Final Reflections (9th November)

I am surprised how much the work has interested me, and I think it really helped to throw myself in at the deep end with attending Chris Watson’s soundscape performance at the beginning of the year. Doing this meant I had a point of focus to beginning my listening research. I also found that going to the performance allowed me to experience soundscapes in a completely different way to any ways in which I had previously been exposed to them. I also found the principle of soundwalking very useful in my own research. I have done a lot of reflective and listening-based research and so I feel that the research piece has changed my perspective on listening, particularly to sounds around me that I would otherwise ignore. I have found that listening intently to my environment is a worthwhile endeavour and that listening to a sound for its own merits without considering its sonorous object is rewarding, relaxing and fascinating.

One of the biggest changes I have noticed in my work as I have gone through is my initial rejection of the idea of a hi-fi and lo-fi soundscape as outlined by many acoustic ecologists. As I have pointed out in my draft reflections, I found that actually making going out and making recordings and then listening back to them and discovering the noise level (lo-fi sounds) was so high, made me actually appreciate what acoustic ecologists are talking about, and I hope my soundscape demonstrates the noisiness of even relatively quiet suburban areas.

I have enjoyed spending time listening to the world around me and trying to capture it on my field recorder. I feel that not only have I learnt a lot about listening techniques and soundscape composition, but I have also learnt a lot about recording and am glad I started trying out field recording before I made the recordings necessary for my final soundscape.

Soundscape (Final Draft 8th-9th November)

This is my final soundscape. I’ve uploaded it to my main CMC page here (Edit 7th Jan – as this is now simply a draft, I have re-uploaded this version of the soundscape and it can be heard here):

It is mostly similar to the soundscape I created in draft 2. I got rid of some sounds I didn’t like, including a couple of points where the wind noise was very loud and a few points where my handling of the mic was a little too obvious. A few ‘human’ sounds (people walking etc) have also been added.

I am quite pleased with how it’s turned out, despite the fact that it is quite different from my own vision. Actually going to Paradise Lane and starting to record there made me aware of just how noisy the traffic is, but this was further proved to me when I listened back to my recordings and found the traffic sound had penetrated everywhere I tried to record. This has led to a reasonably significant direction change, with the traffic noise playing a much more prominent role that I had originally planned for it. I think it’s difficult to hear a lot of what is going on and you really have to concentrate when listening to the soundscape to find the hi-fi sounds in it.

I have kept in mind the ‘listening body’ and have made sure a range of frequencies are accentuated at various points (like the bass while trains and cars go past). Mainly, I just made small changes to the mix in the edit room as I had done all previous mixes on headphones.

As I pointed out before, the ironic title ‘Paradise Lane’ is supposed to be thought-provoking: this place, is given the name ‘Paradise’, but is it really sonically paradise?

This piece is constructed as a sound walk down Paradise Lane. These are some things to listen out for:
00.00 – The A27, very close, some birds can be heard further away

00.24 – A train goes past in the distance

00.57 – Birds can be heard in the tree on the track

01.08 – Someone walks past

01.48 – A train goes past, this time closer, there are lots of trees and birds and a squirrel can be heard in them

03.04 – On the bridge as a train goes under it

04.12 – Heading towards the green, can hear birds

04.32 – A lady’s walking stick hitts the ground as she walks past

04.51 – A car passes the green

06.11 – The A27 can be heard in the distance, but also closer, at the bottom of Paradise Lane

06.28 – A train goes past, further away now

06.50 – Someone walks past

08.08 – Sirens in the distance

08.26 – A car drives up Paradise Lane

Soundscape (Third Draft) (7th-8th November)

I have been working on a different draft of my soundscape:

The main difference is that I have added in my footsteps to create a more phonographic soundscape. There is more evidence of mic handling in this one than previously and it places me in the soundscape. I wasn’t sure about this idea, but I thought I would try it out as I have fostered an interest in soundwalking. I think it detracts from the layering I have done in my other drafts and I also think it makes it harder to hear some of the more intricate sounds in my soundscape (which are hard enough to hear over the constant roar of traffic!).

I don’t really like this draft, but I thought that since I had made the recordings and have become quite interested in soundwalks, I would try it out. I don’t feel that it has been a waste of time because I have learnt something – I don’t want to include my own footsteps in the piece.

I think the final draft will be a slight rework/remix of my second draft. It will still be a soundwalk but my presence in it will not be as defined as in this draft – I like the way it slowly transitions (the traffic gradually gets quitter, the trains get louder, more individual cars are heard and less nature sounds are heard as the walk progresses from the top of Paradise Lane to the bottom of it).

Soundscape (Second Draft) (5th – 6th November)

Yesterday and this morning I have worked on producing a second draft of my soundscape:

The immediate difference is that it is significantly shorter. I felt that the length of the first draft was too long and basically, for much of it is ended up being sparse and not very interesting. I didn’t want to limit myself time-wise, but when I actually started listening to what I had put down in Logic, I realised that it was going to be much better to speed up the movement of the piece, and now there’s less time where not much is happening. Interestingly, I usually find the opposite when I’m composing music, so I think I’ve learned a valuable lesson in that I’m not going to worry so much about the length of a piece and just let my ideas develop – I can always come back to a piece and cut it back later if it’s too long, but it’s more difficult to come back to a piece weeks or months later and try to composer more material for it.

I have also made some sounds more prominent and added more processing such as compression and the Adaptive Limiter to help prevent clipping. I have also considered how to address the ‘sound body’. I have added EQ boosts at the low end on the car and train sounds and although it’s not terribly clear on my headphones, I hope once I listen to it through monitors, I’ll really be able to feel the rumbling bass sound.

As I mentioned in my first draft, a lot of the sounds are difficult to hear on the original recordings due to the level of the traffic noise. I know I rejected the idea of hi-fi and lo-fi soundscapes in an earlier post, but I’m starting to think maybe there’s some truth in it. Having actually gone back to Fareham and listened to just how loud and over-bearing the traffic noise is, particularly then when I got my recordings and listened back to them, I think it’s actually quite shocking just how loud the traffic noise is and how much it is drowning out. I’d love to stop the traffic and make recordings in the same place just to hear what the natural environment really sounds like!

Field Recordings (29th October)

On Wednesday evening, I walked up to The Mount in Guildford and made some recordings as the sun went down. My windjammer had arrived so despite the fact that it had been raining and was windy, I wanted to get some recordings. I only stayed for an hour or so because I got quite cold, but I found it quite a relaxing experience (until I came back down into the town again!). I have been busy with my other coursework so I haven’t had a chance to listen to them until yesterday and today. Here are some excerpts:

Rain on The Mount

This was taken by putting a microphone under a tree to record the rain as it dropped down on the leaves.

Guildford From Above

This is the most interesting field recording I made at The Mount. I pointed the mic towards Guildford and turned the gain up. Although there is quite a lot of noise, you can hear the town below and even a couple of airplanes overhear (the stereo mic has picked it up really well). There is a building site which is where the metallic sound are from and you can also pick out sounds from the train station as well as individual cars and faint voices.

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Field Recordings (2nd November)

On Sunday I went home to collect some recordings of Paradise Lane.

I started at the far end of Paradise Lane, which is a footpath that goes alongside a field. I then walked all the way back down towards the houses. I realised when I finished my recordings that I started and ended with the A27, which I thought was quite important and could be used as a possible theme in the piece. As you can probably tell from the photos, it was overcast and had been raining earlier in the morning so the ground was sodden (I decided to walk back up to the top of the path once I had gathered all my field recordings so that I could record my footsteps going back down.

Here are some photos of the area (click for bigger image):

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The A27 is behind the trees

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Capturing the wind rustling the leaves

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Looking down the track

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The bridge over the train line

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Waiting for a train…

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Looking up the track

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The horses’ field

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Recording my footsteps

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‘The Green’

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The bottom of Paradise Lane

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The view from the bottom of Paradise Lane (the A27)

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Now to start composing my soundscape…

Listening (31st October)

Following last Monday’s lecture, I looked into soundscape artist Janet Cardiff

I listened to the excerpts from Her Long Black Hair and read up on some of Cardiff’s other walks (no audio was available). Her soundwalks are interesting, they are almost like guided tours of places, but with an emphasis on the sounds. She ‘narrates’ them, and I imagine, if you were to do the actual walk, they would be very atmospheric. Listening to them, Janet Cardiff tries to create a personal connection between her and the listener/soundwalker – she asks questions and says how she feels at that point in the walk. The use of panning and layering is very important in her work and they really help build up the soundscape. One of the things I’ve noticed about her soundwalks is that she tries to give the listener some sort of historical context to the walk, through photos or locating the walk on historically significant sites. Personally, I don’t like the idea of narrating the soundwalk, but obviously for Cardiff’s pieces, it’s very necessary as her voice is guiding the listener. I might try arranging my piece as a sound walk, however, just to see what it would sound like. I like her use of layering and panning in particular because it sounds quite realistic.

http://www.cardiffmiller.com/artworks/walks/longhair.html – Her Long Black Hair

http://www.cardiffmiller.com/artworks/walks/bahnhof.html – The Alter Bahnhof Video Walk

http://www.cardiffmiller.com/artworks/walks/jena.html – Jena Walk (Memory Field)

Field Recording (26th October)

I made two recordings in my house and these are both excepts from them. I live on Guildford Park Road which is usually fairly busy with traffic. On two occassins I have set up my mic on its tripod on my windowsill, opened the windows and recorded the traffic. There are usually quite a lot of sounds as vehicles go past, people walk down the road, buses turn onto the University campus, planes go overhead, and the train line is further down the road opposite.

95 GPR Day

This recording was collected during the day on Friday last week (23rd October). I don’t think it’s particularly remarkable but it’s still good practise.

95 GPR Sunday Night

This recording was made this evening. I hadn’t planned to make one, but I opened my windows and could hear the Cathedral’s bells in the distance and I decided to set up my mic. The cars going past often drown the bells out, but because it’s a Sunday night, Guildford Park Road isn’t quite as busy as normal so there are breaks in the traffic when you can hear the bells. Some people walk past at various times and you can hear them talking. Other noises are mostly my housemates who were chatting in the living room. At one point a someone lets off a firework (now I’m thinking about going out on November 5th to get some more recordings!). It’s interesting to consider the idea of acoustic ecology here – the car and plane sounds are drowning out the more traditional sounds of the Cathedral bells and other “hi-fi” sounds.

Update (26th October)

I’ve been busy with other University work this week so haven’t had a chance to do any more field recording, but I’m hoping to get out this afternoon. I found the recording quite relaxing in some ways because although you’re actively listening to the sounds, I find you soon get lost in the soundscape around you and quite a surprising amount of time can go by.

I have been improving my listening skills – whenever I go somewhere on my own, I try and use it as an opportunity to do a soundwalk. I’ve heard some sounds that I would have otherwise ignored. I never knew how much man-made noise, for example, the University of Surrey has around it, especially near some of the science buildings! I really like Guildford’s soundscape so far because it’s such a mix of natural sounds and man-made sounds.

I’m currently putting together a post on my listening this week (I’ve listened to a few Framework podcasts) so look out for that!

I’m also doing some thinking about my initial ideas, but I’m not quite ready to articulate them yet…

Field Recordings (22nd October)

I tried making a few recordings round my house and garden but I knew I needed to do more than that. So I went to University yesterday between 4pm and 5.30pm to collect some recordings by the lake on campus. I decided to go there because there are lots of different birds that gather there and then there are also man-made sounds coming from the road around the lake, the railway and, of course, the sounds from the University. I like the nature sounds mixing with the more man-made sounds and it’s interesting to listen to some of my recordings because the natural sounds are drowned out by, for example, a train going past, only to be quite audible again once it has gone.

I will point out that at this point, I don’t have a windjammer for my mic so there is some noise from that.

Surrey Lake:

This is an excerpt from the first recording I made at the lake. It was collected right by the drain in the lake so the bubbling water you can hear is from that. I think this sound is quite interesting but is quite noisy and unpleasant after a while! I was pleasantly surprised at how clearly the water sounds because it was quite quiet and I thought maybe the mic wouldn’t be sensitive enough. I liked where I was sitting because the road was in front of me, so occasionally you hear a car or bus go past, and the train line was behind me so you also get the sounds of that. Probably the best thing that happened was when a bird flew into the bush directly in front of me and stayed for a while, tweeting. I learned the importance of patience and I pushed myself to keep recording even once I began to feel like it was getting rather monotonous. I thought about turning off the mic but decided to let it run for a little longer and sure enough, a duck landed on the lake with a splash! I don’t think this recording works so well just on its own; I could probably use parts of it for constructing a soundscape, but it’s got too much going on and not enough space in it.

Near The Train Line

I walked further towards the train line for this recording. I think I prefer it to the first one because it’s less busy – the constant sounds are mainly just provided by the birds, with trains and buses providing some interest as they pass by. I also like the occasional rustling of the leaves in the trees and planes in the distance. I only had a very small tripod with me so I held the mic towards the train tracks (you can occasionally hear me move, which I don’t really like). I have a big tripod at my parents’ house so I’m going to try and get hold of that to reduce mic handling noise in future recordings. This recording is much more peaceful and relaxing, and I think it would almost work quite well on its own with a few enhancements.

Alarm

This is a much shorter excerpt and the recording I took was shorter than all the others too. After I had finished recording near the train line, I heard an alarm coming from the other side of the tracks, I walked over to where it was loudest and stuck my mic in front of the tracks. Its an incredibly irritating sound, so I decided not to subject myself to it for too long, but I think it was worth it – the second train that goes by (from about 2.45) sounds absolutely amazing, I especially like the buzz of the track that continues after the actual train has gone.

Ducks and Feet

I lastly went to the other side of the lake (where the footpath is) and sat opposite a group of ducks. I had seen them go over to people sitting on a bench while I was on the other side of the lake so I hoped they would come over to me too. I put the mic on its tiny tripod on the path and pointed it towards the lake. I managed to get one duck making some noise, and you can also hear their feet faintly slapping against the tarmac path as they walk across. Unfortunately, they didn’t gather round me though – nature is too unpredictable, but that’s part of the fun of field recording! There are several rather loud bouts of wind which ruin it a bit – I really can’t wait to get this windjammer! The thing I didn’t consider was that it was 5pm by this point and there were people leaving the campus to go home – the first footsteps, in fact, belong to the Music Department’s own Professor Allan Moore.

All in all, I feel that I’ve learned quite a lot about field recording, and it’s certainly improved my listening techniques. I started to get very involved in the soundscape around me – when I heard a bird, I would try and figure out where it was, or when I saw a duck flying, I got excited because I knew it might land on the lake and create an interesting sound on my recording. I also feel that I’ve improved my concentration when it comes to active listening – I pushed myself to carry on even after I felt like I should turn the mic off, and usually I was rewarded.