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  • Matthew Shenton

Bleached Memories: End of Project

Updated: Jul 20, 2023

Back in April 2023 I had completed a set of visuals by bleaching some Kodak slides, photographing the projections and arranging the cropped images to flicker and shift in iMovie. With the visuals complete, I now moved on to composing a response to the slides - to both their material properties and the feelings the images had aroused when I first purchased them.

I decided that the only sound source I would use for the composition would be those sounds I could capture from a slide projector. I hoped to gather a fine set of clunks, clicks and hisses that I could then manipulate in Ableton Live and Audacity.

Capturing the samples involved using a Korg CM-300 clippy microphone, a homemade piezo microphone contraption sealed in an old Vaseline tin and a circuit-sniffer (purchased from Ian Watson) to hunt out any hidden sounds within the machine.

I spent an afternoon running the projector backward and forwards and attaching microphones to various surfaces. I discovered that the range of hidden sounds was slightly limited due to the basic nature of the projector mechanism, but those sounds that it picked up were rich and pleasing. As was the sound of the fan extracting heat from the bulb.

Samples secured, I spent months on sound design by stretching and pitch bending short samples into drawn-out drones, using Ableton's built in Simpler and Sampler with midi patterns, and a utilising a randomiser to create interesting textures. The sounds were then put through a bespoke 'shredding' audio effects rack that decimates through down sampling and deconstructs with extreme panning, before I build it all back up again into different long-form track. I then watched the visuals whilst I automated different FX plug-ins and track volumes in real time.

The images are not designed to be in sync with the sound, but instead guided me as to pacing and transitions between elements. Some of the samples remain discernible as coming from a slide projector, but I think most are not. Using the visuals as a compositional process was wonderful and definitely something I will return to again.

In early June I had ten compositions in various skeletal forms and the process of ruthelessly jettisoning the weakest began. This cathartic process takes some getting used to, but gets easier over time. Nothing is truly abandoned as any rejected elements are placed into the 'unused experiments' folder for another day.

The five compositions to make it through were then worked on for another month. This was mainly mixing and then some (brutal) mastering and they were finished.

The final result is the 'bleached memories' release - with accompanying visuals, a mini zine and a very limited homemade tape run that will be sold or traded at my Brighton live performance at the end of July 2023.

I am pleased with the overall results and think that the visual images combine well with finished track chosen to accompany them on YouTube. I think that the work would stand up as an installation with the slides projected on a carousel and the video running. Maybe attendees could be given a 'found' slide and experiment with rubbing lemon juice, metal scourers and bleach on to it and the their result added to the projections. Maybe they would think about those things they hold prescious being sent to landfill or sold for pennies. Maybe they would conclude, as I did, that the physical has little or no power when you can't link it to a memory.

Is this a modern phenomenon? The Victorians photographed their dead by dressing them in finery and awkwardly posing them. Did they cherish these images? For how many generations did they pass them down? I currently have 6,228 images saved to my camera roll: will I ask for them (and the doubtless thousands of other image so take) to be zipped and given to my children when I die?

There is an obvious link between how I obliterate sound and destroyed the image with a simple household cleaner. By moving away from my previous landscape/soundscape work I feel I have made important breakthroughs by looking at visual textures, new composition techniques and exploring hidden sounds in a different way.

However, the hidden sounds picked up by the circuit sniffer and the use of the visual as

a stimulus for sound art investigation brought me back to thinking about the landscape: what else is there is to explore, what sounds are currently hidden from me beneath land and water, and what new ways can the visual inform my compositional work?


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