RING ROAD RING
(Michael Lightborne, Gruen195, 2020)
”It’s as though the architecture itself was in revolt, protesting the weight of traffic that has been passing over its surfaces for 50 years; the whole LP emerges as a Dantean portrait of a modern urban Hell, a bleak image of futility." - Ed Pinsent, The Sound Projector / Resonance FM
This album features sound recordings of the low-level vibrations pulsing through the megastructure that is the Coventry Ring Road. Built between the 1950s and 70s, it was a key part of the plan to rebuild Coventry after the devastation of World war II. The Ring Road was intended to keep traffic out of the city centre and form the basis for a radical vision of a modern pedestrian-focussed city. However, politics, economics and the contingencies of history combined to produce a situation in which the plan was compromised in a number of ways. Nowadays, the Ring Road has come to be seen as a misguided Modernist project that ended up deterring pedestrians and killing the city centre. The process of disassembling, mitigating, and repurposing the structure is already under way.
To capture these sounds I used contact microphones attached to the concrete pylons that support the road, at various points around its circumference. I was immediately surprised by how melancholy the ring-road sounds. The first track is a collage of field recordings from around the Ring Road. Most of the subsequent tracks take these recordings as raw material from which to build a series of poetic interpretations of the lifeworld of the Ring Road. The final track adds induction coil recordings of the electromagnetic fields that surround and emanate from the structure, including the flittering fragments of the EM fields dragged around by traffic passing above.
released January 13, 2020
7 Tracks (32′47″)
Vinyl (300 copies)
This album was produced as part of Sensing the City, an Arts and Humanities Research Council funded project that investigates the urban space of Coventry City (warwick.ac.uk/sensingthecity).
Thanks to: Nicolas Whybrow, Natalie Garrett Brown, Emma Meehan, Carolyn Deby, Nese Tosun, Sarah Shalgosky, Fiona Venables, Rachel Moseley, Pete Ashton, Roland and Lasse at Gruenrekorder, Denise Pigott, and Ezra Gene.
All recordings made by Michael Lightborne in the city of Coventry.
Artwork and photography by Michael Lightborne.
Field Recording Series by Gruenrekorder
Germany / 2020 / Gruen 195 / LC 09488
Quotes from selected reviews:
“This is some fascinating music; dark and elegant, quiet and peaceful.” – Franz de Waard, Vital weekly
“Michael Lightborne‘s previous record for this label was the excellent Sounds Of The Projection Box, released in 2018 as a beautifully packaged LP record with plenty of photographic illustrations of his theme. He made documentary recordings of the sounds of projection booths in UK cinemas, but also contextualised the work with his detailed, well-considered annotations and observations. That rigour is much in evidence on today’s record, Ring Road Ring (GRUEN 195). He made recordings of the ring road in Coventry, a structure that was built after the war in the hopes of allowing traffic to bypass the city, so the council could make good on its plan to build a pedestrianised centre. There are numerous concrete pillars supporting this road, and this is where Lightborne attached his microphones to collect his field recordings. These are presented on the record; first as a long (10:53) piece, the title track in fact, which collages and layers a number of the original recordings together into a mini-symphony of grey, droning sounds. There follow a number of shorter pieces, with titles such as ‘Fortran’, ‘Moebius Loop’ and ‘Shepherd Tone’, which use the original recordings but subjected to the imaginative processes of the composer; his aim is “to build a series of poetic interpretations of the lifeworld of the Ring Road”, which I find very poignant. The long track has a compelling, industrial bleakness which is hard to beat, but the shorter “poetic” tracks are just glorious; barely recognisable as traffic sound, what emerges is mostly the sense of constant vibrations and the shifting of inert building materials, transformed by the composer’s art into a form of droning process music.
Michael Lightborne evidently intends a critical side to his work […]; he points out how the Ring Road project failed, and failed the city; “the Ring Road has come to be seen as a misguided Modernist project that ended up deterring pedestrians and killing the city centre.” I can personally testify to this, having spent three years in Coventry in the 1980s; as a pedestrian, I often wondered what was causing this nameless sense of dread and despair in my bones, and the Ring Road could well have been a part of it. Ironically, the project (as shown in Lightborne’s research) was full of optimism at the time, even regarded as futuristic – the design was computer-assisted, hence the Fortran reference, and full of the same spirit of adventure that led our society to build other Brutalist erections, such as the numerous tower blocks that sprung up under the Labour government in the 1960s. Lightborne’s gloomy prognosis was, he found, confirmed as soon as he heard a playback of the field recordings he had made; it sounded “melancholy”. It’s as though the architecture itself was in revolt, protesting the weight of traffic that has been passing over its surfaces for 50 years; the whole LP emerges as a Dantean portrait of a modern urban Hell, a bleak image of futility. How many other such destructive and deleterious town planning projects are there in the UK? We need more sound artists like Lightborne to point out and express these failures, and I would argue the statements are all the more powerful for being expressed as art, instead of 200pp surveyor reports or misguided sociological studies that will never get read.” – Ed Pinsent, The Sound Projector / Resonance FM
“Issued in vinyl and digital formats, Lightborne’s thirty-three-minute Ring Road Ring is strongly rooted in a geographical location […]. In every one of these soundscapes, texture and reverberation are paramount. A collage of largely untreated field recordings, the opening track, “Ring Road Ring,” is the longest at eleven minutes as well as the ‘purest.‘ Even so, a vaguely melancholic, even lonely character emerges from the muffled stream and its punctuating clatter, so tangibly, in fact, that Lightborne’s likening of its ‘music‘ to a “lament” begins to seem more than a little plausible. Further to that, when a metronomic clicking pattern surfaces, the grainy material begins to suggest some degraded form of experimental techno, the kind of industrial concoction one could image booming from the bowels of a hazy club at three in the morning. The other tracks build on “Ring Road Ring” by using it as raw material for the creation of so-called “poetic interpretations” of the road. Smothered in gaseous vapours, “Fortran” could be mistaken for an early Basic Channel production or even perhaps some eerie alien transmission captured using broken-down equipment. The sonic character of “Moebius Loop” evokes the image of a figure lurching through a cavernous space, whereas “Shepherd Tone” exudes a rather nightmarish quality in suggesting scrambled voices accessed via seance. If “Ring Cycles” exhibits a stronger electronic character than the others, it’s because Lightborne worked into its combustible assembly induction coil recordings of the electromagnetic fields surrounding and emanating from the structure. Each vinyl side, by the way, includes a locked groove at the end, the gesture fitting for a project whose subject matter operates as a continuous roundabout.” – Textura