Seen this car? – Ground Sound!

You would have seen it at:

Audiograft ( Oxford 16-20/2/2011

People came in the day and the dark and sampled the live subterranean sound.

Ground Sound is an out side sound installation, where listeners can sit inside a car and hear the live sounds of the ground on the car’s sound system. A geophone, planted in the ground, plays through a sub woofer in the boot of the car relaying the low frequencies of the city sound and traffic giving the listeners a different take on the terrain below their feet.

My initial thoughts linked low frequency sound of the car culture – sub woofers playing hip hop beats – with the low frequency and vibration I had been finding with under ground sound. So I made a car sound system that played live ground sounds to see what would happen.

The sound in the car (Ground Sound) provoked dire opposing reactions turning out to be a place of associations and evoking strong physical memories:


Made me feel ill

Lovely low pitch

Sinister and strangely relaxing at the same time

Intense – don’t really know what’s going on

Brilliant – Noisy isn’t it

Love that sound

Very comforting

Ominous and spooky

Not quite comfortable

Kinda novel – Weird

Don’t know what it is but I like it

People had associations from past experiences of sitting in a car, ferry boat or

Watching a film:

Like boat engines in the dock or the rumble of something coming over the hill

Like under water – but nice- all dull muted and a bit fuzzy

Like being a child again – car trip with your parents – being on the back seat

Like you are traveling but you’re not – you notice everybody

Allows you to go away in your head

Like it – bringing the outside in

In this bubble- feels like you’re on a stake out

Feel like I am watching a film playing out

It paces time differently

I can see the ground as if it had surface tension and on top of which we – the pedestrians and the traffic skated like water boatmen –lightly sounding the meniscus or skin on the top of the pond. ( Words form journal 2010)

Surface tension: In Bristol by College Green the sound and vision of the walkers as well as the traffic, and the manifestation of their footsteps hear from under the flag stones, made me imagine them as flies on a pond surface playing on the surface like light fingers on a drum. So that begged the question- What, below this surface, is going on?

The experience provoked thoughts about what happens under your feet that we don’t usually think about:

The ground is like a vibrating surface – when you tap your foot

Is there just a massive sound that is inaudible to us beneath our feet?

Was it the trees and the roots (making the sound)?

Opens up the earth beneath your feet

Thought I heard the worms

Projection: Sound vibration has no boundaries. It goes right through the earth and permeates under oceans and cities at low frequencies we cannot hear but feel.(natural hum of the earth 1Hz and below and 1-7Hz cultural and natural noise (see journals). When we listen to the radio we imagine where the sound has come from. And like listening to the radio, the ephemeral qualities of hearing sound allows the listener to be both intimately close up in detail to all its’ qualities, and project our thought or imagination to its’ source, and the course of its’ travel to our ears.

Some people thought of themselves in relation to the planet:

With people clomping and the cars you feel the weight of the things on the earth

We leave a heavy footprint even though we don’t mean to

Like I’m underground- having something over the top of me

I will walk more softly from now on

It makes me feel bigger – makes me feel vast

Meaning and reality: The distortion of sound traveling through the ground,(faster than in air) where you don’t see exactly what you are used to seeing with the sound you hear, gets us to re-examine our presumptions about our reality that we take for granted. Perhaps this process, a mismatch of eye an ear, ‘takes apart the mechanism of meaning’ (feed back).

You hear people before you see them

Interesting relationships with what you’re seeing and what you don’t hear

Looking for connections with what I could see and what I was listening to..

The sound experienced as vibration takes apart the mechanisms of listening to it’s elemental components and reminds us of it’s process – when shaking our bodies’ bones as well as those in our eardrums.

Solid Listening

Earlier this year I went to Redcliffe Caves: a labyrinth of tunnels under the city by the Bristol Docks, and Charlotte Heffernan and I put geophones in the walls of the underground caves to listen to the sound that could be heard. We couldn’t hear very much: mostly very faint traffic sounds and electrical buzzes. We did hear muffled signs of life above our heads. We were directly under streets and houses and a pub. When we drove away we noticed people in the pub drinking. We thought of the direction of the tunnels and realised that they had made those faint sounds – the ones we heard underground. They reminded me of the muffled sounds you hear through walls and doors and even from under the bath water when you are a child.

‘The faint underground sounds seemed somehow amplified and more potent in their remoteness deep down in the quiet underground.’ Words from journal  2010

I made an installation for the sound festival Audiograft ( ) after thinking about these small sounds heard remotely through the big chunk of rock and clay.  Through Walls was a sound piece where people inside a room could hear sounds through the walls and outside sounds through the large plate glass window.


Outside the room speakers played sound directly into the walls. They played a track of random domestic sound I had picked up in my house into the wall. These sounds were hardly audible in the room but heard if you put your ear or a listening device to locate them on the wall. Listeners experimented by pressing their ears on the walls or used listening devices: tumblers, funnels, horns, stethoscopes etc. The walls and plate glass surfaces acted both as amplifiers and filters to the sound heard through them.



People fed back their thoughts. The instruments became ‘extensions’ to their own ears. The act of creating new ‘big ears’ started people thinking:  What sounds are we listening to? Where is it coming from? The instruments transformed the sound we could hear with our ears. It was commented that it showed how extremely efficient our own ears seem, inferring that we are not even aware of the transforming qualities our own ears have.

Sound brought clear associations of the past. The listeners’ had memories of sounds heard in the past through materials such as walls, water and glass. We have, it seems, been receiving our sound from our earliest memories from all the different materials around us.