In the late 1960s and early 1970s BASF (and other companies) marketed ‘Message Sonore’ or ‘Tape Letters’ – 1/4 inch open reel audio tapes for consumer recorders. People would make recordings, generally conversation in their homes, and send the tape on to friends or family who would listen to, re-use and return the tape.
Messages sonores can be recordings of commonplace sounds; street sounds such as birds and footsteps, or domestic sounds like conversation, pouring water, and sweeping the floor. Or a more specific situation. Toshimara Nakamura recorded the Tokyo subway, Martina McDonald recorded her voice in different spaces. It’s about being inquisitive, picking up on the sounds you would otherwise filter out.
These recordings are pieced together simply. Editing techniques are mostly restricted to fades, cuts, and the addition of short (digital) silences. The composition of each suite of recordings suggests movement through space and the passing of time. The track titles, regarded as another means of capture, are written to further colour the recordings.
Unlike much field recording, the project is less concerned with sonic fidelity and more with observation and alertness. Although not intended to be particularly objective, the sounds can offer a glimpse of another place. Sound often operates subliminally, and so is less encumbered by signification and meaning. As Mel Gooding notes “A sound recording gives us direct contact with source energy… Recording taps into the flow of reality. It short-circuits”.