The Darkness and the Light

Spaces beneath Leeds – available for free download from Compost & Height

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Since the start of 2012 I’ve spent hours in car parks across West Yorkshire, recording for bangthebore.org’s Twelve Tapes collaborative composition, described as “Twelve C60 cassette tapes, each containing performances based around the note B, recorded live in enclosed, multi-storey and underground car parks. In performance, any number of these tapes may be played in any combination alongside any number of musicians playing any instrumentation.” For the Twelve Tapes sessions I played a modulated sine wave into the environment in order to fulfill the criteria of the score, using fixed recording equipment. The experience made me want to return to some of those locations with a more flexible, mobile set-up, so that I could capture some of the nuances I was hearing, as well as a sense of the geography of each space. Twelve Tapes is, in part, a piece about how car parks feel like manifestations of one single ur-place, with the twelve overlapping recordings reconstructing a sense of that gestalt or superposition; whereas The Darkness and the Light presents a more intimate and thorough examination of two specific locations which, despite superficial similarities, are audibly distinct.

The Light car park consists of three large concrete-walled levels beneath Leeds city centre, under the shopping and leisure centre of the same name. The complex contains a swimming pool, cinema, restaurants, shops and gymnasium, and while I have no idea which – if any – of these feed sounds to the underground levels via the numerous exposed pipes and conduits, the result is a rich variety of sonic micro-environments, linked by a gently shifting drone of unknown provenance. I recorded there just after 7am one Sunday morning and managed to capture the environment without any moving vehicles or people, until security politely asked me to stop (which I did without argument). If you listen closely to the closing seconds of the recording you can hear the guard approaching.

There’s no good time to record the Dark Arches. It’s the local name for the stretch of brick-walled tunnels beneath Leeds train station, between Hans Peter Kuhn’s permanent sound and light installation (fortuitously named Light Neville Street), past the three arches through which flows the River Aire, and out to the car park at Granary Wharf. But the inverse is also true: all times are equally good. Positioned near a main road, nightclubs, bars and residential areas, and containing restaurants and a car park, this particular area is a common through-route with a dubious reputation. There are people coming and going at all times of day and night; record during the day and you’ll hear the rumble of trains overhead, cars and the bustle of people going about their business; record during the night and you’ll capture people on their nights out. My tactic was to record at approximately 4am on a rainy Monday morning, which sadly meant that no train sounds were captured. Instead, the recording predominantly captures the sound of the water in the tunnels, whether that’s dripping water making its way through the cracks overhead; the six distinctive flavours of surging river as it makes its way though the three arches on either side of the footbridge; or the ever-present white noise of the Aire’s background roar.

On both occasions I walked a route that was part planned, part spontaneous response to what I heard. Both recordings are presented untreated and in their entirety in order to preserve the manner in which the sounds relate to each other in the context of their environment.

With thanks to Patrick Farmer, Jez Riley French and Sarah Hughes.

AVAILABLE FOR FREE DOWNLOAD FROM COMPOST & HEIGHT

Seth Cooke - The Darkness and the Light - The Light car park

Seth Cooke - The Darkness and the Light - The Dark Arches