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The Sound Sweep |after JG Ballard

Though the space was full of emptiness, the dust in the walls and under the floorboards contained an accumulated universe of human skin, hair, memories and sound.

​In the present, we ride the surface of the past. Like pond skaters, our saturated senses occasionally piercing the surface tension to release faint whispers. Every movement, every conversation, every birth and death that had occurred in the space was present in powdered echoes. Sounds near water pipes and electrical cables, moved in endless circulation. Mice and insects consumed the sound particles which were broadcast in their droppings. The droppings contained " sound seeds"  which, nourished by the past, germinated, to further sow the echoes.

Local authority budget cuts to waste collection had led to a reduction in the number of refuse collectors and Sound Sweeps, and very few were left to cover large areas of the city. The cuts led to build-ups of waste, both physical and sonic. Private operators had sprung up, charging exorbitant fees and preying on the elderly and bewildered. These rogue Sweeps with their faulty and dangerous equipment, often engaged in sonic fly tipping outside the city at night, mixing urban sonic detritus with the sounds of what was left of the green belt. Residents were forced to clean their own streets and attempted to rid their homes of waste sound themselves. In most cases this made the situation worse, filling spaces with confused murmurings, a sonic tissue of past events.

​We contacted the local registered Sound Sweep who, like a blacksmith from the past, lived on the edge of the city near the sonic recycling centre. 

The Sweep, who also offered pest control, arrived punctually in a sound-proof van. She was very business-like and spoke little as she moved silently around the flat followed by our cat, listening to the floors, walls, doors and skirting boards, before setting up her equipment. She then carefully hung sonic dust sheets over the doors and windows before starting to clean each room with her bulky Sono-vac.

The machine, which looked like some kind of musical instrument, hung from her neck supported by leather straps. It was moulded to fit around and balance on her pelvis, her resonating core, through which she also “felt” ultrasound. It was a body extension designed to read space through the lens of sound, connecting the individual user directly to the sonic architecture. Human and machine as one, like a motorcycle. 

The sweep also offered a Sympathetic Magic Service. SMS involved inserting twisted and distorted audio, analogue & digital feedback into voids around windows and thresholds. Any residual sound looking for sanctuary, felt the anguish and pain of the distorted fragments and was forced to dissipate or move on.