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Sounds of the Projection Box
(Michael Lightborne, Gruen195, 2020)

Album released on vinyl and digital by Gruenrekorder

More info and ordering here.

These recordings, made in 2016 and 2017, document the shifting sonic texture of the cinema projection box, as it changes from 35mm to digital projection. By 2014, the majority of UK cinemas had already converted to digital, making many projectionists redundant, and quietly altering the way that cinema works, as both an industry and an experience. Very few cinemas maintain the ability to project 35mm film alongside digital, and it was in some of the remaining, tenacious boxes that I sought the persistent sounds of analogue projection.
The unique space that this album investigates is simultaneously a workshop, an engine room, and an artist’s studio. The projection box is a small room at the back of the cinema auditorium that conceals both the apparatus of the moving image, and the labour of the projectionist, ensuring that both remain invisible, and inaudible, to the cinema-goer.

This album was developed as part of The Projection Project, a research project based in the Film and Television Studies Department at the University of Warwick, which seeks to record and investigate the history of cinema projection in Britain. A special issue of the Journal of British Cinema And Television Studies (Vol 15, No 1, 2018), edited by members of The Projection Project, features a number of articles about the history of British cinema projection and the work of the projectionist in Britain, through the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. It includes an article entitled ‚Sounds of the Projection Box: Liner Notes for a Phonographic Method‘, which augments this album, and elaborates upon the theoretical and methodological rationale for the use of sonic field recording as a mode of enquiry.
All of the images that accompany this record were made by Richard Nicholson. Some of them form part of a series of portraits entitled The Projectionists.

10 Tracks (43′30″)
Vinyl (Edition of 500)

Quotes from selected reviews of the album:

“A love letter to cinema, specifically the golden age of human projectionists, Sound of the Projection Box captures sounds that are swiftly becoming extinct; yet by the end, it introduces new sounds that cannot be heard without amplification.  The state of cinema is changing, and with it equipment and personnel.  Lightborne helps us to remember the wonder of the old days, when people could still be surprised by the experience and connected to the person behind the projector.” – A  Closer Listen Top Ten Field Recordings and Soundscapes 2018.


“What a great record.  And thank God it’s vinyl, because this is the only way to hear Sounds of the Projection Box, which is at once an homage to antiquated technology, a requiem for days gone by and a reflection of supposed progress. […] Michael Lightborne captures sounds that might soon become extinct, in the same manner as certain physical environments ~ rain forests, barrier reefs ~ might disappear as well. […] As the album unfolds, Lightborne tells a beautiful story in chapter order.  […]  The sounds are incredibly crisp, taking full advantage of the stereo field.  Eventually they discover their own sort of rhythm.

For some, Sounds of the Projection Box will be a trip to the past, a nostalgic keepsake.  For others the album will be a curiosity, a historical artifact.  DJs may find the record an invaluable tool for adding texture to mixes.  Fans of the unusual will find its grooves unpredictable and enthralling.  The release has the potential to build bridges across generations by starting conversations that begin with “Tell me how it was,” and continue with “Is it better now?”  Lightborne seems to conclude that the new era is neither better nor worse; it simply contains its own type of beauty.” – Richard Allen, A Closer Listen


“The ethnographic sensory methodology is raised to a model of possible musicality. In our opinion, this Gruenrekorder release must be placed as one of the most interesting albums of the year.” – Neural Magazine


“Lightborne is especially interested in the rhythms and patterns of spinning wheels, the ‘sonic potentials’ of projector operation, the role of the rewind bench… all of these operations necessary to the smooth projection of a film, and mostly kept hidden from the audience.

Speaking of hidden elements… the last track is interesting in that it documents the workings of a modern digital projector, by way of comparison with all the analogue equipment we’ve been hearing up to this point. The workings of this machine are all but impossible to understand; there’s nothing to repair, in the way of broken reels of film; and the only sound it appears to make is a whirring noise, caused by all the fans it needs to keep it cool. Michael Lightborne proves there is however an interesting “inner life” going on inside this box, which he discovered by pointing his electromagnetic coil microphone at its innards.” – Ed Pinsent, The Sound Projector / Resonance FM


“Sounds of the Projection Box shows off Michael Lightborne’s ability to craft an entire narrative with a single event.” – Beach Sloth


“If ever a release could be used to argue for the full vinyl presentation, it's Lightborne's. The beautiful photographic images on the foldout sleeve not only do much to enhance one's impression of the project, they also convey the large size of the film reels and projection equipment involved in the projection process. When presented at a large size, the inner sleeve image of a representative booth environment, filled as it is with spools of film and movie adverts, also allows the viewer to better appreciate the rather hermetic world inhabited by the projectionist.” – Textura

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