Soundwaves at Porthmeor Studios

By Rachael Coward

The Circuit Magic Bus Tour, a collaboration between Tate Collective St Ives and The Collaborators at Newlyn Art Gallery & The Exchange, was a chance for young people to visit the most exciting galleries, studios and venues across west Cornwall, and to gain a unique insight into the work and creative output of these places, learn how they connect with artists and find out what they might mean to us. The tour continued with a trip to the CAST studios in Helston.

Listening to collected oral histories from the St. Ives Archive

Listening to collected oral histories from the St Ives Archive

Porthmeor Studios is a familiar territory to Tate Collective St Ives members as a popular location for our meetings. However we did not expect to ‘see’ the space in a completely new light during our most recent visit of the Circuit Magic Bus Tour; through our ears.

Soundwaves, a community radio/ oral history project which aims to connect the past, local radio, and communities ran the session where we explored oral histories of Cornwall, and discovered the power of sound as a method of control.

Collecting oral histories through audio recordings means that there is an interplay between voice and the background, where there is an external context in addition to the narrative of the voice, and these external sounds are an essential part of the listening experience. Without image, it is up to us to picture the speaker, their environment and of course the story that they are telling and the people that appear in it. Stories inhabit different spaces and this is influenced by the different contexts you can place yourself in as you listen.

Levels of listening change the more times that you hear the same recording; from de-coding the voice, to uncovering the background sounds which in turn affect the overall story, focussing on the ‘negative space’ in the voice.

Listening to stories about Barbara Hepworth and other artists living and working in St. Ives from locals who lived there offered alternative perspectives of common opinions, challenging the ‘official histories’ of their lives. These narratives offer an insight into the real lives of these well-known people and propose ‘new truths’ about them.

Introduction to audio recording equipment

Introduction to audio recording equipment

We moved on to collecting our own sounds, and producing audio recordings from the local surrounding areas including St Ives high street and Porthmeor Beach. Results included interviews with passers-by, ourselves and most interestingly focussing on the background noises present in what we would normally consider ‘silence’.

Making audio recordings in St Ives town

Making audio recordings in St Ives town