration into the practice of curating, employing correlating methodologies to generate two auditory documents. These documents sonically, as opposed to visually, delineate specific cultural intersections in the history of Cox Street, under the acoustic shadow of Coventry’s Ring Road, to furnish an embodied and affective narrative. 

At the time, I rewatched Elephant, (1989), a film by Alan Clarke for the BBC. Its stark representational style showcases eighteen separate murders, each depicted using only the police reports as the source material. Clarke’s use of Steadicam not only charted the movements of assailants but also inadvertently created an audio document with now-obsolete technologies. Each segment captures the unique acoustics and texture of Belfast’s infrastructure, eschewing any backstory or character development. This restraint, suggestive of the documentary genre, lends the film a raw authenticity that inspired my investigation into the sonic transformation of information through curation, which invariably entails the organisation and selection of content. A procedure that allows curators to clarify historical events and express distinct viewpoints by transforming data or artworks into engaging stories. This research project posits curation as a narrative craft, utilising an investigative lens to shed light on societal phenomena and forge new interpretations. Central to this exploration is how the curation of sound art within the site-specific milieu of Cox Street can effectively encapsulate societal transitions, political dynamics, and both historical and contemporary cultural manifestations. By choosing auditory over visual documentation, the aim is to engender immersive listening experiences that resonate with audiences, conjure memories, and convey new narratives, thereby underscoring the potency of sound to engage diverse publics. 

[1] Coventry named second-most dangerous city in Europe. (2022). Available at:

Coventry as a site of youth culture. (2022). Available at: