Having built his new record, ‘The Bridge Between Life and Death’, around field recordings taken in Iceland in 2009, Bristol-native and Barcelona-based musician Zoon van snooK is no stranger to using found sound in his work. When we asked him to send us a field recording, he veered away from the frosty vibes of his LP, though – as seen in his latest single The Verge of Winter – and opted for something much warmer and more festive. Capturing a medley of the blissful street music of Barcelona, hear Zoon’s contribution to our Found Sound series below, and read his thoughts on Catalan culture, his connection to Iceland and the emotional experience of listening to the ocean.
Hi, Zoon van SnooK! Could you tell us a bit about the recording you’ve sent us?
Hi Dummy!! The recording I sent you is a medley of street music from here in Barcelona – my current home away from Bristol. Every year the city places 10 grand pianos on a main street called Passeig de Gracia. As part of one of the biggest music competitions in Europe, people are allowed to simply wander up and play them. Most of the recordings here are of really quite young children and it finishes up with a really elderly Catalan lady, who had to be helped up from the stool after – even through the obvious arthritis, you could see and hear the remnants of her dexterity.
Do you often get inspired by sounds you hear in Barcelona?
There is a specific sound that I had been hearing about once or twice a week for months, without knowing what it was. It was really intriguing, but as soon as you heard it and looked out your window, it was gone. Anyway, it turns out it was a weird ocarina type thing, that the guys who sharpen knives and scissors use to let you know they are there. They have the mechanical sharpener attached to the engine of a battered old scooter that they push around!! It’s a lovely sound. I’ve always been really interested in dialogue, conversations and catching snippets of what other people are saying completely out of context. People generally speak a lot louder here – which took a bit of getting used to!! – but hearing the mix of Catalan and Spanish together enhances the intrigue even further.
You built your new album from field recordings made in Iceland – what was that process like?
Collecting the field recordings was, of course, a joy. I had been fascinated with Iceland since hearing Sigur Rós and then Múm in the late 90s and was waiting to obtain enough money to get over there, so I would have travelled there regardless of any inclines towards creating anything of my own.
I had a few field recordings and lots of found sound on the first record (which didn’t even come out until a year after the Iceland trip) and previous 12” EP, but I had the idea that I wanted to create a whole album from recordings taken in Iceland just before we went. When I came back I went straight into the studio and the songs came really easily, about three at a time. Often I would play one of the 12 recordings, that I had whittled down from over 40, and write the chords directly over the top – mainly on the piano to begin with. I sent messages to Amiina and Sin Fang who were really kind in contributing pieces, which I either incorporated or built the song around. I had done a remix for Benni and he contributed a field recording of his own.
Would you like to make an album based on recordings of another place in the future – maybe capturing the bustling sound of Barcelona?
The Catalans have got their own thing going on and it would be great to capture that somehow. Funnily enough, the day these recording were taken, I formulated an idea for an EP of Catalan-inspired music, early title being ‘The Apple of Dischord’ – a nod to both the Greek mythology that it comes from, and the incongruous block of Catalan architecture named so (without the “h”!) on Passeig de Gracia.
There is a lovely, resonant rumble that you hear when the metro passes under our flat that I would love to capture properly – not sure if I’ll manage that with my equipment though!
I did take a number of great field recordings whilst on a week-long tour of The Netherlands with Inner City Grit Records in 2011 – that will definitely end up as an EP one day.
If you could only hear one sound in the whole world, what would it be?
I’m taking this to mean that “music” is an unacceptable answer here. So, I think, it would have to be the sound of the coast. The different sonic textures of water, especially old “briney”, evokes such feelings of freedom, endless possibility and, for me, deep yearning.