Ring Road Ring | Michael Lightborne


Ring Road Ring | Michael Lightborne
Gruen 195 | Vinyl (+ Digital) | Digital > [order]


This album features sound recordings of the low-level vibrations pulsing through the megastructure that is the Coventry Ring Road. Built between the 1950s and 70s, it was a key part of the plan to rebuild Coventry after the devastation of World war II. The Ring Road was intended to keep traffic out of the city centre and form the basis for a radical vision of a modern pedestrian-focussed city. However, politics, economics and the contingencies of history combined to produce a situation in which the plan was compromised in a number of ways. Nowadays, the Ring Road has come to be seen as a misguided Modernist project that ended up deterring pedestrians and killing the city centre. The process of disassembling, mitigating, and repurposing the structure is already under way.


To capture these sounds I used contact microphones attached to the concrete pylons that support the road, at various points around its circumference. I was immediately surprised by how melancholy the ring-road sounds. The first track is a collage of field recordings from around the Ring Road. Most of the subsequent tracks take these recordings as raw material from which to build a series of poetic interpretations of the lifeworld of the Ring Road. The final track adds induction coil recordings of the electromagnetic fields that surround and emanate from the structure, including the flittering fragments of the EM fields dragged around by traffic passing above.


1. Ring Road Ring
2. Fortran
3. Ring Road Reprise
4. Moebius Loop
5. Gordian Knot
6. Shepherd Tone
7. Ring Cycles


7 Tracks (32′47″)
Vinyl (300 copies)




This album was produced as part of Sensing the City, an Arts and Humanities Research Council funded project that investigates the urban space of Coventry City (warwick.ac.uk/sensingthecity).


Thanks to: Nicolas Whybrow, Natalie Garrett Brown, Emma Meehan, Carolyn Deby, Nese Tosun, Sarah Shalgosky, Fiona Venables, Rachel Moseley, Pete Ashton, Roland and Lasse at Gruenrekorder, Denise Pigott, and Ezra Gene.


All recordings made by Michael Lightborne in the city of Coventry.
Artwork and photography by Michael Lightborne.


Field Recording Series by Gruenrekorder
Germany / 2020 / Gruen 195 / LC 09488





Ed Pinsent | The Sound Projector
[…] Michael Lightborne‘s previous record for this label was the excellent Sounds Of The Projection Box, released in 2018 as a beautifully packaged LP record with plenty of photographic illustrations of his theme. He made documentary recordings of the sounds of projection booths in UK cinemas, but also contextualised the work with his detailed, well-considered annotations and observations. That rigour is much in evidence on today’s record, Ring Road Ring (GRUEN 195). He made recordings of the ring road in Coventry, a structure that was built after the war in the hopes of allowing traffic to bypass the city, so the council could make good on its plan to build a pedestrianised centre. There are numerous concrete pillars supporting this road, and this is where Lightborne attached his microphones to collect his field recordings. These are presented on the record; first as a long (10:53) piece, the title track in fact, which collages and layers a number of the original recordings together into a mini-symphony of grey, droning sounds. There follow a number of shorter pieces, with titles such as ‘Fortran’, ‘Moebius Loop’ and ‘Shepherd Tone’, which use the original recordings but subjected to the imaginative processes of the composer; his aim is “to build a series of poetic interpretations of the lifeworld of the Ring Road”, which I find very poignant. The long track has a compelling, industrial bleakness which is hard to beat, but the shorter “poetic” tracks are just glorious; barely recognisable as traffic sound, what emerges is mostly the sense of constant vibrations and the shifting of inert building materials, transformed by the composer’s art into a form of droning process music.


Michael Lightborne evidently intends a critical side to his work, much like Enrico Coniglio above; he points out how the Ring Road project failed, and failed the city; “the Ring Road has come to be seen as a misguided Modernist project that ended up deterring pedestrians and killing the city centre.” I can personally testify to this, having spent three years in Coventry in the 1980s; as a pedestrian, I often wondered what was causing this nameless sense of dread and despair in my bones, and the Ring Road could well have been a part of it. Ironically, the project (as shown in Lightborne’s research) was full of optimism at the time, even regarded as futuristic – the design was computer-assisted, hence the Fortran reference, and full of the same spirit of adventure that led our society to build other Brutalist erections, such as the numerous tower blocks that sprung up under the Labour government in the 1960s. Lightborne’s gloomy prognosis was, he found, confirmed as soon as he heard a playback of the field recordings he had made; it sounded “melancholy”. It’s as though the architecture itself was in revolt, protesting the weight of traffic that has been passing over its surfaces for 50 years; the whole LP emerges as a Dantean portrait of a modern urban Hell, a bleak image of futility.


How many other such destructive and deleterious town planning projects are there in the UK? We need more sound artists like Lightborne to point out and express these failures, and I would argue the statements are all the more powerful for being expressed as art, instead of 200pp surveyor reports or misguided sociological studies that will never get read. Lightborne’s critique is more clearly articulated than the rather vague murmurs of Teredo Navalis, and arguably more integrated as a site-specific work; however, both artists are coming from a similar place. […]


Łukasz Komła | Nowamuzyka.pl
Dźwiękowy świat obwodnicy w Coventry.
Powyższy lead może wydawać się absurdalny, nieatrakcyjny i wcale niezachęcający do odkrycia brzmień betonowej konstrukcji obwodnicy otaczającej angielskie miasto Coventry położone w środkowej części kraju, w hrabstwie West Midlands. Może jednak dacie się namówić?


Dwa lata temu pisałem o innym wydawnictwie Michaela Lightborne’a – brytyjskiego artysty audiowizualnego – zatytułowanym Sounds of the Projection Box, na którym dokumentował zmieniającą się strukturę dźwiękową wnętrza projektora kinowego.


Ring Road Ring to z kolei podróż w głąb betonowych konstrukcji generujących niemal industrialne pasma o dość niskich częstotliwościach. Budowa tego obiektu rozpoczęła się pod koniec lat 50. XX wieku, a zakończyła w 1974 roku. Projektowi przyświecały górnolotne pomysły, dotyczące między innymi nowoczesnego rozwoju miasta i zadbania o pieszych. W wyniku wielu aspektów ekonomicznych i politycznych, obwodnica jest postrzegana jako błędne zjawisko architektoniczne, w dodatku odstraszające pieszych. Wyczytałem, że władze uruchomiły proces przekształcania obwodnicy.


Lightborne więc czym prędzej chwycił za mikrofony kontaktowe, by zdążyć przed modernizacją. Mikrofony przymocował do betonowych elementów podtrzymujących drogę w różnych jej punktach. Tytułowy Ring Road Ring to kolaż składający się wyłącznie z nagrań terenowych. Sam autor podkreśla, że był zaskoczony brzmieniową melancholią, jaką odkrył nasłuchując murów obwodnicy. Pozostałe fragmenty powstały już z przetworzonego field recordingu, a stylistycznie lokują się w obszarze dark ambientu o strukturze gęstych, masywnych i lepkich drone’ów, co chyba najlepiej słychać w znakomitej kompozycji Fortran.


Ten Węzeł Gordyjski (Gordian Knot) nie ma nic wspólnego z drewnianym łykiem – to splot kosmicznej otchłani i grawitacyjnej pustki. To jak bezwładny lot przez mroczny tunel wypełniony nicością. W utworze wieńczącym całość Ring Cycles Lightborne zawarł także efekty dźwiękowe pochodzące z cewek indukcyjnych, które są częścią sygnalizacji świetlnej obwodnicy.


Z pozoru nieciekawa góra betonu podparta samotnie stojącymi słupami, okazała się interesującym obiektem, do którego warto przystawić nie tylko ucho, ale również mikrofon. Niech Ring Road Ring będzie inspiracją do odkrycia czegoś podobnego we własnej okolicy i stworzenia concrete field recordingu.


All three of these recent Gruenrekorder releases are quintessential label products: adventurous, thought-provoking, and unusual. Michael Lightborne’s and Enrico Coniglio’s are grounded in field recordings, Coventry Ring Road and the Venetian Lagoon the sites used for their respective projects; an entirely different animal, un|sounding the self — a portrait combines an hour-long video and booklet for its in-depth portrait of American artists Christopher Shultis and Craig Shepard.


Issued in vinyl and digital formats, Lightborne’s thirty-three-minute Ring Road Ring is strongly rooted in a geographical location, with its seven tracks using low-level vibrations pulsing through Coventry Ring Road as a springboard (to capture the sounds, he attached contact microphones to concrete pylons supporting the road). Built in Coventry, England between 1960 and ’74, the road formed part of the city’s rebuilding plan after WWII and was intended to keep growing levels of traffic away from the city core as well as promote the idea of a pedestrian-focused setting. Today, however, the project is regarded as something of a failure as it’s alienated pedestrians and had a detrimental effect on the city centre; as a result, plans are afoot to disassemble and repurpose the structure (one rumour has it that the road may be closed to traffic and converted into a city park).


In every one of these soundscapes, texture and reverberation are paramount. A collage of largely untreated field recordings, the opening track, “Ring Road Ring,” is the longest at eleven minutes as well as the ‘purest.‘ Even so, a vaguely melancholic, even lonely character emerges from the muffled stream and its punctuating clatter, so tangibly, in fact, that Lightborne’s likening of its ‘music‘ to a “lament” begins to seem more than a little plausible. Further to that, when a metronomic clicking pattern surfaces, the grainy material begins to suggest some degraded form of experimental techno, the kind of industrial concoction one could image booming from the bowels of a hazy club at three in the morning.


The other tracks build on “Ring Road Ring” by using it as raw material for the creation of so-called “poetic interpretations” of the road. Smothered in gaseous vapours, “Fortran” could be mistaken for an early Basic Channel production or even perhaps some eerie alien transmission captured using broken-down equipment. The sonic character of “Moebius Loop” evokes the image of a figure lurching through a cavernous space, whereas “Shepherd Tone” exudes a rather nightmarish quality in suggesting scrambled voices accessed via seance. If “Ring Cycles” exhibits a stronger electronic character than the others, it’s because Lightborne worked into its combustible assembly induction coil recordings of the electromagnetic fields surrounding and emanating from the structure. Each vinyl side, by the way, includes a locked groove at the end, the gesture fitting for a project whose subject matter operates as a continuous roundabout. […]


Roger Batty | Musique Machine
Ring Road Ring is a twelve-inch vinyl release that brings together around half-an-hours worth of road field recordings captured by contact microphones attached to the concrete pylons around the Ring Road, which loops around the city of Coventry in the West Midlands. The recordings here go from untreated & lightly manipulated/ arranged- with the sonic pallet moving from melancholically droning, muffled almost beat like texturing, and churning industrial-like sonic constructions.


The release appeared this year on highly respected German field recording/ sound art label Gruenrekorder. The plain black vinyl is presented inside a manila card sleeve- that features minimal grey texts. Inside we get a gloss monochrome inner slip- this takes in close up pictures of ring road bridges, as well as a double-sided grey inlay paper- this features on one side a write-up about the release/ project, and a map of the ring road on the reverse. With each side featuring a locked groove at the end of it


The release kicks off with the longest & apparently least untouched track “Ring Road Ring”. It runs at just over the eleven-minute mark, and to start with we have spinning & hacking drone element- which is both angular & violently brooding in its attack. As the track progresses we get slightly knock sub-tones coming off the key tones, and at the three-minute mark these develop into more pronounced ticks & snaps, which map out an almost rhythmic tolling pattern. At the around the six-minute mark, the produced drone fades, and we get a selection of knocking & ticking textures. In the last minute & a half, we get a muffled & sort haze buzzing loop, which is joined by the more knocking tonality.


Next, we have the four & a half minutes of „Fortran“- here we get this blend of low-fi slicing & swooping looped tones, distant stream like chugs, and rotating like moody drone shimmer- I rather enjoyed the spinning ’n‘ spiralling almost bleak groove of this track. As we move on the second side come to the just over three & a half minutes of “Moebius Loop”- which brings together ominous glow drone purr, with brooding knocks & scraps. There’s the amassed malevolent alien robot-like chatter of “Shepherds Tone” which slides in at the two & a half minute mark. Then the release is topped off with the just over five minutes “Ring Cycles”- it adds in electromagnetic induction coil recordings to mix- these apparent emanate from the ring road structure, and these are added to this distant spinning & swooping tones on the road.


The concept/ idea behind Ring Road Ring is certainly intriguing, and at points rewarding, as there are some most worthy sounds captured. I think the issue is that more often than not the tracks are over too fast, so the more satisfying tones don’t have time to sink in. I, of course, understand that these are largely untreated field recordings- but I feel maybe it would have been better if one side of the release was untreated field recordings, and the second was more manipulated/ stretched out tones. Anyway, certainly another distinct & worthy field recording release from Gruenrekorder, which would work as a great audio backdrop to one of J.G Ballad more fetishised & chilling automobile novels.


Guillermo Escudero | Loop
This LP belongs to the field recordings and soundscapes series of German Gruenrekorder imprint. Michael Lightborne is a sound artist from Coventry, England and academic based in Birmingham, UK, and Cork, Ireland. Ring Road in Coventry, England is a ring road which forms a complete dual carriageway circuit around the city center. It was intended to be an urban solution to privilege pedestrians, but it ended up hindering traffic in the city center and harmed pedestrians. Lightborne put contact microphones on the piles at various points on the ring road and to the artist’s surprise, these sounds sounded melancholic. „Fortran“ that opens this album displays penetrating and hypnotic rhythmic pulsations. On „Gordian Knot“ you can hear sounds like the blowing of a tube whose end is infinite and „Moebius Loop“ adds electrifying clicks that on „Ring Cycles“ are relieved as a layer of drones. “Ring Road Ring” displays underground noises with industrial sound characteristics. „Shepherd Tone“ that closes this album continues with noises that form spirals of loops that show the movement in this ring road, whose incessant vehicle traffic is a sign of the urban damage that this ring road is causing to the city and that Michael Lightborne shows us with his sound evidence.


Frans de Waard | VITAL WEEKLY
And on vinyl, we find Michael Lightborne, with a follow-up to his LP ‚Sounds Of The Projection Box‘ (see Vital Weekly 1146) in which he used recordings made in a cinema projection box. This time we find him outside, alongside the megastructure of the Coventry Ring Road. When they started to rebuild the heavily bombed city after World War II, they decided to keep the traffic outside the city centre and keep it pedestrian-friendly. But the plan didn’t work and Lightborne writes, „Nowadays, the Ring Road has come to be seen as a misguided Modernist project that ended up deterring pedestrians and killing the city centre. The process of disassembling, mitigating, and repurposing the structure is already underway“. He attached contact microphones to the structure and captures the vibrating of the structure. The record opens up with some field recordings from around the Ring Road and ends with „induction coil“ recordings, meaning he captured some of the electromagnetic fields from around the structure. In the five other pieces, the recordings are mixed and the result is some great record. One might think cars and concrete structures equals a fair bit of noise but that is not the case here; in fact, it is all rather subdued and sounding distant. It is hard to say what it sounds like; I was thinking of a recording of wind chimes slowed down a lot. Or, maybe it sounds akin to hitting with branches on a frozen lake? That’s the sort of impressions I had. As a child, I played along the canal in my neighbourhood and below the bridge, you’d hear these cars passing overhead; the whole structure of the concrete had a dampening effect on it. On busy days you’d hear the steady cadence of the cars, something that Lighborne uses in the lock grooves at either side of the record. This is some fascinating music; dark and elegant, quiet and peaceful. And yes, that is perhaps a strange thing for recordings of a Ring Road.