The Scrub Transmissions series is an occasional installation project run by Julie Campbell (aka LoneLady), in which she cements an MP3 device into the fabric of a structure, within the confines of the city or its outskirts. It is a ‘rumination on the built environment’; a ‘discreet intervention.’
This iteration of the project includes two devices placed in Miles Platting, on the borders of Ancoats, Ardwick and Clayton where LoneLady walked and made field recordings listening to ‘the voices of the landscape, before they are scrubbed out’. By installing an MP3 player in the urban landscape that you can go and plug into, LoneLady moves private bodies into public spaces, with the first being sited under the Mancunian Way. She wants you to see and hear what she sees and hears when she takes walks into the area, walks that may not be possible forever, or at least not in this form.
The map provided to locate the installation doesn’t give you a didactic route, it tells you where the site is in relation to Piccadilly Station and Piccadilly Gardens. But in this case all roads lead away from Rome, as you move through the grinning facades of Northern Quarter shop window displays, over the intermittent dereliction of the A665 ring road to the now gentrified streets of Ancoats. Sociologist Alex Rhys-Taylor asks us to expand the way we take in landscapes, to add to the dominant visual sense of them sound, smell, taste and feeling. The back streets of the Northern Quarter and Ancoats however are currently undergoing transformations that will render their surfaces and spaces changed completely to the senses.
Manchester Modernist co-founder Maureen Ward explains that this ethos of gentrification has been a strong part of Manchester’s narrative over the last twenty years or so. With the urge being ‘to entirely restructure its landscape and public spaces into a series of distinct marketable quarters or villages, effectively commercialising all aspects of the “city experience”’.
What we hear in Miles Platting is the sound of a post-industrial slump, uneven development as dark ambient music; again it might be tempting to think this is just grey noise, but no, the ‘scrub’ is transmitting perfectly clearly. Here is one of the last pieces of the city-as-carcass. A last bit of dead flesh yet to be removed by the cosmetic surgeon. The MP3 player embedded in a breezeblock – the goal – is only the dramatic centre point of the piece. The journey to and from it provides the fluctuating prelude and finale. They fluctuate because each journey will be slightly different, although the sound here, at the centre, does not alter. Through the headphones LoneLady begins with a spoken meditation and the track starts.
Although each person who journeys to find the MP3 player will have a slightly different experience, the landscape itself is both narrative and narrator. The MP3 player is a kind of omphalos. There is a sense of an adventure game, to find a jewel – perhaps the pop fandom of LoneLady as a recording artist provides the urge – but once launched, we are into a wholly different space.
For a person growing up on Blake’s Seven and Tom Baker-era Dr Who, it is possible to feel like you are finding some sort of matter transmitter, or like some Michael Moorcock character, an anti-chaos device. In short, a broadcaster of meaning in all of the draining, vibrant-coloured meaninglessness of the modern city.
In the end this is the wider purpose of the work and it is rooted back in the concerns of high modernism, particularly Beckett: the world is chaos, it verges on the pointless, it is up to us to find and make value in it.
Scrub Transmissions, Miles Platting, Manchester.
16 February – 5 March 2018.
Dr Steve Hanson is a lecturer and writer based in Manchester.
More information about Scrub Transmissions can be found here.