I do this recording between some low rise buildings in Fyllingsdalen on a bright and cold winter day. Due to the wind, I position the microphone near a hedge where it stays protected. We hear dry leaves swirling along the ground. In the distance noise from several building projects in the valley can be heard. Additionally, the general humdrum from the valley forms a soft background noise. Seventeen minutes into the take an aeroplane passes by, it has recently taken off from Flesland. Towards the end of the recording (24 min 30 sec), signals warn of an upcoming blast, but we never hear the charge going off.
Recording this feels demanding but it takes a while before I understand why. The wind makes me struggle with how best to set up the mike, and eventually, I position it close to a hedge and further down than what I use to. But it is not this that bothers me.
It feels uncomfortable to record this close to the nearby flats. From where I stand, I can look into several apartments, and the residents are also able to see me if at home. The microphone amplifies and emphasises sound that I would not elseway hear. At times I pick up conversations between passers-by. Additionally, my mike has detailed spatial resolution, making it possible to zoom in on sound from one direction only. It may be possible to trace conversations from within the flats, especially if windows or doors or left open. This recording approach has potential for surveillance or stalking, and I find this ethically challenging.
I experience the site of recording as unwelcoming. The pastel colours of the facades seem awkward as if the buildings have been renewed, but the renewal is itself getting old. Maybe this place will be experienced differently on a warm summer day, but at the time being it appears alienating and out of balance.
Ondine Park discusses exteriors and interiors as opposing tropes of the suburb in ways that lead to tensions between anonymous and bland exteriors and assumingly private and individual interiors:
The suburb tends to be depicted (and also problematized) as serial spatializations in which the interior and exterior are mutually separate spaces, and also distinct types of spaces. That is, space is imagined to be divided serially into an interior and an exterior, which are discontinuous, mediated/separated by a boundary. These divided spaces are understood to be fundamentally different types or categories with each enacting, making possible, or precluding different, mutually exclusive meanings, orientations, attachments, behaviours, and more. Thus, while any number of different figures might be identified, two key sets of figures emerge as importantly marking the suburban imaginary. These are figures of exteriority and of interiority. Specifically, the interior is characterized by interiority and the exterior is marked by exteriority. These different qualities of serial spatialization, interiority and exteriority, are, in turn, imbued with dichotomous meanings. (…)
The suburban exterior figures as anaesthetic when it is imagined as numbing the capacity for emotional, affective, or aesthetic response through either a deprivation or an excess of the sensible (that which can be sensed and thereby made sense of). This renders the suburban exterior as marked by absence and excess and as a non-place, and effectively detaches the quality of exteriority from the spatialization of the exterior potentially allowing exteriority to be a floating quality. (…)
The suburban interior figures as offering a site for the creation and maintenance of the individual that is predicated on withdrawal and introversion. This renders the suburban interior as space marked by the individual and as (what I am calling) a "non-space” that is, by a sense of spacelessness; and, detaches the quality of interiority from the spatialization of the “interior” and renders it intimate.
Such a categorical rendering of space ultimately produces the suburban imaginary as paradoxical. In addition to the detachment of the qualities of space from their respective spaces, the suburb figures as paradoxical spatializations when its serially divided spaces are imagined as properly being distinct yet are experienced to be uncannily hybrid. (…) The spaces, their qualities, and their meanings are imagined as necessarily being categorically and mutually separate—they are divided by repulsive barriers and are otherwise imagined to be disconnected; and yet (…) they are found to be irrepressibly mutually permeable: Exteriority is displaced and interiority expands. 1
I am aware of these tensions while recording. The exterior feels empty and meaningless and at the same time the colours of the facades are overwhelming.
Looking towards many apartments that are all constructed the same way makes it difficult to imagine them as individual and personal. The residents hopefully experience this different, feeling at home, befriending neighbours, and having affinity to and memories from this place. But for me, standing outside, the monotonous repetitions dominate. The use of colours does not resolve this into a proper place; rather, they further accentuate the imbalance and sense of being lost.
The Arborvitae hedge, the edge between street and lawn, and the facades are all barriers between exterior and interior. These barriers are porous. I can peek through windows if I so want, and the microphone reaches through the hedge and open doors and windows. “The margins and boundaries between inside and outside are not impenetrable.” Park discusses how works by the artists Peter Drake and Gregory Crewdson “convey the ambivalence and anxiety related to the inevitably porous division between inside and outside, interior and exterior, and interiority and exteriority” 2. This I can relate to while recording.
(T)he sense that neither the inside nor the outside feels safe sums up the problem and paradox of the construction of suburban spatial division. In attempting to maintain strict boundaries and separate functions, neither imaginary space reads as safe, or rather both alienated spaces read as risky because of the fundamental but ineffective division. 3
(Please use headphones when listening.)
1 Park, O. (2014). The Suburban Imaginary: Ambivalence, Strangeness, and the Everyday in Contemporary Representations of the Suburb [PhD Thesis, Department of Sociology, University of Alberta]. https://era.library.ualberta.ca/items/40697516-8147-4953-988f-f7a133ecba8b, p. 11-12
2 Ibid., p. 269
3 Ibid., p. 270