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  • Matthew Shenton

Cleanliness & Godliness

I am blogging whilst planing my next project in order to explore the decisions I make, and to build a better vocabulary and understanding of my sound work.

As previously discussed, I find it fascinating to investigate and manipulate sounds that have been degraded. I love how unique and random the results of changing physical properties can be. Old cassettes recorded over multiple times will give a unique timbre or completely change the feeling and mood of a newly recorded sound. I have also pulled tape out to scrunch it up and applied magnets to it from a distance before rewinding it into the casing to achieve unique results.

Manipulating sound with additional devices is also important. In my arsenal are a couple of filthy fuzz pedals that I have assembled from kits that add grittiness to whatever is out through them. That my soldering skills are lacking also adds something as the circuits never seem to work as advertised. The Volca Sample is also wonderful for stretching field recordings until you can hear digital artefacts coming through.

I can remember a time when my inclination to change sound until it is nearly destroyed worried me a little. What causes this desire to record a lush melody or ambient pad only to then obliterate or defile it it some way? Once again I knew that the answer lay in what inspired me to create; the vulnerable rural landscape that surrounds me and my anger at its degradation. The biscuit tin pastoral landscape idyll that the Suffolk tourist board (and others) projects outwards masks the ecological catastrophe of agribusiness, private land ownership, and failed investment.

This dichotomy between the beauty and bleakness of the peninsula I call home has been an obsession throughout my creative life. For my next project I want to remove the landscape from the creative process to focus on a response to something completely removed from it. Which is why I choose to return to the box of found/purchased slides.

I immediately decided that the original visual images would not be used for inspiration, and nor would I try to image what possible sounds could have been heard at the scene as the shutter fixed the image. I began thinking about the physical structure of the slides; how could a fixed image can be incorporated into sound work and how could the physical material be worked with to create something that resonated with me artistically.

The impression I had had for years was that slides were delicate objects, but it turns out that they are quite robust. They had been stored (at least by me) in a padded envelope for a few years but showed no real signs of decomposition. The celluloid looked crease free and the Kodachrome colouring still looked rich and vibrant. I tentatively started to rub at one with a fingernail and found that the dull side could be scratched and damaged. This revelation immediately excited me to try various methods to degrade the physical material (including various scratching implements and house hold chemicals) before settling on two methods; household bleach spray along with the occasional use of a steel wool dish scrubber.

The bleach was sprayed on directly to the full side of the slide and then slowly shaken to allow the liquid to eat through the various layers of ink. The wire scrubber could be gently rubbed on the surface to remove sections of ink in random lines like gorged claw marks. Left too long and all the ink would be stripped to leave only the clear plastic. To stop the process, a quick run under the cold tap and being left to air dry re-fixed the ink. The cardboard sleeve that held the slide would be destroyed (or at the very least warped by the process) so I had to remount them all into plastic mounts.

When the bleached slides were projected on to a wall I found the results fascinating, inspiring and above all beautiful.


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