The Public Realm EP was a reaction last year to the council’s attempt to silence buskers in the centre of Birmingham, claiming that their amplified noise was distracting to shopkeepers, office workers and flat dwellers. The EP would see me wondering around the city recording the noises that I encountered and sharing them on this blog and possibly later bandcamp and/or soundcloud.
At first, the idea was to record noises of pneumatic drills, constant building works and other constant hums and whirrs, but of course this branched out into busker noise, street preacher rantings, people on phones and chance mood-altering encounters. What I would encounter, as a recorder and onlooker, would no doubt shape my consciousness, my decision making, and my mood for the next hour or so.
In this extract below taped on Monday, fresh from a meeting with Writing West Midlands, I took a walk up Digbeth High Street and round the back of Spiceal Street. It was a hot day, and I had my laptop in my bag. Powering up past the fountain adorned with a poem by Polar Bear and walking up to New Street/High Street, I was met with the sounds of an older man shouting, and in the other ear, sounds of Islamic calls to prayer played through a speaker, with documentary style discussion in a foreign language.
I could see where the calls to prayer were coming from. On my left, there was a gazebo set up in front of the Pavillions belonging to the company Islamwise, who offer a service offering people guidance on the ‘beautiful religion of Islam’ from their base at the Green Lane Masjid & Community Centre in Small Heath. The people at the gazebo seemed peaceful, in contrast to the shouting gentleman, who I then saw was on my right, directly facing the gazebo, with a copy of the Bible in one hand and a microphone in the other. He was sitting down on a small stool behind a pillar and a raised garden, defiant in his pleas for passers-by to renounce the devil and all his temptations.
Despite being 90% deaf in my left ear, I enjoyed the contrast between the audio, and whipped my phone out to record the dialogue played out on the street. Other passers-by seemed to enjoy this spectacle, and they themselves stopped and recorded and took photos. An interesting player in this scene was a man with a bandana and wrap-around shades, a baseball top, black trousers and violently red shoes, who, like me, was moving from preacher to gazebo and back again, almost as if he was floating on air, eventually sitting next to the preacher and listening intently with a solemn look on his face. His appearance was at direct contrast to the preacher, which made the whole scene even more intriguing.
This does beg the question, what space does religion have in the public realm, and if not, what in fact should be a part of this utopian ideal? When I came up with this idea last year, there was a clip of an altercation between a Muslim preacher and a man who sold bubble guns in New Street. The bubble gun man was livid, and was shouting that religion was a form of mind control and should have no place in the city centre. All this below constant advertising slogans and images of perfection, discount offers, inviting smells of food, pollsters, street performers chuggers and myriad distractions. All this with the sounds of pnuematic drills for new and improved office space and fooderies, Oasis covers and beatboxers (indeed, on the day I recorded the religion debate above, walking up New Street I was met with at once the sound of a beatboxer approximating EDM, then a few steps up two men in their 80s were singing music hall with a squeezebox and a ukelele. Both as valid as each other.)