UCL Department of Geography


My Soundscapes - Nathaniel Télémaque

Sounds like Harlesden by Nathaniel Télémaque

Sounds like Harlesden was initially screened on 6th March 2020, before the uncanny paradigm shift of the COVID-19 pandemic. It is an audio-visual essay made from a collaboration with my Pesolife Art collective peers Mars Meddo and Kaye Orbit, who are talented singers, songwriters and producers, and Rajinder Dudrah who is a Professor of Cultural Studies and Creative Industries at Birmingham City University.

This project encouraged me to explore many questions related to soundscapes and the visual depictions of a neighbourhood that holds a special place in my heart. Growing up in North West London, Harlesden was the place I hated to go with my mother as she would stop and talk to scores of people she knew from its richly diverse community. 

Such as the Dominican and Ghanaian aunties and uncles from church and the Irish and Afghan elder residents she checked in on locally. Rastafari men would bow to her in the streets, greeting her as a queen, and commenting on my strength to carry heavy shopping bags, full of plantains and other perishables. Like the children of many other migrant populations, the sounds of blue plastic bags rubbing together still irritate me at times.

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The essential idea for the project was to collect enough soundscape recordings so that my peers Mars Meddo and Kaye Orbit could utilise them in the curation of their essay beat productions, which were made in response to my photographs and interviews. All of the audio-visual essay’s beats were produced, edited and mastered by Mars Meddo & Kaye Orbit.

Utilising the raw recordings from my Dictaphone, they synthesised local sounds, with 808 drums and electronic synthesizers. Scoring the locale as they saw it to be thematically suitable to our endeavours. 

Once we had collected a substantive amount of audio-visual materials, our collaborative curation and editing processes were supported by Rajinder’s insights and advice, which were pivotal in shaping our creative approaches.

I found that when I was shooting and recording for the project many people would often stop me to ask, "what I was doing with my camera?" They would also ask me if what I was doing, was for a piece of college work. Perhaps they would enquire about what exactly it was that I was recording when standing at the bus stops and not actually taking any of the buses.

After briefing them on my work, I would occasionally respond with a question: How would you describe the way Harlesden sounds? And much to my surprise, people would describe the abundance of scene-setting background noises I had tried to capture throughout the project.

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I believe that many of the background noises we tune out in and out of in our day-to-day lives can actually be asserted as foundations of what we’ve been referring to as ‘my soundscapes’. These soundscapes are of course heavily intertwined with the music we listen to. As the albums and songs we play in our kitchens and on our way to the local supermarket or shops also contribute to and potentially narrate our site-based soundscapes.

However, I ask you, what happens when your phone dies and you can no longer listen to your favourite playlists? What are the sounds that you’re heavily accustomed to hearing and miss in their absence? Should you take a moment to pause that favourite song you’re playing, what does your soundscape actually sound like? Where is it geographically based? And what features potentially draw you to other areas of soundscapes?

Upon reflection, Sounds Like Harlesden in many sought to answer these questions, through our audio-visual explorations of the area and engagements with its people. I do hope that this reflection has encouraged you to explore the taken-for-granted audio-visual elements of your own local areas and conceptualised soundscapes.