So what’s wrong with it? I think my main problem is the way that I attempted to eradicate the sounds of humans from the environment. My attempt was only partial – the sounds of humanity remain in the form of other sounds caused by us – primarily traffic, in this composition; and in the form of music, a distinctly human form of sound organisation. However, there are no human voices, or footsteps, or other sounds directly indicative of human presence – and this wasn’t because these weren’t present in the recording. I spent a lot of time and effort editing and filtering recordings to attempt to rid them of traces of human presence.
It turns out that I wasn’t entirely successful at this. At the first public performance of the work, in which I used better quality speakers than those I had previously listened to the work on, I discovered that human voices were just about audible in one part of the track, mixed in with the sounds of water. Clearly I had attempted to filter them out, and thought I’d managed it. It’s surprisingly difficult to get rid of, though, and almost impossible to eradicate entirely – what I had done was to mask the sound of humanity. And I think this demonstrates exactly what my problem with this work is – and with a lot of soundscape work which attempts to rid itself of human presence. Our presence is so pervasive that we can’t ignore it – not just because it’s ecologically unethical, but also because we physically can’t. Our presence is so pervasive that it won’t just go away. And no matter how much time and effort we might put in to trying to pretend that we’re not there, it won’t work. Traces of us will still remain – and it doesn’t take much to break the illusion.
And really that’s what Dreams of Morpeth is, in some ways – an illusion. A dream. And there’s nothing wrong with dreams. But I think this one might have benefitted from a little more realism – from an acknowledgement of our presence, and more than that, an engagement with our presence. If I was to re-do this work now (and maybe I will) I think the work would be radically different. My whole approach would be different. I’d want to engage much more with the people of Morpeth, and the way that they engage with the environment. Dreams of Morpeth is probably quite exclusive (as opposed to inclusive) in that it very much reflects my perception of the place, and attempts to deny not only the perceptions of others, but that others exist to have perceptions. And I’m not sure this is quite right.
This leaves me quite confused – because as a piece of sound art, I still like Dreams of Morpeth. I enjoy listening to it, and I think it works sonically. However, I also have many problems with it. So maybe the way around this is to think of it slightly differently. It’s not a finished piece, as I once thought it was. It’s part of a process – a process that is my personal development. And the process will continue.