Electromagnetic field recordings from Shenzhen’s Electronic Markets on recycled USB drive with stickers and hand bound booklet with foil embossed cover. English and Chinese text.
“As an artist, I use my work to get lost in other worlds,” explains Simon James. “It’s what I’ve always done – creating worlds that are fantastical and strange. So when I come up against these kinds of sounds, I feel that they create a world that I want to inhabit, a world I want to escape to, a strange combination of the exciting and the familiar.”
‘Electro Smog’ collects electromagnetic field recordings from Shenzhen’s electronic markets, recorded while Simon was in China at the invitation of Musicity and The British Council. The first results of this were released in 2018 on the album ‘Musicity 003 – Shenzhen / Shanghai – China’. For ‘Electro Smog’, Simon returned to the distinctive sounds of the hyperreal, sensory intensity of the huge electronics markets clustered around Shenzhen, a Chinese city that didn’t exist half a century ago.
An area once home to fishing and farming, the electronics markets sate our unquenchable appetite for gadgets, from the useful to the pointless. Using a Lom electromagnetic microphone, Simon was able to capture the raw, thrilling and mostly unheard sounds of energy – the randomised patterns displayed on LCD screens, the energy produced by ticking security sensors, banks of imitation iPhones and a wall of sonic effluence caused by hundreds of devices.
“As soon as I plugged in my microphone and started wandering around I was drawn to the LEDs,” he says. “10-inch diameter reels of tightly wound LED strips making swirling patterns, and the uncoiled strips hanging in rows. As each LED lights up in a pattern it is a bit like a sequence from an audio perspective – you are picking up the rhythm as electromagnetic sound rather than light.”
Simon’s time in the Shenzhen markets yields rhythms formed from fluctuating pulses of buzzing, throbbing energy, whining tones, the clicking and chirruping sounds of what might be invasive electronic insects, ominous magnetic drones and dense clouds of electrical smog. Back in his Brighton studio, James chose to leave the recordings mostly untouched, adding other atmospheric recordings and voices from the markets, minimal reverb and delicate EQ or filtering. The twelve tracks are at once a gateway into the alien world of sound that surrounds us wherever electronics are present, while also ruminating savagely on consumerism, technology addiction and our chronic device dependencies.
‘Electro Smog’ is a mixed-media release, consisting of a hand-bound foil-embossed book in both English and Chinese. The book features a Ballardian short science fiction story by UAL Professor of Sound and Landscape Angus Carlyle inspired by the Shenzhen recordings, plus an illuminating interview between Angus and Simon exploring the physical act of recording and the subsequent process of making the ‘Electro Smog’ album. The book also features photographs Simon took while recording in Shenzhen.
In an effort to balance the impact of the long haul flights, mass manufacturing and consumerism connected to the subject matter of ‘Electro Smog’, the desire to not impact the planet any further by pressing a vinyl or CD edition led to the decision to release the audio on upcycled USB sticks gathered from various sources. A sticker sheet inside the book allows the customisation of each unique USB stick.
Release text written by Mat Smith
released August 1, 2021
Short story and Q&A by Angus Carlyle
Book designed by Emily Macaulay at Stanley James Press