Category Archives: Science

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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David Attenborough: My Life in Sound

See below. David Attenborough has worked a lot with sound recordist Chris Watson, do not miss this fantastic opportunity to hear them in conversation. More on Chris Watson later.

[Text and image from BBC Media Centre]

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“In an exclusive interview for BBC Radio 4, David Attenborough talks to Chris Watson about his life in sound.

One of Sir David’s first jobs in natural history filmmaking was as a wildlife sound recordist. Recorded in Qatar, Sir David is with Chris Watson (a current wildlife sound recordist), and is there to make a film about a group of birds he is passionate about, The Bird of Paradise. It is in Qatar where the world’s largest captive breeding population is and it is in this setting Chris takes Sir David back to the 1950s and his early recording escapades, right through to today where Sir David narrates a series of Tweet Of The Days on Radio 4 across the Christmas and New Year period.

Presenter/ Chris Watson, Producer/ Julian Hector for the BBC”

Monday 16 December

11.00-11.30am

BBC RADIO 4

Same Questions, Different Answers

For those interested, here is the paper co-written by Matt Barnard, Magnus Johnson, and Rob MacKay and presented recently by Matt at the Symposium on Acoustic Ecology.

It presents the aims and outcomes of the original, voluntary pilot module which was the impetus for the current level 6 module in Creative Music Technology.

Same Questions, Different Answers? The Convergence of Art and Science in the Pilot Module ‘Acoustic Ecology’

And here is the cinematic trailer of Sound of our Surroundings, a research group formed as a result of the module:

More information on the About Us page.

Bernie Krause: “a picture is worth 1,000 words but a soundscape is worth 1,000 pictures”

Just added Bernie Krause and the Wild Sanctuary to the links page. He is a leading expert in soundscape ecology. When Rob presented the Sounds of our Surroundings workshop at SeaSwim, we discussed issues raised in Krause’s book The Great Animal Orchestrasuch as the categories of biophony, geophony, and anthrophony. These can also be found in this exciting paper on soundscape ecology published in the Bioscience journal co-authored by Krause amongst other names:

Soundscape Ecology: The Science of Sound in the Landscape

The Great Animal Orchestra is a must read for those interested in the preservation of soundscapes or the effects that acoustic environments have on their inhabitants.

GreatAnimalOrchestraBOOK

I saw Bernie Krause give a talk at the School of Sound in April this year (2013) and, amongst recent anecdotes, reiterated issues from his book such as the dramatic differences in the soundscapes of Lincoln Meadows due to selective logging. There was a significant reduction in biophony, in wildlife inhabitants, and haven’t returned since. He argues that despite the obviously reduction in plant life, the contrast is something that video or photography cannot represent; only our ears and microphones can identify the destructive effect that activities such as logging have on a natural environment.

See his TED talk below!

 

UK SoundMap – The British Library’s National Sound Mapping Project

The UK SoundMap is a currently active ‘community-led’ project that aims to sample the sounds of Britain as heard by you and me, and him and her… and basically anyone with a device capable of recording sound – even a smartphone. Everyone is encouraged to contribute, and should do so. The mammoth project utilises the free AudioBoo web platform to host, stream and map the contributed sounds, which culminates in a comprehensive, soniferous survey for all to browse, research and enjoy.

Why is the British Library doing this? If you need an answer:

Britain’s sonic environment is ever changing. Urbanisation, transport developments, climate change and even everyday lifestyles all affect our built and natural soundscapes. The sounds around us have an impact on our well being. Some sounds have a positive or calming influence. Others can be intrusive and disturbing or even affect our health. By capturing sounds of today and contributing to the British Library’s digital collections you can help build a permanent researchable resource.

The Acoustic Ecology team have started to contribute – check out recordings pinned around Scarborough and Rievaulx, including a thunderstorm, a gurbling river and Civil War weaponary reverberating around the fields surrounding Rievaulx Abbey in North Yorkshire.

In partnership with the NoiseFuturesNetwork, the project has been open to submissions since July 2010 and will remain open until the end of June 2011. The final map will be studied by the Noise Futures Network team and results will be published in time. Go on, upload your recordings on AudioBoo, pin them on the map and remember to tag them with ‘uksm’ for inclusion!

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