Sound Elegies for the Recently Displaced, or, Cartographer’s Amble

Providence vs. Boston

Grace Church illustration

3:27

For a year and a half I lived in the semi-abandoned downtown of Providence, Rhode Island, where one of the most prominent sounds (bar noise and construction aside) was the bells from nearby Grace Episcopal Church. The church has been a fixture in the city for over a hundred years, and I could see its steeple from my bedroom window. Downtown Providence was mostly deserted on the weekends, devoid of noise and pedestrian traffic, but the bells were there, ringing out over the empty streets. I was extremely attached to the bells. Their lonely sound seemed somehow emblematic of the city I loved, with its peculiar quality of having been lost and then found again. During my time in Providence I made field recordings of the bells from inside the 200-foot tall steeple and from outside in the city. I also conducted a few interviews with long time Providence residents about their own associations with the bells.

Then in September of 2005 I moved from Providence to Boston to pursue a career in radio. My sense of loss leaving Providence was palpable. I had loved Providence. It was the city where I had found most of my intellectual and artistic growth, as well as a remarkable community of like-minded creatives in the city’s underground art and music scene. By comparison, Boston seemed sterile and foreign.

Once I left Providence, the recordings of Grace Church took on an entirely new dimension. They became artifacts, sound memories of a place to which I still have deep attachment. Because they evoke such a strong sense of place, hearing the recordings now evokes profound nostalgia.

I had hoped to turn these recordings into a longer piece exploring why I was so attached to Providence, and piecing apart why Boston seemed so different by comparison. This was my first attempt. Working on this piece helped me realize that most of my personal work is about the attachments that people have to the places they live, how people haunt places and places haunt people.

A proposal to fund production of this piece was a finalist for the Berwick Research Institute’s Artist-in-Research Residency Program in 2006.

Note: The above illustration of Grace Church is one panel from a silk-screened comic I made in 2004. Click here if you’d like to see the whole thing.

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Categories: Audio Sketches

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