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Four versions of the same place

TOD_EMELAn unusual submission from Canadian artist Tod Emel, who, when we dealt him the cards Make what’s perfect more human and Water, was inspired to produce three different reimaginings of the same sound from his local public library in Saskatoon. Here he describes his process and the thinking behind each of the memory versions:

“For the purposes of the Cities and Memory: Oblique Strategies, I collected field recordings from the foyer of the Frances Morrison Library in downtown Saskatoon, Saskatchewan. I found this liminal space intriguing, acting as a sort of buffer zone between the noisy world of the street outside and the quiet, contemplative setting of the library interior. As I sat recording, many people of different ages came through the space, leaving traces of their passing in the sounds of opening and closing doors; snippets of conversation mingled with the sound of passing vehicles and the peal of bells from a nearby church.”

“My randomly selected cards were: 1) Make what’s perfect more human, and 2) Water. As I set about to re-imagine the recordings, I felt that digitally altering and effecting the original recordings to invoke sounds of water was producing something more mechanistic, less human. The more I thought about it however, it seemed that i was producing something more ‘artificial,’ much in the sense that Oscar Wilde spoke of artifice. From this perspective, it seemed that as I introduced more artifice and restructuring in processing the recordings, I was marking this raw material as more human.”

City version:


“Considering the human tendency to impose structure where none exists, with the track ‘Scribe’ I heavily altered a section of dialogue between two men speaking in a south-asian language, interrupted by a mother and young child entering the foyer from outside. I split the original recording into multiple tracks with different autofiltered frequencies, ‘wet’ reverb effects and choppy LFO settings to create a rhythmic structure and spatial ambience. The result suggests an angular movement through a space that upends our sense of being in a familiar space.”

Memory version ‘Scribe’:


“From ‘Scribe’ I worked reductively to realize the track ‘Open,’ sampling a short section of the exchange between mother and daughter. This sample was time stretched and heavily processed. I then used the sample as the basis for an improvised laptop performance that has a gritty lo-fi/broken analog synth aesthetic that is very much in line with the sort of work I’m currently producing. As an improvised piece, I was looking to respond to the fluid nature of performance suggested by the ‘water’ Oblique Strategy.”

Memory version ‘Open’:


“Finally, for ‘Humidex’ I moved away from the more artificial and dramatic sounds of the first two tracks and sampled loops of nearly silent sections from the original recordings. These loops were slowed and filtered to smooth the sounds. The various length loops were then layered and arranged much like a round, rendered as a short, flowing minimal ambient piece.”

Memory version ‘Humidex’: