The electric meter at the corner of President and Bond—in the industrial area of Gowanus, Brooklyn—is usually silent, but on this April afternoon it was emitting a synthesizer-like drone that caught my ear from across the street, just as I was leaving work. With its many small vents, this particular type of meter also happened to be identical to one that had been on the street of my childhood home in Seattle. So, I made a quick sample of this drone with my cellphone, hoping to use it for this assignment. However, upon reviewing the recording on studio monitors, the tone that had attracted me was lost, totally obscured by surrounding sounds in the background.
You can hear the buzz of bandsaws operated by a nearby fabrication studio that makes sets for television shows. There are birds chirping from trees and traffic passing by. The polluted sewer that is the Gowanus Canal is less than fifty yards away (which does little to stop the luxury high-rise construction projects along its sludgy banks), but, of course, you can't hear that on this recording.
Through time-stretching—altering speed without changing pitch—then reversing and hard-panning the 33-second clip of audio, I sought to bring into focus that lost moment: a still focal point around which the overbearing environment recedes. The tension between economic forces, societal and geographical upheaval, and chemical runoff all swirl around a moment of heightened perception—a memory reconstructed (and one best listened to on headphones).
Recording artist John Fell Ryan is the leader of the improvisatory electronic rock group Excepter, producing dozens of releases for various labels. He was also one of the subjects of Room 237, the 2012 documentary about Stanley Kubrick obsessives, and a lifetime member of the No-Neck Blues Band. He lives and works in Brooklyn, New York.
Each installment of this ongoing portfolio series features an original audio recording by a musician, composer, or sound artist along with their commentary. Projects range from raw documentation of live performances to sound collage and experiments with aleatory music.