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)

Advertisements

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…

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

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.

Soundscape Lecture Notes (20th October)

Creating Music Computers

Lecture 3 – Soundscapes

Research

  • Think long and hard about the outcome
  • For creative, rich, process-based work, you need to do some listening, reading and analysis. You try ideas out and then snowball it from there. You must have evidence that you have done this process.
  • It’s not the sort of thing you can do overnight
  • Present the material in a way that Matt can mark it
  • The other element is the work itself which is a soundscape piece of work
  • Engage with getting hold of field recordings and incorporate them into a work that responds to and works with these field recordings
  • The task should help you learn to listen in a new way: listen to your environment, think how you would record that and then think about how you would translate it into something creative

Tony Myatt/Chris Watson Talk and Concert

  • When you encounter the soundscape you move through it we are “bodies in motion”
  • Sound walking can be done to further this idea of walking through the sounds
  • It also cancels the traditional concert format
  • Combination of instruments
  • Bodily sounds – the listening body is fundamental to CMT students. Electrified sound reproduction has the potential to address the body and as listeners, we listen with our bodies, so as a writer you should be writing for the body.
  • Having a narrative
  • You’re relying on your own resources and having some abstract material but you need to have some sort of form. It has to be meaningful and accessible and having some sort of order but being something that’s poetic and having some sort of ‘meaning
  • How can soundscapes fuel the imagination?

Framework – http://frameworkradio.net

  • Podcast radio show
  • Collections of field recordings and soundscape compositions
  • Listen to them and reflect on them
  • Spend a few days listening to them and you’ll atune to the style

Field Recording

  • Act of listening and recording at the same time
  • Going on a journey or “sound safari” going out looking for material
  • In The Field: The Art of Field Recording is a good book to get
  • It’s a growing artistic practice
  • It’s similar to photography – it’s become a popular domestic hobby
  • It’s not enough to go out with your iPhone once and make a recording of Guildford train station
  • You need to develop your field recording practice – you’re going to need to do a good few hours of it – you’ll learn a lot over time and the more you can do, the better
  • Attentive listening, skilful recording and representation
  • You don’t need expensive gear
  • Can approach it in a lo-fi way but you have to think about the aesthetics
  • http://aporee.org/maps
    • Maps
    • Field recordings all over the world
  • The purist approach requires accurate representation – the idea that a field recording can tell a story
  • The basis for this work is field recording

The soundscape continuum:

Purist (field recording)                                                           Abstract (more musical)

Abstract approach:

  • Francisco Lopez:
    • Takes field recording a abstracts them
    • He makes ‘sculptural forms’
    • He doesn’t label his work or provide any details
      • Because he doesn’t want you to think about the ‘meaning’, where he’s recorded it, what it was etc.
      • He thinks by simply listening to it you’ll be able to know something about its sonic source
    • You make the field recording + represent the place and that’s ok for documentary purposes but the more it’s in evidence, the less musical the work becomes (there’s a fine line between the narrative that could be too literal and the poetic which can be quite musical)
    • His work is ‘lost’ – it does not connect to the place and he claims that this makes it very musical
    • Abstraction opens the door for artistic creation – he believe it makes things work better
    • His work kicks against the ‘traditional’ approach (which Matt refers to as ‘Soundscape Composition’
    • Nature can be noisy i.e. if you’re living next to a waterfall, it’s noisy all the time

Purist approach:

  • Referential (i.e. it represents what you would hear in the world
  • Chris Watson Stepping into the Dark
  • Creating a ‘sonorous fog’
  • Play between recognisable representation of a place and that they are just lovely to listen to

Acoustic Ecology:

  • Lo-fi/hi-fi relationship
    • Urban = lo-fi and bad
      • The constant noise of machines and man-made sounds
    • Country = hi-fi and good
  • It’s about ‘tuning’ in to the world
  • They wanted to document soundscapes that are ‘disappearing’ and there is some value to this – there is evidence that some man-made noises are actually affecting people’s health in a bad way
  • They say that the rural environment is very differentiated
  • [Barry Traux’s definitions of soundscape]
  • There is an environmentally-conscious feel to it: acoustic ecology
    • You could make a piece that is about the environment
  • Make the piece longer if it needs time to unfold

Phonography:

  • It’s not sound recording or acoustic ecology
  • It does not adhere to commercial views of perfect sound recordings
  • You can hear the mic being handled, people talking in the background

Earth Jazz

  • Bug Music in Spotify by David Rothenberg
  • This is much more musical
  • Environmentalist
  • Making music ‘with the world’
  • It’s quite tacky
  • It sounds like someone playing ok jazz with field recordings, but some of it is very interesting, particularly Bug Music
  • You could do something like this which incorporates more standard musical ideas with field recording that interact with each other. But don’t make it just an ambient piece with some field recordings

Experimental Electronica:

  • Biosphere Starswitch On
  • Higher Intelligence Agency
  • Birmingham Frequencies by Biosphere (“Canon Hill”)
  • Field recording and electronic music such as ambient
  • Be careful if you do this though, there has to be a connection between the instrumental sounds and the field recordings

Things to consider:

  • How will you record it
  • Will you be present in the piece or absent
  • When will you record it
  • You can generate many hours of recordings but just a bit will be useful
  • Collage as much as you can, even if you’re trying to make it sound like a single take
    • That’s not to say that you couldn’t do it the other way
    • But consider what’s in it and whether it’s suitable and whether it will ‘mean’ anything to them
    • Listen to the podcasts and think about how your own recordings could sound like they could be in the podcast itself

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 (http://www.chriswatson.net/downloads.html). 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 http://www.sfu.ca/~truax/fanfare.html) 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.