in your project for interference
you circulate envelopes in london, in which you
ask people to send you coincidentally found pieces
of audio-tape. you restore these pieces, copy their
contents and then you work with this sound in different
ways. you worked already a year ago, in a project
on the context of the refugee camp sangatte near
calais with found fragments of audio tapes.
was this your first project of that kind?
zoŽ irvine: it was the
first focus for the magnetic migration music
project. i had been collecting sounds for a year,
although I had been seeing them for a lot longer
in trees and on the streets. when i started collecting
it was randomly, when i saw it; i never looked for
it. i thought of the tape as somehow migrating so
i thought it was obvious to go to a border, where
tape can cross and maybe people cannot cross. it
was around the time when there was a bbc documentary
about the taliban - pre september 11 -; the documentary
showed members of the taliban ripping tape out of
people's car stereos, because music was banned,
and hanging it in the trees. there were rows of
trees with tape hanging of, and i thought this is
something that this project has a resonance with
in some way. the refugee camp in sangatte was a
big news story at that time. so i went to calais,
but it was only when i arrived that i realised that
i had never gone looking for tape. i had always
just found it. i arrived in calais on a grey evening
and thought: what did i expect, how am i ever going
to find any tape? if i would live there, obviously
i would find it, but how on earth...? so i thought,
ok., since i am here, i will search, if i find any,
that's great, but i will make interviews as well
and record sounds from the area. then on my first
evening of cycling around, i already found a piece
of tape, and in the two weeks i was there, i found
some 18 pieces of tape, so there was a lot of tape
in the end.
i also spent some time
speaking with people who were transient in the area,
people who were travelling, of which there were
many, asylum seekers, but also tourists, and calais
is also where all the cargo goes through. i went
to the camp and tried to talk to people - i was
not allowed into the camp, even though i wrote and
asked in advance. it was quite difficult talking
to people because they thought i was a journalist
and "ah, you are going to tell my story and
you are going to make a difference!", and i
would say: "i am very happy to listen and record,
but i am an artist, and my project will exist, but
it is not going to be changing very much in the
way you might hope, it is not going to be headline
news." but many people did speak to me. it
was quite difficult to speak to women, but i did
find some, and it was an amazing experience listening
to all these people's stories. i cannot really express
what that was like, it was just extraordinary. many
a small radio or a tiny tape player, as something
that they took from home - because they couldn't
take very much - and they brought some music from
home. some of the tape that i found around that
area had definitely come with these people, and
was then broken and flapping around near there.
for example i had a home made tape with someone's
drumming and with very bad distortion, but it is
a very beautiful tape. i have the feeling, it travelled
i dealt with the material
in two ways: i made a radio show, that was part
of ars alectronica
and i also broadcast in vienna on radio
orange. i made half an hourís programme that
was a mix of the recordings and my interactions
with people. and i was making my website, the magnetic
migration music website,
just presenting those tapes with a note, from where
they came. it is just that, e.g.: "from the
gates of the sangatte camp," and there is an
mp3 to download, and you can hear what i found there.
it was an emotional, tough
trip, exciting as well. there were extraordinary
things like the man who owned this really rather
disgusting hotel where i stayed knew the border
police. when i said what i was doing, he said: "oh,
you have to go for a drink with the border police."
and they were really tough, i was quite scared,
really, really tough women; i ended up karaoke singing
one evening with the border police of calais. during
the day i was sort of hanging out with the asylum
seekers outside the camp and then in the evening
doing karaoke singing with the police, it was just
bizarre. and cycling around in a state of near sunstroke.
i am still in contact
with one of the asylum seekers that i met there,
who had a mobile phone. he was a teacher in iraq,
he was persecuted as a kurd and he left. it took
him over a year to arrive in sangatte and then he
couldn't get to britain. many people want to go
to britain, because they have some idea (they are
told by the people traffickers) that they get the
passport more easily or that they get benefits more
easily, which is actually not true anymore. the
amount of misinformation was horrible, when people
said: "so, if i come to britain, do i get a
house?" and being the person that says: "no,
i don't think so.". the man that i met, is
now in germany and will be deported back to iraq,
because of the war. the war came, and now everyone
says: "ok., iraq is safe, it's fine, you can
go back." and of course, it is very problematic
for him, because it is not so easy just to go back.
the mix i made has this
strange juxtaposition of people - i also met tourists
saying: "i come over here every month to buy
tobacco." i always ask the same questions:
how long did you take to get here? how much did
you pay to get here? where are you staying? and
where are you going? so, regardless if you are a
tourist or an asylum seeker, all of those questions
apply. the answers obviously went from: "oh,
i drove through to kaiserslautern and..." to
"i came from iraq to pakistan and from pakistan
to greece....", you know, these extraordinary
journeys, and people, who don't know how they got
there, because they were taken by an agent. so,
all different types of journeys were represented.
the music that i found also represented those different
types of people in a way.
in which way did this coincide in one project, the
migrating tapes and the migrating people?
zoŽ irvine: the migrating
tape project continues, and that was a focus for
it last summer, east london is a focus for it this
summer. in a way magnetic
migration music seems to migrate through different
foci. and when i chose to go to that area, it was
exactly because of migration and a kind of clichť
of music crossing barriers that people cannot. it
seemed a pathetic (in the sense of pathos) resonance
to put those two aspects together, of moving people
and moving tape, but it is not the only aspect of
this project. that part of it is called pas de
calais, and it is finished in a way. i am still
very much interested in that kind of story, in the
politics of that situation, but that's not really
part of this project anymore.
your background is in visual arts. how did you get
to sound projects, have you changed completely to
zoŽ irvine: more or less,
but i find having some visual element quite useful,
or making a publication that goes along with the
audio-element, whether that be a website or an artist-book,
and possibly film. - i studied painting in a college
where william furlong was teaching. he is an established
sound artist in this country. i ended up working
for an audio magazine he edits, called audio arts magazine and he taught me to edit reel to reel tape. i
did this as a job, when i was a student, editing
tape, and i liked it, but it was not part of my
practice. it was only when i was doing a masters
some time later, that i realised actually i wanted
to make a work in that medium; and i made a voice
based work, an interview based piece of work. i
enjoyed the process so much, that i realised that
was what i wanted to do. also, when i left college,
i had to try and make a living, and it was one of
the few sellable skills that i had, and i transferred
that skill to digital editing. i have been producing
audio for five years now in that way and it has
become the main part of my work.
in the interference
project the found tapes are on a map of london related
to the different areas they have been found in.
so in a way the project developed somehow from migrating
music to mapping an area?
zoŽ irvine: yes, it is
just a different approach for the project, a different
is really based in east london, but i used the opportunity
to incorporate greater london, and certain libraries
in different boroughs of london have agreed to promote
the project and give out these envelopes, which
is the main way of getting tape - i have not ever
really tried to get anybody else to find tape before.
so it is the participatory aspect that is new to
zoŽ irvine: yes, although
i have had certain friends that have spotted it
and picked it up for me when they found some, before.
but now it's getting people to participate. and
i have been amazed. i thought it's a nice idea,
but no one will do it. people really have done it.
i was not completely sceptical, i didn't think so
many tapes would come.
is it easy to find tape in the streets?
zoŽ irvine: east london
is full of it. it really is. i am sure, in your
time here, as you walk around, you will see some.
i have found some in vienna as well, and vienna
is very clean. london is such a mess. it is much
easier to find tape in messy places, calais is also
a mess, so it is easy to find. britain generally
is quite covered in crap, so it is easy to find
this form of rubbish.
what is recorded on the tapes?
zoŽ irvine: things that
have come in, have been lots of rap, r'n'b, somebody
found a really lovely recording of a muslim service,
it could be in a mosque, somebody quite passionately
talking and every now and then you can hear the
word 'allah.' a while ago i found a piece just not
very far from here, on a street. it was entirely
burned out cars, just wracks of cars. and there
was a big amount of tape hanging out of one of these
cars. it was gangster rap of "i am going to
burn your fucking car." so there are nice correspondences,
that is something that i am enjoying about where
something is found and what it is, and getting a
sense of place through that. so that's what this
mapping is about.
i also found lots of recordings
of radio programmes. people seem to record the radio,
play it in their car, it breaks, so they through
it out. and also for the london project, i was thinking,
what kind of sound would i like to mix with it?
i started interviewing people on the street, if
they had ever seen tape, how they thought it got
the project in calais has some political aspects
already because of the place where you did the research.
are there political aspects in the east london project
zoŽ irvine: not in such
an overt way, but there are obvious things being
pointed out by what i am collecting, and that is
definitely a poorer strata of society that uses
tape recorders and although london is very comfortable
in a certain way with it's 'multiculturalism,' there
are edges about that, and it is definitely a 'multicultural'
tape-collection that i am making. the project also
has some interrogation of copyright, because i publish
this sound, and i don't have a copyright. i haven't
quite worked out my position for myself in terms
of copyright. i am interested in the development
of copyleft and open source. copyright questions
are being asked more regularly with this project,
especially now that we will make a publication for
the end of this project. i am not seeking the copyright
for this material, it is trash on the street and
i refuse to pay copyright for that.
the project also forms
an intervention into mp3-culture: i noticed from
reading my weblogs, that people who are looking
for 'arabic rap' or 'spanish rock' plus 'mp3' land
up coming to my site. they have no desire to look
at an art project, they are looking for free mp3-downloads.
and they end up at my download page. they probably
download one, think: 'what the hell?' and leave
it alone. but that is also an interesting intervention,
that i enjoy in this project.
the london project is
very much more to do with music, in a way, and i
would like in the future to work with a musicologist
and to try and identify some of the recordings and
perhaps work out where they were made, and work
out another layer of mapping again, tracing the
next level back: where was that originally recorded?
who originally recorded that? and then you've got
another sense of another journey of that tape. when
i get a bit more material, that will be the next
i would like to explore a bit more the participatory
element of the project. the text on the envelope
is very short about why people should do this.
zoŽ irvine: i think it
either is an idea that catches people's imaginations,
or it isn't. and it seems that with very little
information and quite fast, people are either interested
or not. i didn't want to crowd the envelope with
information, so it simply says: "magnetic
migration music collects and samples sounds
from found audio tape. use this envelope to post
in your fragments of found tape." all it is
doing is alerting you to the existence of this tape
if you haven't noticed it before, and gently saying:
no hurry, but store these thoughts and if you come
across any, post it in. it's not something urgent,
but think about it, and i have one back with a little
note on the back saying: "i never saw any before
i got this envelope."
did you personally do any kind of presenting the
zoŽ irvine: i did. well,
the libraries are presenting these red cards promoting
the interference projects and the envelopes. quite a lot of london libraries
are doing that, which is great. then i went to some
schools, which was very funny, because i never really
explained it to kids before. they were like: "how
do i play this game? what do i do to play this game?"
- i am not sure, that i have got any from kids yet,
but maybe in time.
i also made a radio show
of tape found so far. it was on resonance.fm.
it must have been quite a curious radio show, because
everything is very poor quality and mangled up.
i just explained what magnetic migration music was, and then: "there is tape collected
from haringay in north london," and eight minutes
of "wrlwrlwrl" ...
is the envelope a good strategy?
zoŽ irvine: the great
thing about an envelope is - this envelope here
is the size of a postcard and it can go in postcard
racks, and it can go in a mail-out, it can go to
a lot of places and it will last quite a long time
- i have 5,000 of these envelopes. and they will
just keep going out, and every now and then someone
will send one back. although it's part of interference,
which ends on sunday, it will just go on slowly
as long as the envelope exists.
what are you up to conceptually?
zoŽ irvine: there is
a lovely book published recently, called sound
i think it is published under the category of geography,
and it is about music and experience with place.
i was quite inspired by that, also because of course
these tapes are mobile, and have travelled from
somewhere to somewhere, and potentially of course
in a car or in a walkman as a moving sound experience.
i like this filmic aspect, if you have a sense of
the place, where it came from, or where somebody
might have been listening to it, that supplies the
visual so to speak.
so, the basic concept behind the practice is still
zoŽ irvine: yes, and
it's only one
project. i am working on several projects at the
what are the other main projects? could you just
give a few keywords?
zoŽ irvine: i am working
on a project in bedford, an area about one hour
from london. it was the home of the british airship
works in the 1920s. the r101, the biggest british
airship, was built there, it was a very glamorous
thing, a very luxuryous travelling option like the
titanic in a way and it carried a radio set for
the passengers to listen to. i know the tracks that
they heard, bbc london regional radio made a special
radio show for the maiden voyage of this airship
as it flew over the capital. they were of course
the very rich and privileged on the maiden voyage,
and that was off to karachi, at that time british
india. but the airship didn't get very far, it got
to near beauvais in france and crashed. the crash
was also a very big media story, on the scale maybe
of september 11 for british people of that time.
it was a tragedy, even though there were only 50
people dead - a whole ideal had gone, it was a symbolic
end of the empire, somehow. i got interested in
this, the flying radio set and also the reportings
of supernatural occurrences after the crash. people
reported that they heard voices from the dead passengers
i am making another piece
this year about illiers, the village that proust
based his childhood for the
search of lost time. he visited this village
three times, and then later in life he invented
a whole village around this real village. in the
70ies this real village renamed itself illier-combray,
'combray' from the book, it also renamed
certain roads as well after the book. it's really
not a particularly nice french village, but they
made the best of trying to make the 'swann's way'
etc. - i was interested in this village, i went
there for two weeks with a friend of mine who is
a photographer and an artist book maker. what we
will do, is to make some kind of other projections.
proust used the village to project his idea of the
village, the village tried in turn to project that
fictional village onto itself and now we will do
the same - using this material to make something
nostalgic in a way, to do with childhood and memory.
what i seem to have recorded there was distance,
distant voices, distant church bells, cars and mopeds
coming from far to near to far again. i will make
a composition out of this material, and helen will
make an artist book of images.
so, all the projects are
very different, but magnetic
migration music continues, that has no endpoint,
that just goes on and on.
thank you very much.