Category Archives: field recording

A Life in Sound: Chris Watson

Access an archive of BBC programmes featuring Chris Watson.

lifeinsound

 

Lots of fantastic programmes in there including Hy-Brasil the fantastical island which is the focus of his upcoming exhibition in Leeds, The Island of Secrets- ‘a haunting sound portrait of Orford Ness in Suffolk’- and The Station– a study of the acoustic environment in and below Newcastle train station.

 

Enjoy!!

 

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Sonic Wonderlands and the new year

A new term is starting and the Acoustic Ecology module for third year undergraduates is over.

BUT ITS A NEW YEAR NONETHELESS!

 

On BBC 4 this week, Start the Week featured composer Sir Peter Davis, audio engineer Trevor Cox, psychologist Victoria Williamson, and film maker Waldemar Januszczak.

Click here to listen

Sonic wonderland

Tom Sutcliffe talks to the celebrated composer, Sir Peter Maxwell Davies on the eve of the premier of his tenth symphony. His latest work creates a musical structure based on architectural proportions, inspired by the 17th century architect Francesco Borromini. Waldemar Januszczak turns to the 18th century and Rococo for his inspiration, and looks at how this artistic movement spread from painting and interior design, to music and theatre. The environment, both built and natural, is key to Trevor Cox’s study of sound as he listens intently to the cacophony around us. While the psychologist Victoria Williamson explores our relationship with music, including why we’re prone to earworms, certain rhythms repeating endlessly in our heads.

What a great start to the week!

Trevor Cox has written a new book titled Sonic Wonderland: A Scientific Odyssey of Sound. By way of fantastic sonic phenomena around the world he urges us to become better listeners by paying attention to the cacophony around us. See this review in The Guardian

His blog (click here or the picture above) is a great resource and dabble into his work as an acoustic engineer. Indeed in his professional work he must filter out unwanted sounds and construct almost artificial acoustic environments, devoid of natural cause. Sonic Wonderland focuses on the acoustic environments spaces around the world that are so unique and wondrous that it would be wrong to filter them away.

His WordPress blog features regular updates and his recent post An acoustic analysis of the world’s ‘longest echo’  is a little insight into the features of the book.

More to come this year including more STUDENT WORK SOUND MAPS, SOUND WALKS, WORKSHOP DESCRIPTIONS and STUFF TO TAKE AWAY

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Contact Microphones and WIRED LAB

During his talk on 2nd December Chris Watson mentioned an artist-led  organisation based in Australia with whom he, and other artists, collaborates regularly on some fantastic soundscape projects. This post will introduce them briefly and explain the technique that Chris described and showcased during his talk. But first:

WIREDheader

[Image: WIRED LAB]

WIRED LAB connects international artists and residents of rural Australia and connects them in new ways. Contributing artists include sound recordists Chris Watson and Jez Riley French, amongst others such as musicians and instrument inventors Colin Offord and Jeff Henderson.

 

Some fantastic work comes out of the organisation, which you can see on the website, but I’m going to feature the work of Chris Watson and Jez Riley French’s contact mics in order to illustrate the applications in Acoustic Ecology.

 

The Computational Beauty of Nature features recordings by Chris Watson. Their surreal sounds, he assured us, are unprocessed and are the sounds he picked up by attaching contact mics these long metal wires fences.

Contact mics are placed close to each other: one on the top wire of the fence, the other on the bottom. This means that as the rain or other objects, falls on the top wire we hear the immediate vibration as well as the same vibrations shortly after they’ve travelled through a great distance of wire in order to reach the second microphone.

In The Computational Beauty of Nature it sounds as though this goes for objects hitting both wires so there is a unique mirroring going on between the left and right channels.

The stereo width in the above recording is also a fairly natural. As Chris said in his talk, careful microphone placement is key to gathering perspective; it is also an important, probably the first stage of, compositional decision making because there are so many aspects embodied in perspective.

See images of the Gully Wire set up here.

Also click here for exclusive clips of Chris’s work there by way of The Wire magazine.

 

More examples include contributing work to bioacoustics of the area. The different wire fence set ups they have contribute to the diversity of sounds to be heard, for example the Flying V wire constructed in 2010:

“This recording taken from the eastwest wire of the Flying V. This sound is most likely a bird perching on the wire. It gives a good idea of the delay line / reverb effect from such a large scale single wire span.”

[Source: http://wiredlab.org/bioacoustics-and-wires/]

 

CONTACT

Chris Watson recommended the C-series contact microphones built by Jez Riley French. He’s based around Hull, very easy to contact and very responsive and helpful in his replies. Follow the link above and see his catalogue of hyrdrophones and contact mics available. See this play list for a brief showcase of the mics:

I bought a pair of C-series mics and have put them to great use so far. However in order to illustrate the application of them to metal fences I did some testing when I was last in York. There was a large carousel in Parliament Square and a metal fence about 4-foot in height acting as a barrier for people to queue around. As you can imagine, whilst people we waiting to ride, there was lots of contact with the fence; I was in contact too wired up with these mics:

And not on a fence but a window during intermittent rain fall on a windy day:

Great results are waiting to be had if you get yourselves a single or pair of these mics. See Jez’s website or do a search on Soundcloud for loads more examples

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Ear Cleaning: more than just a filtering system

Worth mentioning that this is not as messy as it sounds. Ear Cleaning is a practice coined by R.M Schafer, founder of the World Soundscape Project, and pioneer in soundscape composition and ecology.

As you can hear from this short recording Schafer merely brings things to his audience’s attention. That is, simply to stand up and sit down cannot be done silently. You can hear him state that it is an exercise he does with children but it is necessary for anyone of any age to do this. His concerns are therefore aimed at the future generations; many of his later text were centred on listening exercises and musicmaking.

Ear Cleaning is a simple exercise that requires no apparatus or extra tools other than your ears and your complete attention. Barry Truax, in the Handbook for Acoustic Ecology, defines it as:

“Any process that encourages a person to listen more discriminately, particularly to sounds of the environment. The term was originally used by R.M. Schafer in his book Ear Cleaning (Toronto, BMI Canada, 1967) to contrast with the traditional practice of ear training in music education which concentrates on the identification and reproduction of intervals, chords, melodies and so on. A set of ear cleaning exercises is given in the above publication.”

(Source : Handbook for Acoustic Ecology)

There are plenty of books and papers to read up on about the subject. I recommend:

Ear Cleaning: Notes for an Experimental Music Course by R.M. Schafer

“Before ear training it should be recognised that we require ear cleaning”

Ear Cleaning, in my opinion, is a necessary practice for all recordists who want to be part of the world they record.

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How to Make a Sound Map: Cartographic, Compositional, Performative

What is a Sound Map?

Firstly a contradiction. The definition of sound map should not be taken too literally. The idea of map, mapping, journey likewise should not be taken at face value, that is, as a two-dimensional means-to-an-end. To use a philosophy crudely, not all swans are white; not all maps are two dimensional.

Maps are ultimately representations, which suggest no boundaries as to how it is represented indeed representation is chosen by those representing. They should accepted as a subjective truth insofar that the map is an abstraction derived from something- the geographical territory- but it is not the thing itself.

What I am trying to say is that like any map, sound maps should have no prescribed method. However you choose to represent, do what you want. But here are a couple of methods. (If you’re interested in the philosophy, check out ‘Map-territory relation’ on Wikipedia and the links on there. Bateson, Baudrillard, Korzybski, eat your heart out.)

How far can we push the boundaries of the typical cartography of a sound map?

Mapping Sounds

Let’s start with the most straight forward method of mapping and embedding sound files on an existing map programme such as Google or Bing. There are two online tools you can use to create a sound map. They don’t require signing up but the advantage of doing so is that you can save maps and edit or add to them at a later date. Umapper and Map Maker are two services I found.

Map Maker

This is a simple tool that is straight forward and not as buffed up with custom features like those of  UMapper. All is is is a Google Map with the ability to place those red markers with the ability to embed flash-based links such as SoundCloud players.

You have to sign up (for free) in order to share an iframe link, see below, otherwise you can export a javascript code. To make a map simply find the location of your field recording- be as precise as you like- and click to acquire the longitude and latitude of that place.

You then have to title the marker and add some text. Call it what you like within the character limit and use the ’embed’ code on the Soundcloud file. This can be done as many times as desired and then you can save your map once it’s titled.  Wordpress doesn’t like iframe codes so please click on the link to find my example.

Tariq’s London Sound Map

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UMapper

Umapper offers much more custom features than MapMaker and can therefore provide a more detailed representation. You have to upload your sound files to the site (copyright is still your own) and it can only supports MP3 file format. Each marker contains a media player and an image as well, if uploaded, to support the file.

The maps are more interactive and with the use of shapes and so on allows you to be more creative with how you choose to create your map. It’s a bit more time consuming and I had problems uploading and playing back my audio files and images so I can only offer an existing example by way of the London Sound Survey

Sound Map by Composition

During his talk on Monday Chris Watson suggested another kind of sound map, this time by way of composition. His current work at the Millennium Gallery in Sheffield is an example of this insofar as he attempts to take the listener on a journey through his hometown Sheffield. He does this by using ambisonic diffusion to immerse the listener in his soundscape of field recordings collected from all over the city.

In terms of composition it begins at the peripheries of Sheffield, on the hills, and finishes beneath the train station in the heart of the city. We heard sections of the 36-minute piece during his talk and witnessed how he exploits the acousmatic potentials of this kind of mapping. However the veil is lifted ever so slightly by the accompanying black-and-white photographs that depict the places he record in an non-synchronised random slide show.

In the same category a slightly different method can be found in Matthew Barnard‘s work Woche (with apologies to Ruttman and Brock). Although this piece is a document of a week in central London, with no necessary continuity in terms of time or place, if we allow the term ‘sound map’ to be broadened then we have a composition that maps the experience of the busy city represented using heavy, and pretty, aesthetic devices.

By way of the binaural method and the unique psychoacoustics thereof, we play the part of the recordist, experience the places he or she visited, and hear the acoustic environment, as accurately as possible, the way they did.

My piece Avignon Off’13, also binaural, likewise ‘maps’ a journey during a certain period but contains all phonographic material  and no electroacoustic processing. These two pieces are two further examples of how sound map can be created using composition.

Marcus Leadley is another to look out for. If you ever meet him at a conference or symposium, it’s likely he has a sound walk prepared for people to talk part in. Marcus, records souunds of place using various recording techniques and compiles them into a randomised composition built on Max MSP.

He sends the output to a radio transmitter and listeners are required to wear wireless headphones and explore the places that are randomly appearing in the soundscape composition. Listening to Marcus Leadley’s Hidden Sounds of Whitstable showcases some of the sounds he is able to discover:

Sound Walks

Sound walks are another to ‘map’ the sounds of a place using what ever creative tools the artist chooses. Usually sound walks are live pieces in which the artist takes a group of participants through a place in order to raise more awareness to the acoustic environment. However they can take the form of compositions and be done for aesthetic purposes.

This practice was formed alongside soundscape ecology at the Simon Fraser University in Vancouver. Artists such as RM Schafer, Hildegard Westerkamp, and Barry Truax took part in defining the theory and Westerkamp had her brilliant essay on soundwalking reprublished recently. Click the picture to read:

soundwalkmap

Through soundwalking Hildegaard Westerkamp identifies that ‘we cannot close our ears’ and therefore ‘cannot help hearing all sounds.’ She attempts to ‘remove the initial hearing barriers’ in order to ‘become fascinated by exploration.’ Soundwalks need not be ephemeral and presented only in a live format. By use of various methods artists have come up with ways to document their walks from the very literal (see the map above) to very impressionistic.

During a rhythmanalysis soundwalk of Newcastle in 2011, Justin Bennett instructed the particpants to draw a small circle in the centre of piece of paper and then a large circle that has the smaller one in its centre. The use of circles is fairly relevent to the psycho-spatial properties of experience of listening. See the blank diagram:

photo 1

The listener, or rhythmanalyst, can use any language or pictures to describe their experience. For example:

photo (1)

And Justin Bennett’s [hard to read] soundwalk map of Newcastle City Centre:

photo 2

Other artists record their sound walks binaurally and appropriately ask listeners to use headphones to listen to their walks. Binaural sound artist Dallas Simpson composes walks and improvises performances by interacting with the landscape to make unique pieces usually intended for headphone reproduction. See Dallas Simpson’s Personal Performances.

If you’re interested in a deeper history of sound walking, it goes back into the depths of poetry. See Seán Street’s The Poetry of Radio: the Colour of Sound for more (also available as an e-book on the University of Hull library catalogue).

These have been three methods of mapping sounds: cartographic, compositional, performative.

If you’ve found this pose helpful, keep checking back for more! For a growing list of Sound Maps found online, see this page of the Acoustic Ecology @ UoH blog: Sound Maps

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Chris Watson Week pt. 04

Guided by Sound

As a natural sound recordist Chris Watson has walked the breathed of the planet to capture the sounds that others only imagine:

Geosonics is a collaboration between Chris Watson and Soniccouture.

However Chris Watson has also spent time on a more local concern and engaged with the RSPB and the BBC in documenting the sounds of birds in the UK. For the whole of October he presented BBC 4’s Tweet of the Day (see the list of episodes in the link).

Guided by sound: Recording the Bearded Tit for Tweet of the Day

Here’s more on how he records natural sounds, this time for the London Wild Bird Watch

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Chris Watson Week pt. 03

The Station

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[Image: BBC]

The Station, broadcasted on Wednesday 09 October 2013, is a soundscape composition that captures the psyche of a place by way of it’s acoustic character and history.Only 24 hours in Newcastle Station, as Chris explores, is full of soundmarks that are recognised by the people who work in and use the station on a regular basis.

It is a great piece and includes narration from Chris Watson. Not only is this a good example of acoustic ecology it is also a fantastic narrative piece that cinematically represents a journey and explorations. Technology and doing allow us to make these.

The sound recordist Chris Watson, regularly travels to and from this station and became fascinated by the sounds and acoustics of the building, so when he was granted permission to record inside, he leapt at the chance, visiting at various times during both day and night over several months, to capture the sounds within; from the quiet crackle of the overhead wires on a misty dawn morning to the terrifying roar and clamour of footballs fans and police dogs when Newcastle were playing at home to Sunderland, and the chanting voices and shouts of the fans overwhelmed even the sounds of the trains.

More tomorrow!

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Chris Watson Week pt. 02

Inside the Circle of Fire

Thursday 12 September 2013 – Sunday 23 February 2014

“Chris will transform the Millennium Gallery into an immersive ‘sound map’ of Sheffield, charting its boundaries on the edge of the Peak and travelling its waterways to the bustling heart of the city. Recorded over the past 18 months at locations in and around the city, the sound map will use the latest technology to create a sound which changes throughout the gallery, depending on the listener’s location. By truly hearing the sounds of the city, perhaps for the first time, we hope that visitors will gain a new perspective on Sheffield in 2013.”

Click here for the Guardian review

Sound maps tend to use the existing cartography of GoogleMaps or other popular graphic interface. This allows an interaction between the listener and map.

Chris Watson’s sound map is an example of geographical composing in which the recordist takes the listener on a real-time journey through a geography and its acoustic psyche. It becomes a soundscape experienced only in real time; appropriate for gallery exhibition.

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Chris Watson Week pt. 01

In the lead up to guest lecture next week, Monday 2nd December, I will be featuring Chris Watson everyday this week.

Click on the picture for the first port of call:

CW Header

 

[Photo: http://www.chriswatson.net/]

Gabriella Scanio – Field Recording compilation

I have received the first output from the Acoustic Ecology module, on the Creative Music Technology degree programme. One project is to record using a variety of equipment and techniques.

Listen to the results of Gabriella Scanio’s recent portfolio of field recordings, consisting of hyrdophonic and electromagnetic sounds, and various places around Scarborough:

“30 second clips all combined into 1 track of places/items situated around Scarborough, England.

Sound 1: Kitchen events
Sound 2: Train Station
Sound 3: Shopping Centre Lift
Sound 4: Arcades
Sound 5: Cash Machine
Sound 6: Printer
Sound 7: Electromagnetic recording of a laptop
Sound 8: Electromagnetic recording of a cash till
Sound 9: Electromagnetic recording of a car stereo player’s speakers
Sound 10: Inside a car from underneath the driver’s seat
Sound 11: Inside a car from the driver’s seating position
Sound 12: Beach Waves
Sound 13: Inside a Bath”

Gabriella Scanio

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