Tune in to what you’re tuning out.
Exploring the music of machine sounds
How to Listen to Machines is an interactive composition project that makes music out of machine sounds recorded and submitted by people who work with machinery. Designed to help us hear ‘noise pollution’ with new ears, this project reconstructs our everyday electric soundscape melodically, illuminating the richness of sounds we tune out. The project began as my search to capture the strange and beautiful noise of machines. The current phase of this project is what interests me most: turning to other listeners for inspiration. If you enjoy the music and the project, please share it with others. And if you work with machines, I invite you to contact me if you are interested in sending me field recordings for me to compose music to.
The story behind the first volume, How to Listen to Machines: Songs for Violin and Noise.
How to Listen to Machines did not begin as a concept. It emerged out of my everyday experience of sound. I have always had an intense sensory response to the sounds of machines. My ear organizes their tonalities and textures into musical qualities, often leaving me moved by sounds many consider noise pollution. The growling bass of an approaching train can make me tremble. Chills crawl down my arms at the sound of overtones in a generator. The drumming of an idling engine can quicken my pulse. These encounters became a daily occurrence after I moved to New York City in 2006, its every space infiltrated by mechanical sounds. Street corners became concert halls. In the summer of 2016, I began experimenting with recording these sounds at every turn. Any machine whose voice I heard, I recorded. These recordings, made on the spot with an iPhone, became the centerpieces of the first volume of How to Listen to Machines, entitled How to Listen to Machines:Songs for Violin and Noise. Each mechanical sound serves as the basis and inspiration for each track. All songs on the EP are performed entirely on violin, accompanied only by the recordings of machinery.
Building an electrifying soundscape
Currently I am collaborating with individuals around the globe who are recording and sending me sounds of machines that they work with. Their recorded sounds are being featured on a multi-volume album collection I am releasing over time. Each volume will feature a distinct collection of machine sounds and a musical composition that brings together the sounds on the album — a tapestry of electric and acoustic rhythms, harmonies, and melodies. I invite you to listen to Volume 2, which is now underway, and I encourage you to meet my collaborators spotlighted below, whose sounds are building the electrifying soundscape of this project.
How to Listen to Machines Vol. 2
John Kelly, Pennsylvania. Technical Staff, Swarthmore College. “I build scientific research equipment… It’s interesting and challenging work because scientists often want to do something that no one has done before.”
Zhuo Dan Ting, Shanghai. First woman in China to own and operate a tattoo shop. “When people ask ‘do your tattoos hurt?’ I show them my tattoo answering their question.”
Cameron Heath, Alabama. Director of coffee operations, Revelator Coffee. “Knowing how a coffee will react in a roaster is a skill that is hard to replicate without getting your hands dirty for awhile. It’s almost jedi-like in nature”
Abdulkader Hayani, Massachusetts. Master tailor. A Syrian refugee and trained tailor, Abdulkader escaped the war that destroyed his home and fled to the United States with his family. I am indebted to translator Stephanie Juma and The Boston Globe‘s Jenna Russell for facilitating this collaboration.
Mark Purdy, Minnesota. Owner, Blackstone Manor Clock Repair. “It is not uncommon for the clock owner to pay much more to have the clock repaired than it was ever worth financially. But it is their connection to someone or something.”