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Sound artist and acoustic ecologist Jed Speare has died

Second compilation spanning the recordist and musician’s career was released in October 2015

The sound artist, acoustic ecologist and field recordist Jed Speare has died, the Family Vineyard label has announced. The Indianapolis label released the double disc set Sound Works 1982–87 in 2008.

Speare was born in Boston in 1954, and inspired by R Murray Schafer’s environmental sound manifesto The Tuning Of The World, attended Schafer’s World Soundscape Project in Vancouver to study. He moved to San Francisco in 1980, and played with groups including Ultrasheen and Research Library – “pursuing my own notions of acoustic communication, ecology and design”, as he told Dan Warburton in The Wire 289 – both of whom released music on San Francisco hardcore label Subterranean. In 1982 he learned that San Francisco’s famous cable car network was due to close for repair work, and set about preserving its unique sounds for posterity, from the grinding of the gears and the ringing of the bells to reminiscences from drivers and passengers. Cable Car Soundscapes sold out quickly, and was subsequently reissued by Folkways in 1983.

Speare explored speech recordings further in a project that followed soon after, At The Falls, where he used sounds culled from roaming the corridors of a psychiatric hospital in Mirecourt in northeastern France. A similar interest in documenting the sound life of insitutions led to Sleep Tight, a collaboration with Barbara Duifjes presented in New York in 1983, which used recordings made at the Montefiore Medical Center Sleep Clinic in the Bronx.

In the early 1990s Speare became an occupational hearing conservationist, advising factory workers in hearing protection. His longstanding interest in acoustic ecology led to community-based projects in Massachusetts and Toronto, and in the 2000s Speare ran the Boston venue Studio Soto, which hosted performances, screenings, exhibitions and more, and championed improvisors including Howard Stelzer, Vic Rawlings, Greg Kelley and Bhob Rainey.

The compilation Sound Works 1982-87 was released in 2008. “We both expected the collection to sell like hot cakes,” writes Eric Weddle of Family Vineyard. “It didn't… But a lot of people took notice and I believe it clearly made the case for Jed's standing in contemporary sound art. It also laid bare the utterly human emotion he could amplify/construct through rumblings, cracks, bellows, howls, scree, murmurs, clangs and all those many voices.” A second compilation of Speare’s work, The Wounds of Returning: Sound Works II – 1974–1983, was released by Far Point Recordings in October 2015.

Speare died on 22 March. Dan Warburton interviewed him for The Wire 289. You can hear excerpts from At The Falls here.