Wednesday, March 18, 2020

451. Ricketts and The Immediate Soundscape

Now that the COVID-19 virus is making victims worldwide, I had to think of the two years after World War I, when the Spanish flu killed millions. I looked for a possible response from Charles Ricketts to that pandemic, but I found nothing.

Instead, I found a passage about his taste for unmusical sounds - and I had to think of a contemporary book artist and draughtsman about whose work I recently wrote (for a catalogue to be published this year), Sam Winston. In an interview he said he was fascinated by his 'immediate soundscape':

I found a 10 hour loop of the Skype ringtone on YouTube recently – it's not a favorite song but that's the last thing I remember actively looking to listening to part of. Beyond that – the soundtrack I follow is mainly whatever is going on in the immediate soundscape – right now that's a police car in Hackney (London) and a cement mixer. Sorry to be so obtuse but I think we miss a lot when we only specify certain things to be listened to or watched – it limits the scope of what can be heard and seen.

[The interview is published online at Typeroom.]

R.N. Roland Holst, cover design for his collection of essays Over Kunst (On Art) (1923)
Ricketts mentioned similar sounds in a letter to the Dutch artist Richard Roland Holst. He shares with him his experiences while reading François René de Chateaubriand's work Mémoires d'outre tombe (Memoirs from Beyond the Grave):

The book interested me immensely; that part of it in which he is idealistic, romantic, and talks of the Sylphide is simply odious, and drips with pomatum, hair-wash, and any kind of sticky substance; but there are marvellous pages on his childhood, exquisite pieces of description throughout - a marvel on the battle of Waterloo which he hears from a distance); vivid polemical and historical pages on the Revolution and Napoleon; these are like Tacitus, written with a sort of staccato like the Roman; should you read the book, skip all about his soul (he had a damned bad sham one); some of the sentimental pages are not uninteresting, though he was in love only with himself: these have the queer false and pathetic charm of a harp or hand-organ heard in the distance, but this is probably meaningless to you unless, like me, you like ridiculous sounds such as post-horns or, for that matter, derelict and decayed musical boxes and clocks out of tune.