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Skippering, a colloquial British term for rough sleeping, is a 30-minute ‘sonic meditation on homelessness’ that features sounds collected by a homeless group in Glasgow. In 2014 they and radio producer Steve Urquhart began to record and edit the audio stories that punctuate the piece and guide the listener.
The result is an incredibly powerful and evocative journey that blends fragments of sound and speech from a world where Glasgow’s homeless population live and sometimes die.
The typical sounds experienced by those living on the streets and in the hostels of Glasgow is punctuated by blunt street wisdom, creating a feeling of hope one minute and pitching you bluntly into despair the next. It weaves a mood - the cold, the isolation and the chinks of light that appear through the hustle and bustle of life.
It begins at the start of a day with the sound of a sleeping bag zip and the chirping of birds, before cutting to a death check in a hostel, which involves staff knocking on doors to check that the occupants are still alive: “If they don’t get a response they kick the door in”, someone informs in a casual voice.
The starting point for the piece was the fact that “When you’re skipping on the floor, you are actually down on your knees. You get more attuned to things, things you wouldn’t normally hear. “
Sound functions in different ways to signpost moods and issue warnings. “Even before you go down an alleyway, you’re just listening to hear if there’s anyone already down there. You don’t use your eyes a lot; you’re listening. You make yourself small and quiet, so you’re not noticed. It’s all in your hearing - you get in touch with your animal instincts, and your senses adapt.’
For those who have never been homeless, skippering uses sound to illuminate the fragments of life on the streets and in hostels. For those who have, it offers catharsis, evoking powerful emotional memories through sounds such as the chatter and clatter of soup kitchens and of course that hard ‘death check’ knock of the hostels. For those still out there it represents their daily life: the hope and the grind.
“You’re seen and not heard... hoping, sometimes, for somebody just to turn round and give you a smile, just to ask you how you’re doing. Just that slight human contact to feel human again. ’Cos 90 per cent of the time, you do feel like a ghost with a heartbeat... just floating around.”