Category Archives: Soundscapes

Living Waves, Sea Box, and more at Coastival 2014!

University of Hull @ Coastival, February 14th – 16th

There are a number of events on at Scarborough’s Coastival Festival this weekend involving staff and students from the University of Hull, including Living Waves by Rob Mackay – Featuring Evelyn Glennie.

Living Waves

Living Waves is a sonic journey in to stone. It uses the sounds of ringing rocks found in the Lake District to create an immersive sound installation. It was commissioned for the Ruskin Rocks Project and features Dame Evelyn Glennie playing a new lithophone specially created for it .

Evelyn Glennie

I’ve seen Rob present this piece three times and have heard excerpts from it several more. This is the first time it will be exhibited in a complete form but Rob assures me there so much more material to create more work

It will be on at Coastival in Scarborough this weekend on Friday and Saturday (10am – 5pm) at Scarborough’s Rotunda Museum of Geology. FREE ENTRY!

Living Waves_Lakes

There are two other installations including sound design by Rob Mackay, installations by Sam Eaton and Sea Swim:

Sound-Mapping-2

Sounds of Our Surroundings

by Rob MacKay and PhD student Sam Eaton is a virtual instrument in which you make music by interacting with a map of Scarborough. “Create your own composition by combining the sounds of the landscape!”

Sea-Box-Sea-Swim

Sea Box by Sea Swim

This is an installation with 3 channels of video and surround sound which immerses viewers into the experiences of swimming in the North Sea. By Lara Goodband, John Wedgewood Clark, and Rob MacKay.

The festival will involve over 700 performers from the town in the epic production of
Orpheus the Mariner which uses giant puppets, some of which have been made by Music and Drama students from the University of Hull, including the world record attempt at the largest puppet ever built!

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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!!

 

Tagged , , , ,

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

Screen Shot 2013-12-04 at 14.20.33

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

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Chris Watson Week pt. 05

El Tren Fantasma

“Take the ghost train from Los Mochis to Veracruz and travel cross country, coast to coast, Pacific to Atlantic. Ride the rhythm of the rails on board the Ferrocarriles Nacionales de México (FNM) and the music of a journey that has now passed into history.”

El Tren Fantasma is Chris Watson’s latest release. It documents a historic train journey across Mexico on a route that’s no longer in use. This work stands out because he has used extensive processing to transform the work into a linear documentation to a rhythmic and textural exploration of the geography, architecture, and psyche of this journey. Indeed ‘The Phantom Train’, the english translation, needs no further explanation because such a title invokes the imagination from a mere reading.

Chris Watson will be visiting Scarborough Campus!

Monday 2nd December

11:30am

PS3

Tagged , , , , , , , , , ,

Chris Watson Week pt. 03

The Station

b03c45hq

[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!

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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.

Tagged , , , , , , , , ,

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!

 

The Piano Makers @ St. Peter’s Church, Nottingham as part of World Event Young Artists 2012

The Piano Makers was selected for the World Event Young Artists 2012 event that is taking place in Nottingham, England, during 7th – 16th September 2012.

Hosted in the impressive St. Peter’s Church, in Nottingham, the piece is presented in the form of an installation, with a number of wireless headphones available to listen. The work is on loop from 11am – 4pm, 7th – 14th September.

The Piano Makers uses source material that is binaurally recorded – small microphones are worn inside the ears, resulting in recordings that, when played back over headphones, sound externalised and enveloping. The installation is completely free, and I recommend you visit the numerous other events that WEYA have organised during the week.

Programme note:

From The Piano Makers, written by D. Wainwright:

The frame and strings
of a fully strung grand piano
must withstand the pressure
of about 20 tonnes

The Kemble piano factory in Milton Keynes was the last to exist in the UK until its recent relocation to Indonesia and Japan. Using binaural recordings made during a visit to the factory before its closure, The Piano Makers is a study of piano material and manufacture, and the idea of the tension and pressure that the instrument withstands.

With thanks to Peter Corney and all of the Kemble Pianos Ltd. employees at Milton Keynes for obliging my intrusion.

This global event will showcase a selection of the best international creative talent, across a spectrum of artforms, in one city, providing an opportunity for 1000 artists from 100 nations to join together and share their creativity on an international platform.

Tagged , , , , ,

Sounds of Our Surroundings Workshop

Dr Rob Mackay ran a sound mapping and field recording workshop as part of his artist’s residency with Sea Swim on the 28th July in Scarborough’s South Bay.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Meeting at the ‘Sea Swim’ Beach Hut, participants traversed Scarborough’s South bay, mapping the soundscapes which can be heard, using a range of recording techniques. Sounds were captured using Zoom H4 recorders, a set of Soundman OKM binaural mics, and a pair of Aquarian H2a-XLR Hydrophones.

The different recordings were woven into a sound collage on a laptop in the Beach Hut on the 29th July, conveying different perspectives of the bay, both above and below the waves. The finished collage can be heard here: 

The sound recordists/workshop participants were: Tariq Emam, Rory Saxman Stephenson-Eves, Pat Lawty, John Wedgewood Clarke, Suzen Fyfe, and Martin Haswell.

Sea Swim’ is part of imove: a cultural Olympiad programme in Yorkshire. It is a project that explores how swimming changes the way we feel ourselves to be IN our bodies:

‘I am thrilled to be patron of this beautifully simple and simply beautiful idea.  Poetry is going down to the sea again.’

Carol Ann Duffy, The Poet Laureate, Patron of Sea Swim

Tagged , , , , , , , ,

Water Soundscape Composition Contest – European Acoustic Heritage

European Acoustic Heritage

The European Acoustic Heritage project is currently taking submissions for a soundscape composition competition revolving around the theme of Water.

Open until August 13th 2012, the call is for compositions that involve some aspect of water (be it the obvious or the associated) with an emphasis on culture and context – we have plenty of inspiration here in Scarborough. The compositions must be 10 minutes or less in duration (always a problem for me!).

More detailed information on the contest and the EAH project in general can be found HERE

Tagged , , , ,