Making of "A COVID-19 Chronicle: struggles, hopes and observations"
For my final masters project, I decided to explore creating an audio feature which would take the listener on a contemplative journey consisting of peoples’ reflections, as well as my own, on the March to July 2020 lockdown during the COVID-19 pandemic. I was curious to combine documentary and sound art composition skills to form a narrative that embodies other voices, but also reflects the uncertainty and ever changing times we have experienced so far.
The themes within the feature developed as the interviews were conducted. This involved semi-organising the structure in the back of my mind as they appeared, whilst being attentive to the conversation and picking up on any connections or areas of interest. A total of 16 interviews were recorded lasting 30 minutes each, which were then edited down to around 10 minutes after eliminating any duplicated or filler words and anecdotes that strayed to far from the original question.
Alongside this I looked at documentary features and sound art compositions for inspiration on how to bring multiple aural accounts together. The aim was to create a communication artefact that holds both truth but also questioning and self-reflection. Documentary works are usually cocreated whether that be through direct contact, for instance interviewing, or through observational work and becomes biopic through the documentarian’s choices in narration and ordering.
Sound art compositions lend themselves to experimentation in layering sounds that one would not usually hear in the real world but can represent non-verbal internal experiences. Field recordings play a big part in this, allowing the listener to be grounded in the producer’s understanding of reality through using embodied symbolic systems (1) and verbal language. It then became apparent that both practices often create occasions or encounters where practitioners can “engage in the construction of a sonic environment that comes to represent reality” (Cowie, 2011).
Two works which I recommend having a listen to are The Annotated Jack (2009) and Her Long Black Hair (Janet Cardiff, 2004). They play on intertwining realities as well as taking you on a journey of discovery by layering sonic environments and captioning them through verbal narration. Both were highly inspirational to this project due to their holistic layering of sound and voice, as well as seemingly smooth transitions between storylines.
In my final piece, I take you through my morning routine pondering on how things use to be and where they are now. I decided to use figurative language to express sensory perception and emotions that occurred with these thoughts. The use of similes, metaphors, and general poetic language was an essential component in creating a homogenous audio feature. I wanted a flow-like aesthetic rather than sudden chop and changes like one can find in some documentaries, hence why later on the piece opens space for commentary from interviewees. Here their pondering and encounters become an extension of my own thoughts whilst sharing insight into others’ experiences during covid-19.
The sounds used are mainly from my own collection of field recordings as well as samples from British Sounds Library Archives (access given through university). Minimal effects were applied to these sounds creating a grounding effect and my walk-in closet served very well as a voice over booth. A big thank-you to the audio community on Twitter for their advice on how to smooth/balance multiple voices interviewed virtually and feedback given on the piece.
Finally, this project has been emotionally taxing with re-listening to accounts of the first lockdown whilst another wave of restrictions comes into situ for the UK. There is a melancholy tone within my narrative which suggests this, hence I’d like to create another project, similar in material i.e. an audio feature, but having the topic collating less known about and more nuanced experiences.
However, the journey and process in making the final outcome has shown me that “collective memory is not a shared memory but the individual experience of remembering – its manifestation in consciousness – through a shared social world that constitutes a determinant for memory as the historical real that prompts and shapes the ‘memories’ as we recollect and thus produce, for ourselves or for our family and community” (Cowie, 2011).
A COVID-19 Chronicle: Struggles, Hopes and Observations is available to listen below or on Soundcloud.
To the participants involved in the project, thank-you for your contribution and I hope you enjoy listening.
1 – By symbolic systems I mean those sounds which are engrained into our psyche such as emergency vehicle sirens, a baby crying and so on.
A COVID-19 Chronicle: Struggles, hopes and observations. Available at: https://soundcloud.com/hollyearly/experiences-of-lockdown-2020
British Sounds Library. Available at: https://sounds.bl.uk/
Cowie, E. (2011) Recording Reality, Desiring the Real. USA: University of Minnesota Press.
Janet Cardiff (2004) Her Long Black Hair. [Audio]. Public Art Fund. Available at: https://soundcloud.com/incredibleworksofart/sets/janet-cardiff
The Annotated Jack (2009). RTÉ Radio 1, 31 October. Available at: