clear vinyl record, gutted-out 1973 HMV stereogram, acrylic glass panels and lid, minimal record turntable with clear platter, 1970s vintage padded headphones
50 x 98 x 46cm (stereogram)
32.5 x 32.5 x 0.5 (record in sleeve)
Pitch was a collaboration between Oliver William Palmer and Giorgio Garippa, developed in response to the Breaking Ground residency of 2015 and it resulted in an
Samples from the clear vinyl record produced for Breaking Ground.
Pitch: Side B track 9: 'Nappy Pins'
Pitch: Side B track 11: 'Rebirth'
Pitch: Side B track 13: 'From Behind the Net'
I think perhaps on a windy day
the poles remember again
that once on a time they were swinging trees
And kissed by the wind and the rain
they come to life for an hour or two
and try to sing as they used to do.
- unknown author; from a loose note
found in a research book
Arriving on the scene of Bradford Park Avenue's original football stadium, one is confronted first with the crumbling façade of the club's entrance wall and gate. Then, walking further, at the end of a long dirt and stone track a large overgrown field with steep verges to one side of it comes in to view. At one end is a squat wall, behind which is a small forest. Upon closer inspection one finds that the small forest conceals a slope of concrete steps; where the steps are visible their regular rhythm is frequently interrupted by cracks, gaps and fissures, many of which are being prised open further by the roots of the many trees. At certain points throughout the woods one can find whole slabs of the concrete steps lifted in to the air by curved trunks snaking their way around from under them. At the back of the forest is a series of crumbling walls and a sudden drop – a tarmac-covered room once used by fans to relieve themselves. The higgledy-piggledy steps were originally one of the end terraces of the stadium, a space which would have once been crowded with fans and echoing with their cheers, songs and chants.
Now it's near-silent. The taller trees stretch up and join into a contiguous chapel-like crown. The wind intermittently rattles the tree tops and there are occasional faint rumbles of traffic from the road beyond. Apart from the odd yelp from the nearby cricket ground, human voices are absent. The quietness inside the wood is almost palpable. We initially entertained reveries of refilling that almost sacred space with historical recordings of BPA fans' faithful chants and hymns to their team. We pictured such an intervention as utilising a set of PA horns – old ones – of the sort often seen at sporting events.
In this vein we also sought out fans of the club – people who had been fans prior to the club's first incarnation prior to its abandonment in 1970 – in order to collect information about the club's demise and its old traditions – and therefore gather a catalogue of sounds from interviews. Every club has its traditions – traditions that often heavily inform the modern folk-memory of their communities. These traditions are the echoes of the past state of those communities.
Whereas the sounds of football games once echoed around the stadium, the ambient noises and reverberations that echo around the insides of the numerous fissures opened up in the old football terrace by colonising vegetation are, in a sense, sonic distillations of the local environment at any given moment. The hums, hisses and rumblings that swirl around these spaces, transferred there by both direct vibrations and air coming in from the outside, could, had we the technology, be used as a score to reinterpret/recreate an idea of the conditions of the terrace's steps, the trees' root systems and the movement of cars on the roads surrounding the site.
We moved on from the idea of refilling the space with historical sounds to recording samples of these current ambient noises as they are amalgamated and modulated by the gaps in the terrace. These would constitute the soundscape of the stadium's immediate environment as heard by the stadium itself. The sounds created would, in a sense, be traces of that surrounding environment (as shaped by parts of the stadium) and function as memories of it.
By shaping those noises, the cracks and gaps give not only volume and a physicality to them, it gives them the beginnings of music: passively experienced, heard noise starts to become a composition of actively sought-out listened-to sounds.
A similar juxtaposition of active and passive (sound) information was found by the geophysical survey team. A geophysical survey creates images of things underground by sending a current through the ground and measuring variations in resistance. It was noted, however, that the first few attempts to conduct the geophysical survey at BPA were thwarted by interference from a nearby phone mast. Material hidden from sight was being withheld from the surveyors' understanding: a technology devised to enable communication was preventing understanding of the unseen.
The geophysical surveys of the grounds/pitch at Bradford Park Avenue revealed that the pitch lines were still present. However, they no longer exist as (visual) markings: the repeated marking of the grass changed the chemical composition of the soil, leading to a ghostly trace showing up on the scans of the ground. These lines cannot be excavated – an attempt to reveal them would destroy them and provide no visible proof of their existence. This is where the material and the visible part company.
Excavation – unearthing – necessarily takes place on a site – and sites in their particularity are inextricably linked with sight. Whilst geophysical surveys and the physical act of unearthing both reveal previously hidden features in the ground as objects of sight, a geophysical survey, by leaving its objects of examination in the ground, also gives a priority to the idea of the hidden feature – beyond sight alone: representation comes before presentation.
Temporal actions and events such as football games lost to the past, can only be presented through direct documentation created at the same time as the event itself. When the football season ends, its numerous tackles, plays and passions are reduced to a score. However this score alone cannot, outside of the fans' memories, be used to reproduce the game. A musical score, on the other hand, exists to not only give a series of sounds an element of reproducibility but also in the first instance to give it form, definition – to bring it into material existence. The immaterial (and non-visual) becomes representable through a process that simultaneously creates the conditions for its presentation (presentation in both senses; of being and for performance).
At this point in our journey we wondered if a transformation of the geophysical survey data's mode of presentation might be a way forward. Could we use that spatial data in a way that utilised our observations of that other remaining part of the stadium, the terrace? We spoke with Dr. Chris Gaffney of Bradford University's Archaeological Sciences Department whilst the geophysical survey was being undertaken and asked whether the data collected by the equipment might itself be (mis/re)used as sound data... What might a scan of the ground and the objects within it (including the former pitch markings) sound-like?
Running the data through sound-editing software, our experiment quickly produced something that was visually represented by peaks and troughs reminiscent of the crags and mini-ravines of the old terrace. How might such a set of sounds be presented (both the transformed geophys data and recordings from inside the many gaps and holes)? After witnessing the excavations that took place as a part of Breaking Ground we decided to undertake an 'excavation' of our own.
For an excavation the archaeologists first choose a section of the site upon which to concentrate – this choice will be made with reference to existing information about the site. With the excavation of BPA the first trench was made where the goal was thought to have been. With reference to our journey up to that point, for our own 'excavation' we chose as our 'site' a suitably defunct piece of sound equipment: the HMV Stereomaster (a wooden cabinet with built in turntable and speakers). The Stereomaster was near-contemporaneous to BPA's abandonment – both of them artefacts of a bygone era.
Having chosen their spot, the excavation team dig an outline of the outer edges of the trench and lift off a 'lid' of grass and topsoil in square chunks six or more inches in thickness. When excavating our stereogram we lifted the actual lid of the cabinet and fully removed it, hinges and all. Like the soil-based excavation, we piled the top and its accompanying parts neatly at the side of our workspace so that it could, if we wished it, be reinstated more or less to its original state.
When the topsoil was taken off the trench the archaeologists uncovered/created a space that previously hadn't existed as a defined entity. It was still filled in but now the potential for a greater volume to be cut in to the earth revealed itself to the imagination. When we removed the lid of the stereogram, we merely uncovered a pre-defined space that had been made with the intention of being seen and known. The turntable sat on a shelf roughly a third of the way down what we assumed was a larger hidden volume underneath. This was the area waiting to be (re)discovered.
Unlike the archaeologists whose sites have to be worked with in the orientation in which they are found, the stereogram afforded us the luxury of being able to reorient its volume for access from different directions. We explored the hidden volumes behind the speakers (located at the sides of the cabinet) via panels on the underside of the machine. Like the gaps and holes in the football terrace here were spaces in which normally unheard sounds reverberated – the speakers faced out (obviously) so therefore these sealed spaces would have captured a version of the speakers' sound that was, by virtue of the space (re)shaping it (giving shape to it), different to that which would have been listened to by someone stood in front of the stereogram.
After defining the extent of the territory to be explored, the archaeological team then scraped away at the surface of the soil, removing it in a much slower but deliberate manner. To play a record, it needs to run underneath a needle that explores the peaks and troughs of the vinyl's surface in order to reveal the sounds bound up in that material – indeed, the record gives the sound a physical mode of being. In a similar, if less gentle, way the archaeologist runs their trowel across the surface of an open trench in order to slowly reveal any objects buried in the soil, ready to give physical form (evidence) to their ideas as to what may have been previously hidden from view.
The team calculated roughly where the goal posts should have been and differences in the soil indicated the exact location of one of them – this was then dug in to further in order to reveal a negative space that described the approximate size and shape of the base of the post. To explore further the volume(s) within the stereogram we took consideration of the front of the unit. We wanted to reveal the entire centre volume and knew that the front panel would eventually have to go. Our preparations for this led us to remove the amp unit which was slotted in between the front panel and the shelves in which the turntable was nestled. At its top were the controls – knobs and buttons exposed for use – but as the unit came out we discovered a varied strata of circuit boards, processors, fuses, wires and metal covers. And then we noticed, to the side of the blood-red circuit board, a patina on part of the metal covering: less than a millimetre in thickness there was a smattering of corrosion clearly in the shape of a series of finger prints. For the corrosion to have taken place it seems likely that the fingerprints belonged to the person who installed the amp. Here were the finger prints – laid roughly 45 years ago – of the last person to see the inside of that part of the stereogram. These traces bear witness to that brief event – a memory physicalised.
We dug deeper. The turntable was removed, revealing its own riot of springs and levers covered in ossified lubricant. We could now see through the centre of the stereogram – much in the same way the geophysical survey might be thought of as allowing us to see through the volume of earth it scans. We then worked our way down through the strata to the next layer by removing the centre shelf that previously held-aloft the turntable. At this point the whole structure threatened collapse so prior to removing the front panel we reinforced the bottom of the structure in much the same way archaeologists might reinforce the walls of a particularly deep trench.
Once an archaeological dig is complete (or put on hold) the soil that was removed is placed back in the trench and the squares of topsoil and grass are placed back on top – so that the surface soon regains an approximate appearance of its original, undisturbed state. After we removed the front and centre of the stereogram we set about tidying the trench-like scars left on the inside; the 'topsoil' – in this instance a wood veneer matching the original surface – was laid over the relevant areas and clamped into place.
The bottom panel, the front panel and the lid have all now been replaced. In their place are now perspex sheets that restore the rectilinear outline of the stereogram's central volume whilst allowing us to still see through it to the floor. It gives definition to the space so that it continues to be understood as an enclosed volume of space and not as an open and half-defined gap in an otherwise contiguous object. Inside, a turntable sits – its base taking up the minimum of space so that the view through the volume is maximised. It is on this turntable that a vinyl record will sit and play. The sound that will emanate from its grooves will, through musical pitch, describe that other pitch described in the geophysical survey data.
A vinyl record doesn't just reproduce sound: in its grooves it gives sound a physical texture – a warm texture that connoisseurs nostalgically claim the record transfers to the sounds it reproduces. Yet quite obviously the physical texture of the grooves and the sound they produce are in no way commensurate. Yet one would struggle to deny the quality conferred on the listening experience. In its new, temporal sound guise, the geophys data whirs and cracks in ways not drastically dissimilar to the whistles and rumblings that echo through the fissures and cracks in the football terrace.
The mapping of physical – yet unseen – space undertaken by the geological survey is transformed from a spatio-visual form of presentation (the digital image) in to a temporal-aural form of presentation (the modulation of sound over time). Whilst our relation to the geophys data itself has been de-spatialised (the data that was intended to be used to create an image of objects underground has now been transformed in to sound data) its new temporal dimension allows us to experience the data in a much more visceral way. The stereogram from which the sounds emerge gives back the spatio-visual experience in yet another transformed guise. Firstly, there is the giving back to this ethereal sound-data a physical mode of being – it has been sealed in to the form of a vinyl record after all. Secondly, the inner workings of the stereogram are revealed whilst maintaining the cabinet's original volume: the listener-viewer is able to see through the stereogram's central mass, to its inner-workings, just as they can, at the same time, listen 'through' the mass of the ground of BPA's former stadium.