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

Listening Reflections (20th October)

I did some preliminary listening yesterday before my CMC lecture. I was very busy over the weekend and had intended to sit down and listen to some of Chris Watson’s music sooner but I just didn’t have the time to do it properly.

I went to his website and listened to several compositions which were on the ‘downloads’ page ( I listened to “The Dawn Chorus from BBC Tyne” twice and “Wild Song at Dawn” once. One of the things I was struck by (this is also true of the performance last Thursday) was the attention to detail: the recordings are pristine! They are so clear that it’s almost as if there’s some birds in the room with you!

I then decided to listen to some of Barry Traux’s work, as his name was mentioned a few times and, to be honest, I wasn’t quite prepared. I listened to a piece on his website called “Pacific Fanfare” (more info and it was very unusual. The sounds were manipulated quite obviously and it did not appear to be trying to create a real landscape in the way that Chris Watson’s work does but rather a more abstract one, with a focus on changing time. I found it interesting that such a wide range work can be all called ‘soundscape’.

Tony Myatt/Chris Watson Talk and Performance (16th October)

On Thursday 16th October I attended Professor Tony Myatt’s inaugural lecture, entitled “A new age of surround sound: spatial audio at the frontiers of contemporary art, technology and science”. It was followed by a performance which was a collaboration between Tony Myatt and soundscape artist, Chris Watson. I think I’ll use this blog post to reflect mainly on the soundscape performance, as although I found the talk very interesting, much of it is not directly relevant to my research!

I will start by saying that I was a little sceptical of the value of soundscapes, especially as a form of music. However, there was a lot of excitement, particularly from the academic staff in the music department about the performance, so I decided to try to gain as much as possible from it. I was glad I had done some reading before going to the event as it informed how I should approach listening to the piece.

The title of the soundscape was “In Britten’s Footsteps” and was in four parts: spring, summer, autumn and winter. All of the recordings, Chris Watson informed us, had been collected from the area in the appropriate seasons. There was also a live cello performance of one of Britten’s pieces (I forget the name of the piece) which interacted with the soundscape.

During the performance, I walked round the room and interacted with the soundscape, listening to how it changed as I moved about the room. I believe there were over 20 speakers creating a real depth of sound and it was interesting to walk from one side to the other and hear different sounds becoming more prominent as I changed my own position within the soundscape.

At various points I sat still and closed my eyes and I was transported to my imagined version of Aldeburgh (I never been there or seen a photo) and The Red House. I also thought about my own experiences of Britten’s music, particularly seeing his War Requiem performed in Guildford Cathedral a couple of years ago.

I used it as an opportunity to reflect on how I listen to sounds. This is where I feel I learned my most valuable lesson. I first was intent on listening to the sounds coming from the speakers and imagining what was creating them and building up a picture of where they might have been recorded. I then found that I wasn’t listening to the sounds and imagining their source or their location and was actually just appreciating them for what they were on their own without an object behind them. I have never been able to disassociate from the sound source before, so I felt really pleased that I had finally done what Pierre Schaeffer would refer to as “reduced listening”!

All in all, it was a really interesting evening and I’m very glad that I went along. I felt more inclined to listen to more soundscapes and build my competency in the genre as a direct result of the performance.

Starting my research (13th-16th October)

Last week I began some preliminary reading from the following sources:

Hugill, A. (2008) The digital musician. London: Routledge (pp. 17-22).

Cox, C. and Warner, D. (2004) Audio culture: readings in modern music. London: Continuum.

Landy, L. (2007) Understanding the art of sound organization. Cambridge MA: MIT Press.

I revised Pierre Schaeffer’s listening modes (‘Acousmatics’ from Audio Culture) and I will try to implement them as I go on to do some listening. I like the idea of listening to something while trying not to identify its sound-source (the sonorous object). I then read ‘Some Sound Observations (also from Audio Culture) by Pauline Oliveros. I find her writing interesting because it conjures up the sounds she is writing about in my head. I think the main thing I got from this reading is a new way of thinking about sound – the question “why can’t sounds be visible” resonated with me especially.

The main thing I picked up from the reading was the following principles (I found this in Understanding the art of sound organisation although it is attributed to R. Murray Schafer in the book):

  1. Listener recognisability of the source material is maintained even if it subsequently undergoes transformation
  2. The listener’s knowledge of the environment and psychological context of the soundscape material is invoked and encouraged to complete the network of meanings ascribed to the music
  3. The composer’s knowledge of the environmental and psychological context of the soundscape material is allowed to influence the shape of the composition at every level, and ultimately the composition is inseparable from some of all aspects of that reality
  4. the work enhances our understanding of the world, and its influence carries over into everyday perceptual habits

I re-read R. Murray Schafer’s ‘The Music of the Environment’ in Audio Culture and reminded myself of the principles of acoustic ecology and hi-fi/lo-fi sounds. This is an important philosophy in soundscapes: hi-fi and lo-fi sounds are essentially rural sounds and man-made sounds respectively. Acoustic ecologists believe that the hi-fi sounds are gradually being drowned out by the lo-fi sounds of the human world. Some of them wish to ‘document’ the disappearing natural soundscape.

Hildegard Westerkamp’s piece on Soundwalking is very interesting. I’d like to try going on a soundwalk myself as she instructs. I’d also like to try listening using Schaeffer’s acousmatic listening method while I do the soundwalk.

Following this reading I made note of some artists to listen to:

  • Barry Traux
  • Pauline Oliveros
  • R. Murray Schafer
  • Hildgard Westerkamp
  • Katharine Norman

I decided to leave my research there until I had been to Tony Myatt’s talk at my University (which included a soundscape performance by Tony and Chris Watson).