Over the last month Julie and I have been collecting sounds and images from around Armagh that we hope will eventually become part of our virtual timepiece.  The research that we undertook at the beginning of the project where we sought to try to understand how the people heard their City has proved very useful as a legitimate starting point for exploration, and it has been interesting to see how our initial investigations have developed.  Over the last couple of weeks it has felt that we are beginning to delve deeper into the acoustic world of the City and are beginning to connect with all sorts of interesting people.

As the sounds are recorded, they are also documented through photography and then edited and prepared for possible inclusion in the final work.  Our aim is to collect at least sixty sounds (one for each minute), and as we do we will post them on the Minutes page of this weblog: descriptions first, and then the photographs and then eventually the sounds themselves.  The piece will finally take its place at the Market Place Arts Centre when it will be exhibited between 16th April – 23rd May 2010.


04 where'sTheTime

As I have been investigating themes related to the various clocks and chimes around the City, I have been surprised to discover that they all seem to be electronically driven.  Of course, it is good that Armagh is up-to-date with its technology, although I must admit I was disappointed as, selfishly, I was hoping to obtain some good sound recordings of the giant clock mechanisms.  Instead of the dramatic tocks, clicks and whirrs of ancient timepieces then, I had the continued buzz of the motorised mechanism that powers the Cathedral Church of St Patrick’s North Tower clockface, or the completely silent “BellTron DMC2000” that not only plays the chimes of St Mark’s but gets it’s time from Frankfurt, Germany.

It was this revelation that led to the idea that an appropriate focus for this project would be to create a timepiece that was special in some way for Armagh – something personal, that begins with the City itself, its people and its sounds….


03 pollution

The people in Armagh speak very highly of The Mall – a green area just outside the main shopping area that is used for a range of recreational activities.  People jog around the central grass area, take their dogs for walks, sit on the parkside benches, whilst others use the space to kick a ball around or to throw frisbee, or perhaps just sit on the grass to relax and eat a packed lunch.  At the end of the day however the ground is strewn with litter for the park attendants to clean up.  A passer-by saw me looking in disbelief at the amount of rubbish left by those who had used the Mall throughout the day and said he could see that I was shocked.  In his opinion this treatment of such a lovely space was an awful reflection of today’s society.

I wondered what factors might be related to the way that the Mall was treated by those who so obviously loved to use it.  I had previously noticed the amount of noise from the road surrounding the Mall.  Whist the area may look like a peaceful idyll, the noise from the cars and articulated lorries permeates the space with an almost constant rumble during the day.  To investigate further, I did an early morning recording – between 6am and 8am, with a microphone positioned in the middle of the Mall’s green space.  I wanted to capture the optimum sound of the Mall, that is without the traffic noise and then to observe how the noise level rose as the morning began.

My findings were that before the traffic began, the natural ambience of the Mall on my recording appeared to be around -24dB, whereas by 8am it had risen to -9dB.  In layman’s terms this means that the noise sound level had intensified by a factor of almost 32 which equates to a tripling of perceived increase in loudness – and this was the reading for just when rush hour was beginning, and so it wasn’t by any means at its loudest.

I then started thinking of other littered places and the associated ambient noise level.  All the places that I could think of that were likewise littered did also appear to be linked to a noisy environment.  Conversely, it was the the quieter places that were cleaner.  When was the last time you went to a place with a naturally quiet ambience that was strewn with litter?


02 chimes

From my investigations so far, in order of acoustic importance, the different clocks and their chimes around the City of Armagh appear to be:

Cathedral Church of St Patrick, Cathedral Street –Due to its elevation, the bells of this cathedral can be heard from most places within the City.  It rings on the quarter-hour and also rings the Angelus on certain days.  The church tower houses a carillon (situated in a room directly below the bells) whereby different tunes can be played on special occasions by means of a musical keyboard.

St Mark’s Parish Churchcan also be heard in many places throughout Armagh, due to its elevation.  The chimes are heard on the quarter-hour and also play a hymn tune at the end of the working day.

The Old Queen’s Buildingthis is a quieter less assuming sound only really being heard in the immediate vicinity.  Instead of the usual clock chime it chimes a tune apparently composed by a Queen’s University student on the hour, with the usual increasing segments of it on the quarter hour.

Church of St Malachy, Irish Street – rings the Angelus on alternative days to the Cathedral Church of St Patrick.

Shambles Market Clocksimply chimes the number of the hour on the hour.

Dobbin’s Street Health Centre Clock, Dobbin’s Street – another quiet sounding chime for the local community.  Again,

St Patrick’s Cathedral (CoI) – This church does not have a clock but does have eight bells which are rung by a series of bell-pull ropes which in turn operate the hammers that ring the stationery bells.  (They are not swung in the conventional change-ringing format).  This means that they can all be rung by one player in order to play different tunes.  As far as this church is concerned, this usually happens on a Sunday.


01 clocks

From our initial observations and interviews with people about the City of Armagh and what they think of it – what they like, what they don’t like, their favourite places, sounds, and so on, the recurring themes that have come up in our conversations have been the sound of the bells from the different churches and also the Mall recreation space. 

Actually, people not only mentioned the different church chimes  but also the different clocks around the town that made their smaller soundmark’ such as the old Queen’s Building, the Shambles Market Place and the Dobbins Street Health Centre.  The people that we spoke with certainly seemed tuned in to this marking of time as it occurred throughout the day

This is a good start, in the sense that as far as the production of an art piece that is inspired by the sounds of Armagh is concerned, it would seem that an appropriate linking theme could well be something to do with the measure of time and its connection with City life.