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)

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Viewing (28th – 30th October)

Matt gave us some videos on soundscapes to watch, here’s my reflections on the two that stood out for me:

Listen: https://www.nfb.ca/film/listen#temp-share-panel

I thought this was a really interesting film. It gave an overview of a acoustic ecologist’s opinions on the soundscape. One part that particularly resonated with me was when David New recommended reducing the number of sounds in our life because there are too many in modern days. I had been up the hill to get some recordings that evening and it was quite quiet up there – although I could still hear the sounds of traffic and could make out the trains and a building site, it was at a much-reduced level. After spending about two hours up there, walking around, collecting recordings and watching the sun set, I adjusted to the quiet. When I walked back down to Guildford Park Road, it was still rush-hour. There were lots of cars going past, and an ambulance also went past with its full sirens on. Coupled with bright, artificial lights from headlights and streetlights, I experienced a sort of sensory overload. It did make me think about the impact of such loud sounds on my environment – even as I type this, I can hear the traffic loudly through my open window.

Whispering in the Leaves – an interview with Chris Watson:

Chris Watson said a lot of very interesting things in this interview. I like that he works in a home studio in his loft – he makes it clear that you don’t need a big studio to make good soundscapes (no pressure on me, then). He also says that the microphone is his instrument, his primary tool in his compositions. I’m going to try and think of my microphone like that, particularly at the weekend when I go to my parents’ house and make my Paradise Lane recordings. I also understood what he meant when he said he gets lost in a ‘sonic universe’ when he puts his headphones on and starts listening and recording. I’ve felt that on a couple of occasions of field recording, or even just listening back to my recordings.

Framework Listening Reflections (21st-27th October)

It seems like a while since I’ve posted, but I’ve actually been listening to a few podcasts and I wanted to publish my writings about them all together, so I’ve been writing this post for a while:

Framework #480

The first track is a study of different dialect and minority languages in Asia. It is interesting to hear and I love the idea that I can hear what’s happening in a country I have never been to and build a picture of it in my imagination. It is a very human-centric piece and as such it resonates, even though language is a barrier for me. After a while, you forget you’re listening to a person speaking and you just start listening to the sounds. I like the way the Hindu prayers (which are sung and instruments can be heard playing music) are slightly further back in the mix and the soundscape around it (mostly rain) is quite prominent, so you don’t lose sight (or hearing!) and just listen to it as music, but rather as sounds that are going on in a particular place.

Some of the recordings are so clear that you feel like you’re there and they have a wonderful crisp sound to them. I would like to have clear recordings in my soundscape (or as clear as my field recorder and skill set allow),

Framework #481

The track by Lopez stood out for me – again because his work is slightly more abstract. The birds mixing with other strange noises were really interesting, and at times they had an electronic sound to them. However, once again I feel that it is not the kind of soundscape work I would want to make. This does not detract from its value to be as a piece of work within the movement, but it’s not a route I see myself going down.

The first track on this podcast was interesting, it included audible human voices (speaking English) in what I imagined to be an office. It was a much more natural soundscape compared to Lopez’s contribution, but I didn’t really like it. I think it’s difficult to detach from human voices as they are such an important part of our experiences, particularly in terms of language. It would be a bit like trying to read this blog without seeing any of the words – language is so entrenched in our brains that it’s nearly impossible (probably impossible for me, at least) to switch off from it. Interestingly, a later piece had also had human voices in it, but it was clearly in a busy area and they were not so easy to pick out individual voices or words. I felt this worked better as the voices became a sound that wasn’t understandable in terms of language and therefore easier to detach myself from.

I liked the mix of different types of soundscape, there was more phonographic to purist to very abstract approaches and just about everything in between. One of the soundscapes had almost musical elements to them rather than just sounds, there were drones of high pitched noises interacting with the field recordings and it made it sound like a very unnerving ambient track!

Framework #483

The introduction was interesting, as the presenter pointed out. The intro was spoken by a group of children who are learning to sound out English phonetically, so have no idea what the words mean – they are therefore detached from the language and only listen to the sounds.

One of the first pieces is very unusual. There is a lot of processing and not an immediate story, rather some sounds all feeding into each other. There is some repetition of voices and phrases at the beginning although they are unintelligible. Later on in the piece there are sounds that are repeated. I think it makes it quite obvious that it’s been created by the artist and it seems almost clumsy in its execution. It’s got some really interesting sounds in it, but for me it’s too abstract and doesn’t seem to have a purpose. I’m going to go ahead and say I don’t like it.

Towards the end of this podcast, there was a more purist soundscape and I really enjoyed it. It was very nature focussed and has few man-made noises. It sounded great and I really enjoyed getting into it and imagining the landscape it was depicting.

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 Рthe 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.

Listening Reflections (22nd October)

After listening to the playlist I created after the lecture, I feel a lot more knowledgeable about the different types of soundscape artist working today.

  • Francisco Lopez
    • Although I enjoyed listening to the soundscape “Untitled 164”, I don’t want to make a soundscape like this
    • I love the low frequency sounds and the way it changes subtly over time
    • The length is a bit off-putting: I was not able to listen appreciatively for that long
    • I like that although you have no idea what is being recorded, you are able to work out many of them yourself and are able to guess what the original recording may have been (although some of them are virtually impossible to work out)
  • Chris Watson
    • I listened to two Chris Watson albums and I really enjoyed it because it has a very ‘natural’ feel to it
    • I really like the recording quality and the detail he gets from his sounds
    • I am not particularly interested in bird song, and I think getting really detailed recordings of animals and birds might be a little out of my skill set and a bit over-ambitious!
  • David Rothenberg
    • It’s an interesting concept, but I don’t feel it gels well together
    • Some of the pieces are very relaxing and rather musical, which I do think is nice but they were quite forgettable
  • Star Switch On Album
    • A lot of this album has a very ambient feel to it and it’s got a nice blend of the two
    • Like Francisco Lopez, I enjoyed listening to it very much but I don’t think it’s a sound I wish to create
    • I would think that some of the tracks on this album are not necessarily a good example of what we’re supposed to be creating

Soundwalk (21st October)

Last night, I went for a soundwalk after re-reading Hildegard Westerkamp’s piece on the subject. I used the following excerpt as a basis for my soundwalk:

“Start by listening to the sounds of your body while moving. They are closest to you and establish the first dialogue between you and the environment. If you can hear even the quietest of these sounds you are moving through an environment which is scaled on human proportions. In other words, with your voice or your footsteps for instance, you are “talking” to your environment which then in turn responds by giving your sounds a specific acoustic quality.

“Try to move
Without making any sound.
Is it possible?

“Which is
the quietest sound of your body?

“(If, however, you cannot hear the sounds you yourself produce,
you experience a soundscape out of balance. Human proportions have
no meaning here. Not only are your voice and footsteps inaudible but also
your ear is dealing with an overload of sound).

“Lead your ears away from your own sounds and
listen to the sounds nearby.

“What do you hear? (Make a list)

“What else do you hear?
Other people
Nature sounds
Mechanical sounds

“How many
Continuoussoundscontinuous Continuoussoundscontinuous

“Can you detect
Interesting rhythms
Regular beats
The highest
The lowest pitch.

“Do you hear any
Intermittent or discrete sounds
Rustles
Bangs
Swishes
Thuds

“What are the sources of the different sounds?

“What else do you hear?

“Lead your ears away from these sounds and listen
beyond—–into the distance.
What is the quietest sound?
What else do you hear?

“What else?

“What else?

“What else?

“What else?”

From: http://www.sfu.ca/~westerka/writings%20page/articles%20pages/soundwalking.html

I walked the following route (from my house on Guildford Park Road up to the Cathedral):

blogmap1

At first I felt very self-conscious even though it was quite late in the evening and not many people were around. I tried to focus on the sound of my breath, my footsteps and the sounds my clothes made as I walked. I didn’t feel very ‘in the zone’ but as I walked up Ridgemont I started listening ‘outward’ (I.e. Not just to the sounds I was making).

At first it all seemed like noise, but then I was able to distinguish the different sounds. Most of what I could hear close to me was the trees rustling in the wind (it was a very very windy night). As the wind picked up, I could hear it rushing against my ears, not unlike the sound it makes on a microphone. It made me feel like the soundscape was interacting with me personally as I was the only person who could hear that particular sound.

Several aeroplanes went past overhead and there was a constant roar of traffic from the A3 which got louder and louder as I walked further up Ridgemont. Ocassionaly I would be able to make out one distinct engine from a motorbike or powerful car. Once I had arrived at the Cathedral, there were lots of interesting sounds in the soundscape – a bird was calling and I passed a dog and his owner. There were also electrical noises from the lights that light up the Cathedral and the flagpole was making a sound in the wind.

I gained a lot from the exercise because I now understand how to listen to the soundscape around me. If you try to view the world (or even just the bit of the world that you are currently in) as a massive soundscape, you begin to pick out and appreciate all the individual sounds. I can honestly say that I have never actively listened to the sound of traffic or aeroplanes going overhead – I am so used to tuning sounds like that out as ‘noise’. I think it is a bit like trying to watch a film and listen to the music – after a while, you just forget to listen and you almost tune the music out, hearing it subconsciously: all those sounds we hear on a daily basis that we tune out because they won’t have any impact on us are difficult to properly listen to because we hear them all the time when we’re not concentrating on them.

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Framework Podcasts (21st October)

I have downloaded the following podcasts for listening to on my iPod:

http://www.frameworkradio.net/2014/10/483-2014-10-12/

http://www.frameworkradio.net/2014/10/482-2014-10-05/

http://www.frameworkradio.net/2014/09/481-2014-09-28/

http://www.frameworkradio.net/2014/09/480-2014-09-21/

I am going to immerse myself in soundscapes for the next few days to try and really get to know what sort of thing I want to create.

Lecture Reflections (20th October)

I really enjoyed the lecture yesterday, a lot more than I thought I would. It helped consolidate my research so far and also gave me some new avenues to explore, particularly the website Framework which I will be visiting later today to get some podcasts for my iPod. I feel more aware of the purpose of soundscapes and where they fit alongside terms like ‘acoustic ecology’ and ‘soundwalking’. I’m starting to have some ideas for my own soundscape and I am also beginning to think about how I will do it.

One of the main things I felt that I took away from the lecture was the need to practise field recordings. I’ve decided that tomorrow I’m going to go out and gather some recordings and start honing my technique. Matt stressed the need for practising, and I fully intend to start ASAP!

I also found through the listening that I’m already leaning towards a more ‘purist’ approach. I like the idea of creating a sonic representation of a place and it’s interesting to consider how making a soundscape of a specific place would interact with listeners who may not have been there (like me when I went to the Tony Myatt/Chris Watson soundscape) and whether listeners who had been there would recognise the soundscape.

Immediate to do list:

  • Framework podcasts onto iPod + begin listening to them
  • Go on a soundwalk this evening
  • Begin making field recordings around Guildford