Danny McCarthy – The Memory RoomAugust 28, 2012
Book and CD
One of the interesting things I have tried to find writing about over the past year or two is how our memory works with sound. As Radu Malfatti’s music lead me to think about how short durations of time can play games with how we remember sounds (Is this pitch the same as the one that preceded the last fifty second silence or is it an octave lower?) so I have wondered about how our memories from years ago might alter sounds, or our recollection of them. I tend to retain images in my head quite accurately despite many years passing.I can picture precisely the scratches and graffiti carved into the wooden desk I sat at in primary school, aged ten. My earliest memories of all, dating from 1977 and the Silver Jubilee are all static images of a street party below my bedroom window, a party I had to miss because I had chicken pox, and I also remember being infatuated with the design of a free football card that was found in a packet of crisps smuggled up to me by my older brother. Perhaps this is all just a result of my natural visual leaning rather than an aural one, but I remember virtually no sounds at all from my childhood. I remember music, mostly as 7″ singles as played by my parents, but beyond these specific moments when we would sit and listen to music as a family, sounds play no part in how I now perceive my childhood. Perhaps the earliest specific sound I remember well is the clockwork scraping that one particular album made when I was very young because it was warped and rubbed against something as it turned on the same family turntable. My early memories are silent, my more recent ones less so. I’m interested to know how this compares to other people’s aural memory.
Anyway I thought about these issues as a result of reading a little booklet of photographs and texts by the Irish sound artist Danny McCarthy that was released by the Farpoint Recordings label to coincide with an installation in Cork named The Memory Room. The booklet, a lovingly produced object contains photos from the installation overlaid by broken up bits of text printed on translucent paper. There is also a little eight minute 3″ CD tucked in there as well. The book and accompanying disc were produced to accompany and extend the physical gallery installation, and having not been able to attend it, I guess I am missing out on a considerable dimension of this project. The booklet does state that the sound on the disc should be listened to whilst reading the texts. I have tried to do this as I have read through the booklet a few times. Its difficult to know how it connects or adds anything, consisting of a single tone, that stops and starts, perhaps created by an oscillator or something similar, into which little pinging chimes leave pockmarks here and there. The interesting thing to me here though is more the writing and the exploration of memory that McCarthy tries to undertake through the complete work. The booklet doesn’t take long to read, probably about eight minutes maximum if paid a fair amount of respect, so the disc lasts just the right length of time, but I feel a little stretched to work out how the sounds provided actually link to the written events. It isn’t the most interesting of pieces of music, but fortunately McCarthy’s text is of interest, and leads me back to the memories I have of my childhood, which makes me want to increase my own understanding of how all of this impacts upon me and my listening patterns today.
The words in the booklet are great- little vignettes that possibly reflect particular moments, but also seem a little loose and abstract. A memory of someone called Denis playing percussion on an empty bottle downstairs in a town hall is mentioned, which probably links to the tinkling chimes heard on the CD. The short, impressionistic texts are typeset in a broken up, stream of consciousness manner, and allowed to overlay old photographs, and what I think are shots from the installation, with an old gramophone being the star of one of them. The texts discuss memories, and the gaps we leave in them, what we leave out as much as what our brains allow us to remember. McCarthy talks of how sounds linger for him, how a piano sounded when heard through an open window, the precise sound still clear but the player less so. There isn’t a lot of meat here, the texts are short and simple, the photos are few, but they ask us enough questions about memory, so that we can each reflect back on our own early recollections and how sound may or may not have been a part of them. Musically the recordings here don’t stand up alone, but then they are not meant to. The simple sounds are designed to bring a different dimension to the texts, though not in a straightforward soundtrack style. Altogether it works as a package, though obviously having not attended the installation I am missing a large chunk of the equation, but the most important part of this release in my opinion is how it triggers other thoughts about your own memory, and in particular about how these relate to sound. A very nice little labour of love anyway, very nicely produced in an edition of five hundred, more details can be found here.