Thursday, 26 June 2008

recording dairy - June 2008

since returning from the Czech republic i've been testing some new Aquarian hydrophones alongside a new design of my self made piezo based ones.

I spent a warm and windy day at Wansford Canal & Watton Beck capturing the various sounds underwater. I've spent a long time recording canals and small rivers around my home in East Yorkshire & have been waiting to feel 'right' about a release for some of these recordings for sometime. In fact, I suspect I waited too long & missed the moment, so i've taken the bull by the horns & issued a piece based on these recent recordings (along with one featuring Pocklington canal head) on a limited 3 inch cdr - for details & to hear an extract see here.

I always enjoy time spent near water and canals are a particular interest recording wise. The architecture of the locks themselves, the drains and outlets, can offer up some intense sounds, whilst the relatively still water of the canal stretches are full of aquatic life. The fact that most of the canals around here are no longer in use means an excess of plant life & in the right conditions the process of photosynthesis can be captured.

Then, earlier this week after several months of negotiation I finally got the chance to record inside the Humber bridge (in the chamber below the carriageway & the anchorage rooms). I could attempt to describe the sounds underneath the deck, but the sheer intensity would be hard to put into words. I have often thought it might be interesting for the public to go on tours along this chamber, but I suspect the creaks, groans and crashes would result in them thinking twice about driving across the bridge in future !

I managed to make some recordings of the space itself & then a shorter time with contact mics attached to the metal floor. The reverb of the space resulted in an almost constant roar within the space, whilst the floor itself offered up more of the detailed sonic properties of the plates rubbing together as traffic passed overhead.

The anchorage rooms, truly cavernous spaces, I was unfortunately unable to spend long enough recording this time so this will have to wait for my next visit. However I did take 20 minutes or so from the main cable cradle, with a piezo contact mic attached to the housing - which resulted in some nice strung wire rumbles and twangs.

So, June has been a good month for recording. Apart from the recordings mentioned above, I returned from my trip to the Czech republic with the first section of the 'sonic architecture' recordings complete and a range of other interesting recordings (lakes, train tracks, hollow paths and various windows) - some of which will appear soon on the 'favourite sounds Prague' website (see the links section).

Tuesday, 24 June 2008

new release of note: Marc Namblard - 'Chants of frozen lakes'

click here for more info.

Coming soon will be an interview with Marc & Yannick Dauby (this release is the first full cd on his Kalerne editions label)

Marc Namblard, sound artist and naturalist living in the northeast of France, has spent several years listening to and recording an acoustic phenomenon occurring in the winter time. The tiniest crackles inside the ice of frozen lakes produce mechanical vibrations. Under specific atmospheric conditions, these impulses propagate in the ice, whose tension makes it similar to the skin of a drum. (from the Kalerne website)
First, one has to listen to this disc enough times for the initial curiosity to subside. The strange, elastic sounding twangs of the ice seem impossible to capture without the use of contact mics. However the sleeve notes make it clear that all the sounds here were recorded using condenser mics. Similar sounds, although with a raw edge, have also been captured by Andreas Bick & can be heard as part of his 'fire pattern - frost pattern' composition here.
Once one gets over that first enjoyment of the simple sounds it's possible to discover whether this release offers more, stands as something more than a document of the sounds. It does.
During the 55 minute duration (extracted from hours of recordings made on the 16th January 2006) the piece moves forward, holding the listeners attention and offering much from repeated hearings. From the first sounds of the frost crossing paths with the plants surrounding the lac de Pierre Precee, to the increasing effects of the sun on the ice sheets, the tension building and broken and finally disappearing, I'd say this is a cd that got the release it deserved and does that difficult thing - it documents a natural sound phenomenon and represents the artists practice without either overpowering the result for the listener.

Sunday, 22 June 2008

new release of note: Annea Lockwood - 'Sound map of the Danube river'

Annea Lockwood - 'Sound map of the Danube river' (Lovely music 3-cd set)

I'm not a critic, despite the fact that I have written about music / sound for various publications over the years. The reason I don't consider myself a 'critic' in the usual sense of the word is that I long ago lost the will to rate other people's music in terms of comparison or by judging their work as if it should have been created for 'us'. I say all of this due to the fact that I have read a few comments about this release from Annea that seem to forget that it must be listened to as being her work & appraised as such.

I could of course listen to this 3 cd set & quite easily comment on areas of this vast river that Annea hasn't explored, methods she has avoided. I could ponder on what another artist with a different approach might have produced & I can think about the sounds of rivers that I enjoy capturing myself. However this release is, simply, the set that Annea wanted to release and all that matters for the listener is whether it offers something to them. It does of course, but only if one allows it to be what it is. It is a sound map, as the title says. Listening to it in one sitting gradually gives one the sense of a journey, of Annea taking these trips and wanting to express that experience.

Personally, I find the interviews (in sound at least) distracting at times. I would have liked to be able to choose to skip these but as they are embedded in the soundscapes that isn't possible. However that is my own wish to listen to the 'music' of the river on it's own but Annea clearly wanted to produce a document that had other elements.

Many of the most successful sections are the simple bank-side recordings of the river itself, recorded above the water. Her work with hydrophones provides for a different perspective although I do think that this is an area currently expanding in such an exciting way that the conventional sounds on display here have slightly less power to evoke a sense of place. That said there are some fascinating sections such as 'Bajkal' & 'Immendingen'.

I first came across Annea Lockwood's work when the company I used to run bought up the remaining vinyl from the Scottish Tangent label (long deleted catalogue featuring mainly field recordings of Scottish traditional music & song). The label released Annea's ground breaking 'The Glass world of Anna Lockwood' - a record made from sounds of glass - both distinctly musical (glass harmonica etc) & percussive. Since then Annea has released many experimental works on labels such as Lovely music, XI, CRI, Harmonia Mundi etc.

Back in 1989 the first 'sound map' release was issued: 'Sound map of the Hudson river' (Lovely music):

'An aural journey from the source of the river, in the high peak area of the Adirondacks, downstream to the Lower Bay and the Atlantic Ocean; Lockwood traces the course of the Hudson through on-site recordings of its flow at 15 separate locations. Annea Lockwood has recorded rivers in many countries to explore the special state of mind and body which the sounds of moving water create when one listens intently to the complex mesh of rhythms and pitches. The listener will find that each stretch of the Hudson has its own sonic texture, formed by the terrain, varying according to the weather, the season and downstream, the human environment whose sounds are intimately woven into the river's sounds. 71 minutes 33 seconds' (from the Lovely music website)

This 3-cd set 'Sound map of the Danube river' continues the series with an in-depth package of sounds gathered in & around the river as it stretches from the Black forest to the Black sea.

Releases of purely 'natural sounds' (though this set also includes 13 short interviews with people whose daily lives are connected to the river) often end up firmly in the new age camp - Annea's approach however places the results firmly on a more substantial and respectful footing. It is what it says on the tin - a sound map. A substantial release and one that manages to avoid many of the pitfalls of this kind of aural documentary.

As I said at the start of this post it's easy to ponder what other recordists would have produced, perhaps gathering more evocative, less literal sounds, but as far as an example of Annea's work in this area this is as good as it gets. A well produced, interesting and pleasurable listen !

Annea Lockwood (taken from the Lovely music website): 'Between the winter of 2001 and the summer of 2004, I made five field-recording trips, moving slowly down the Danube from the sources in the Black Forest through Germany, Austria, Slovakia, Hungary, Croatia, Serbia, Bulgaria and Romania to the great delta on the Black Sea, recording the river’s sounds (at the surface and underwater), aquatic insects, and the various inhabitants of its banks. At 2880 km. (1785 miles) the Danube is Europe’s second longest river and one of its most historically significant, having long been a trade and cultural conduit between east and west. Its drainage basin encompasses much of Central Europe and it has carved out deep gorges dividing the southern arm of the Carpathians from the Balkan Mountains.

I recorded from the banks, finding a great variety of water sounds as the gradient and bank materials changed, often feeling that I was hearing the process of geological change in real time. Towards the end of the final field trip, while listening to small waves slap into a rounded overhang the river had carved in a mud bank in Rasova, Romania (CD 3 track 2), I realised that the river has agency; it composes itself, shaping its sounds by the way it sculpts its banks.

Along the way I spoke with people for whom the Danube is a central influence on their lives, an integral part of their identity, asking them “What does the river mean to you? Could you live without it?” They responded in their native languages and dialects, their voices woven into the river’s sounds, placed as close to the location where I met them as possible. “What is a river?” was the question underlying the whole project for me.

Many people helped with every aspect of the project at every stage, and I am deeply grateful for their generosity and interest. The installation, A Sound Map of the Danube, was completed in 2005 and first presented during the Donau Festival in Krems, Austria. It was mixed in 5.1 surround sound with audio engineer Paul Geluso at Harvestworks Digital Media Arts in New York, and this version was re-mixed in stereo in 2008'

Friday, 13 June 2008

recording diary: Prague # 3

Wednesday 11th saw me lead a small group of folks on a rather unconventional sound walk. The term has come to mean certain things to certain folks & most people who attend seem to expect a finished 'piece' or process - a map to follow & a set of sounds already discovered for people to listen to. However for this walk (& indeed for most of the walks I have been doing in recent times) I prefer to just meet up n& head off, so that we all share in the discovery.

The group was made up mostly of other recordists who live in Prague & in situations like that it is often the case that those involved have already spent some time locating interesting sounds anyway.

Some bright spark had the idea to go up to a roof top cafe that overlooked one of the main squares & they claimed it was that they thought there might be some nice sounds there. However I suspect the ice-cream & beers might have been the real motivation. So after an hour or so on the streets exploring various passages & alleys we ended up at the cafe talking about what interests us all in terms of field recording.

To my mind, being able to involve a more social, less dictated element in sound walks often allows for as much of a creative outcome as a more set experience.

Sounds that fellow walkers focused on included bins, a playground, lifts and general street chatter. For me, it was the various passages, many with elaborate ceilings or tiled walls, that offered the most. I suspect I will return to some of these in the coming days to attempt to capture the sound of them in as quiet a time as possible.

I've also discovered a book 'industrial Prague' which lists key functional buildings and structures and am setting to work recording as many of these as possible - with the intention of making this an extended project.

Wednesday, 11 June 2008

recording diary: Prague # 2

(firstly, anyone who wishes to submit thier own recording day diary please get in touch - I think it would be interesting to hear how others experience thier time recording)

So, over the last few days I have been recording the Skolska 28 gallery space itself. Situated in a small courtyard with overlooking windows from several flats there is, especially in the evening, the usual overspill of folks watching the telly & having the occasional sing-song !

Working with a pair of NT55's i've found these mics very sensative to placement issues - with much trial & error involved. Also, when using the omni capsule they do seem to need a fairly major low-freq cut.

Having said that the combination of the l-shaped main gallery, with thick stone walls & full wooden floor have resulted in some nice recordings.

On Tuesday 10th June I went to record the Josef Sudek gallery. I've been a admirer of Sudek's work for many years, so having the chance to record the small house gallery (built to the same outer design as his original home / studio on the site which sadly burnt down several years ago) was exciting. The staff there were great - I imagined i'd have to do whatever I could in an hour or so after closing, but they handed me the keys & said 'lock up when you've finished' & left me alone there for as long as I liked !

I set to work on recording the sonic architecture of the main room & the former darkroom space + making several contact mic recordings of the various windows (to mirror Sudek's 'view from my studio window' series).

I also recorded through the back plate of one of his old large format camera's - which was an unexpected addition. Lastly, one of his chairs creaked and groaned like no other chair i've ever heard, so out came the mics again !

Having the chance to record these aural elements of spaces is something that I regard as a privilage and a joy. So much of the architecture, the special quality of spaces is often overlooked, filtered out or, during re-development or restoration, is lost. Of course in the case of the Sudek house it is now impossible to know how the original building sounded. So many culturally important spaces simply disappeared without ever being captured in terms of thier unique sound.

Today, I lead a small sound spotting walk around Prague & will post about that next time.

Sunday, 8 June 2008

recording diary: Prague # 1

Invited to Prague by the good people at Skolska 28 gallery, I begin by recording the empty rooms here at the residency building ( open studios, Dolni Pocernice ). Thick stone walls, the flight path overhead, birds that never seem to sleep & the rise of the motorbike culture here in the Czech republic all contribute to the results so far. However, the smallest of the three studios has a warm bass pressence that I need to record more - so I change rooms & make that my space for the duration of my stay.

I spend a day getting intentionally lost on the Prague tram system, in sweltering heat but I don't record anything. I need some time before I can feel I have settled in - for me recording is part of my visit not the whole focus of it. I can't feel inspired to record until I feel at ease with the places I visit.

Before I can explore Prague itself any further, Dana from Skolska 28 takes me for a weekend at a former priests house, with several unused & unrestored rooms, out buildings & a dry well, all set in amongst the slow life of a country village in East Bohemia. It offers any number of interesting sounds and I dare say many recordists would jump straight in & have the place documented to the full, but there is such a calm here that I leave my equipment undisturbed for some time. The dry well proves too tempting & before the end of the first night I have lowered microphones down to about half way & listen to the echo of dogs barking around the village.

I indulge in several, simple recordings taken from windows and various lofts - these are very much aural snapshots, to remind me of this place. There are swallows eating the crumbling plaster & a few contact microphones capture this odd event that sounds a bit like rain on thin ceramic tile. Then the thunder starts & the rain comes down so fast & so hard for just a few minutes before passing into the distance along with the last rumble of clouds colliding. Luckily I was recording in one of the lofts at the time.

On the last night of this weekend in Krasna Hora, I record an empty room in the downstairs apartment overnight. This is, so far the most silent space I have recorded. In the morning I listen back & have to check that the microphones were on at all ! but after 10 minutes or so of trying to discern any sound at all there comes a single crack of wood - perhaps something falling over or one of the floor boards contracting from the cool night air.