Wednesday, 29 October 2008

Nils Aslak Valkeapaa - 'Goase dusse' (bird symphony)

Many years ago now I ran a business distributing cd's - basically assisting small, specialist labels to get thier music into shops & on mail order catalogues. We had a strong reputation for tradition based musics & were, at that time, the only serious importer of musics from Finland, Sweden, Norway, Denmark etc etc. It was during this time that I first heard Sami traditional music, a tradition based around the yoik (a form of sung poetry). Nils Aslak Valkeapaa was a particular favourite. Not only for his voice but because his works often combined the yoik with field recordings made in the Sami landscape. Many of the cd's released under his name (on the DAT label) were extended compositions for yoik, field recordings & occasional instrumentation. I should also mention that the same label released the cd by Johan Anders Baer - 'Mahkaravju' (dat12) which is, basically, Johan sat on the edge of a cliff yoiking to the ocean & the seagulls. As with much of Nils' output, in the wrong hands this could easily fall into the trap of being tacky, but thankfully it avoids that particular trap. It retains a creative, unaffected quality that speaks of a reality & the same is true of much of Nils' work.

I have to admit that I hadn't listened to any of the cd's by Nils I aquired for a few years but the other day I was reminded of the 'Goase dusse' cd (dat15) & gave it a listen. It's probably fair to say that when this cd was released (1993) it was one of the few 'field recording' cd's available that offered something a bit more than the new age approach & as such it made a strong impression.

The work, which won the Prix Italia Radio music award in 1993, is, as the title suggests, a symphony made primarily of bird song, with a short section also featuring yoik & the sounds of reindeer - and of course the sami wind makes itself heard. I'm sure some of you are thinking that this could be terrible & indeed it could well have been. However Nils' composition is simple & honest, leaving the sounds of the various birds to create thier own movement through the piece. Nils had a genuine and instinctive connection to his surroundings & this natural respect and empathy shows.
a short MP3 sample can be found here.

So, I decided to write about this work as I suspect many of you out there have never heard it. Indeed I think it's an overlooked classic of the genre. Sadly Nils died back in 2001 on his way back from a trip to Japan.

Do track the cd down if you can. It's well worth the effort & if you can't find it most of the DAT releases seem to be available to download & previewed from here.

Monday, 20 October 2008

new release of note: Greta Hoheisel & Norbert Lang

Bukarest Bucureşti – fragmente Greta Hoheisel & Norbert Lang (Gruenrekorder 068) - cd + book - limited to 500 copies
Nicely presented project for a start ! - so, let me get the cynical comment out of the way first: I'm really interested in photography & indeed the 'snapshot' style of some field recording & so in terms of the images it's fair to say that Greta's style is one that i'm familiar with - it's one that most creative photographers explore at some point - the focus on detail and the transformation of the everyday object or scene into a framed and revitalised image. Having said that it's not something everyone can pull off & in terms of this project at least the images do work & do convey a creatively pleasing impression.
When it comes to the recordings it's fair to say that they do fall into the 'snapshot' catagory & as they are well recorded then they do the job so to speak. I always hope to hear individual when I listen to recordings, something that reflects the interests of the recordist & with this approach that is both difficult to achieve & also not exactly the point. However I really believe that, like with the 'eye' of an interesting photographer, it is the 'ear' of the recordist that hopefully will come through. I think these recordings show something of that & certainly the collaboration between Norbert & Greta indicates a shared artistic searching.
I suppose if I had to say anything negative about the recordings it's that I personally crave for simplicity in snapshot recordings. I get a bit tired of discs that try to capture various odd or 'evocative' sounds - I feel that it can sometimes edge over into cliche. However, this is a personal viewpoint & no doubt has something to do with the sheer amount of recordings I listen to. I reckon most folks would find the recordings interesting & a fair portrait of certain elements Bucharest. There are plenty of the usual street scenes, snatches of music & prayer of course, giving a definate experience of the 'fragments of Bucharest' project aim but also recordings of music students rehearsing at the university (track 12) which I for one would have liked to have been much longer.
Reading back my comments so far I realise that it sounds like i'm giving this release a negative review. which is not my intention. It's another quality release from Gruenrekorder & is well worth the price. It certainly made me want to hear more of Norbert's recordings & to hunt for more images from Greta.
'Bucharest - fragments is a journey through a metropolis in continuous flux. It is a hybrid of exhibition catalogue, book and compact disc; containing photos, texts and soundscapes - three obstinate elements that reciprocally comment on one another.

The constant humming sound of the city, house walls that we pass by, the snatches of a conversation which we hear on the streets – fragments, that we are confronted with every day, but to which we nevertheless pay hardly any attention. It is not just the pompous and spectacular view on the city, that forms our relation to it, it is also the seemingly incidental and fragmentary occurence.

To seek for those fragments, the german photographer Greta Hoheisel and the sound-artist Norbert Lang stayed in the capital of the new EU country Romania, in Bucharest for almost one year. What they found was a complex urban realm between consumerism and tradition, between turbo-capitalism and religion. The outcome of their continuous striving through the sound- and cityscapes of Bucharest is a multimedia exhibition called »Bucharest – fragments in a box« and also »Bukarest Bucureşti – fragmente«, a hybrid between foto-catalogue, sketchbook and audio-CD.

The basis for the book-CD are 20 fieldrecordings that tell about the life in the city: About sudden horn concerts during rush-hour as well as about the rural idyl in the backyards of the city. Each of the 20 chapters in the book is dedicated to one fieldrecording on the CD, consisting of a sketchy text and photographs, showing deserted places around the city. The combination of those three elements generates a city mosaic full of gaps, that needs the pre-text of the observer and listener to be put together. Thus »Bukarest Bucureşti – fragmente« can be understood as a universal work about urban sound- and cityscapes in the 21st century.'

Friday, 10 October 2008

new release - 3inch cd of hydrophone recordings

. pocklington canal (early afternoon)

.. wansford canal and watton beck (early afternoon)

these waterways, close to my home in east yorkshire, have been a source of many days pleasure over the years. I have always had a fondness for small rivers and canals - thier banks to walk, thier unique hold on local wildlife and of course the varied and constantly fascinating, evolving sounds that exist due to thier pressence.

here are two pieces created from recordings made with hand-made and other hydrophones.


. limited edition release (46 copies)
. photo printed paper folded cover
. vintage postcard mounted cd
. 'in place' art card

£4 inc p&p

click here to listen & for order info

Andreas Bick - 'Dripping' (extract)

Andreas Bick - 'dripping'

'Dripping' - by Andreas Bick

A Sound Composition for the WDR Studio Akustische Kunst
Awarded the Prix Ars Acustica 2000
Editing: Klaus Schöning

First broadcast: 18th November 2000
full length: 29 min.

"Drip drop, drip drap drep drop. So it goes on, this water melody for ever without an end. Inconclusive, inconsequent, formless, it is always on the point of deviating into sense and form. Every now and again you will hear a complete phrase of rounded melody. And then – drip drop, di-drep, di-drap – the old inconsequence sets in once more. But suppose there were some significance to it! It is that which troubles my drowsy mind as I listen at night. Perhaps for those who have ears to hear, this endless dribbling is as pregnant with thought and emotion, as significant as a piece of Bach. Drip-Drop, di-drap, di-drep. So little would suffice to turn the incoherence into meaning. The music of the drops is a symbol and type for the whole universe; it is for ever, as it were, asymptotic to sense, infinitely close to significance but never touching it. Never, unless the human mind comes and pulls it forcibly over the dividing space."
"Water Music" (1920) – Aldous Huxley

'dripping' introduces the listener to imaginary rooms, whose physical structures are made
tangible by the composition of droplets generating sound. The droplets can be thought of
as being the echoes of a location system, which gives the listener access to a whole
microcosm of almost unperceivable sounds from the perspective of an insect. The initially
irregular dripping sounds describe a path through a "virtual" soundscape of various
different material consistencies. They then begin adopting rhythmic patterns that create a
hypnotic atmosphere as a result of their combined repetition and nuanced fluctuation. The
spectrum of dripping patterns ranges from the zero value (according to information theory)
of a steadily dripping water tap to the broadband noise produced by rain, though the
emphasis lies in experiencing dynamic dripping systems whose information content is
described approximately by the middle of these two poles (1/f-noise).

The melodic and rhythmic structures were created using dripping devices that were
specially constructed for dripping. The equipment comprised several burette-like droppers
that were connected to a water supply by symmetrically arranged hoses. The dripping
behaviour of each of the outlets influenced one another because the hoses were all
interconnected. Changes to the water pressure and flow velocity generated self-organising
processes leading to complex rhythmical patterns. The arrangement of resonating bodies
with different pitch characteristics beneath the droplet outlets led to the formation of
melodic structures – a free-running system of self-generating musical patterns was the
result. The dripping exhibited a rhythmical subtlety organised around a clearly discernible
pulse and demonstrated considerable musical complexity. In order to analyze these
complex structures, a looping technique was used which "drifted" through the material,
moving through it in tiny steps. This permitted a flowing shift to take place in the rhythmic
interpretation each time the loop was run. By using this montage technique, several
dripping patterns could be interwoven into dense structures that developed out of the
above-mentioned tangible rooms and "virtual" soundscapes.

'dripping' is divided into five sections based on the principle of the Chinese theory of Wu
Xing, or five phases. These five transformation states are generated by one another in an
endless cycle. Their characteristics can be attributed to the elements of wood, fire, earth,
metal and water. The resonating bodies that are used in each section correspond with these
elements and describe an imaginary room that is initially "scanned" using sparse and
isolated droplets. Over time, rhythmic references begin taking shape between the
individual droplet pulses, and complex structures start forming – a constant alternation
between contraction and relaxation and between ordered and disordered states underlays
the whole composition.

• The sound of a droplet
Droplets do not produce a sound on their own nor do they have their own characteristic
sound (despite the fact that they have a tendency to oscillate in zero gravity). Only when
they strike an object, i.e. a resonating body, do they generate a sonic event. This
percussive event is isolated and amplified so that listeners can immerse themselves in the
sound and experience it at an as yet unfamiliar proximity. The listener begins to notice that
although the drops produce a superficially uniform sound, each impact does in fact
generate a different reverberation in the resonating body, the overtones ring out slightly
differently and the drops splash and scatter into thousands of tiny droplets that can be
heard as a light drizzling sound. This seems paradoxical: no droplet is the same as the next
despite the fact we tend to accept the notion that they exhibit some kind of universal and
recurring self-similarity, whose shape any freefalling liquid takes on. In this perfect
embryonic state, liquid molecules attempt to reveal as little of their surface area to their
surroundings as possible. To see the world in a grain of sand – to recognise the cosmos in
a droplet of water if we look, or in our case listen, closely enough.

Another dimension was added to this basic phenomenon in the form of a varied assortment
of resonating bodies – the instrumentation. The resonating bodies are associated with the
above-mentioned five elements and only idiophonic objects were chosen which resonate
naturally after the impact of a droplet. Some resonating bodies were available in various
pitches and were used to create melodic structures. Instruments made from metal, wood,
glass and clay were used, such as flower pots, agate disks, wooden boards, cognac glasses,
singing bowls and gongs, but also materials like sand, gravel, stone, plants, leaves, foliage,
metal sheets, etc. played a role. Other unusual sonic events were also incorporated, such as
the vaporisation of water droplets on hot coals, the dancing of a droplet on a stove hotplate
and the impact of a hot droplet on ice. Some recordings of droplets falling into vessels of
water were carried out using an underwater microphone. Various instruments and
pentatonic pitches were combined to produce a harmonic structure that was subject to
constant change due to the overlaying of individual resonances (implied harmonies).

• Creation of droplet patterns
The droplet patterns were created using a dripping device based on the research equipment
used by experimental physicists investigating dripping water taps. Research showed that if
water droplets, initially of the same size, were produced at the same regular intervals, and
the flow velocity within the water tap was then increased, a phenomenon known as period
bifurcation would occur causing pairs of droplets of varying size to be produced per unit of
time. Further increase in the flow velocity caused additional period bifurcation, which
produced an irregular series of droplets just before the formation of a constant stream of
water. The behaviour of the system described irregular curves on a graph, which are called
chaotic or strange attractors, and point to deterministic concepts for the random behaviour.
If several droplet outlets are combined, however, a global coupling starts taking effect that
leads to a synchronisation of the individual drop sequences and to 2, 3, 4...n-cyclical
period bifurcation. Furthermore, after a new droplet separates, the visible trembling of the
remaining droplet suspended from the outlet seems to influence the behaviour of the
dripping system. It seems that the high frequency oscillations involved in this trembling
constantly excite themselves and lead to a subtle variation in the point in time at which a
droplet separates.

The dripping device was constructed as follows: a water bucket was suspended from the
ceiling. The bottom of the bucket was fitted with a hose and the flow of water through it
could be controlled precisely using two taps. This hose was connected to the actual
dripping device, which had to be mounted at a height of at least 1.50 to 2 m above the
ground. To ensure a constant flow rate, the water container must have a surface area of at
least 1 square metre and the droplet outlets should be positioned 1 m below the water
surface. Various dripping devices were used – generally hoses arranged in a circle with
equally spaced droplet outlets. Various resonating bodies could be placed on the ground
and recorded using separate microphones. The water drained away into a children's
paddling pool and the resonating bodies' immediate surroundings were dampened with soft
material to prevent splashes and drained water from spreading.

The following parameters can be used to influence the drop pattern: the density of droplets
and therefore the dripping speed can be changed by adjusting the water flow. The use of
various types of outlets leads to a range of different droplet sizes and other rhythmic
structures. By using more viscous liquids such as oil or glycerine, more sluggish, slower
rhythms could be created without the universal mechanisms of droplet formation being

• Rhythmic pattern and ambiguity of the material
The rhythmic patterns generated by the above dripping device have certain qualities:

• The listener perceives a clear rhythmical underlying beat that is paraphrased ncyclically
by the dripping or, expressed musically, paraphrased in quarter, eighth
and sixteenth notes and in triplets. However, the listener does not perceive any
rhythmical emphasis, the "one" becomes blurred and can conceivably occur on any
beat. This ambiguity of the rhythmical material means it can be interpreted
musically in various ways.

• The ostinato rhythms appear to be repetitive only superficially – the rhythmical
subtlety is actually subject to constant change, each passage is different from the
next. This is where a fundamental principle of nature can be experienced: on the
macro-level, cyclical processes and pattern-forming processes take place
conforming to simple uniform natural laws. However, on the micro-level, every
single unit proves to be totally unique.

• The finest rhythmical quantization of a series of droplets is around 20 pulses per
second, i.e. near the frequency at which the human brain is no longer able to
discern them. This is an important basis for the application of the above-mentioned
looping technique.
This montage technique involves works with the axis of the pulse running through the
polyphonic dripping pattern. This pulse is used to split the audio material into time
windows that drift through the rhythmical material. After every repetition, however, the
window jumps by one unit (for example 1/32 of a beat) in the direction of the time
axis and causes a drift. Because of this, a rhythmic cycle occurs in 32 different versions
before a repetition takes place. Our hearing, however, is too slow to discern this minimal
offset. What we hear is much more a flowing, shifting rhythm moving around a constant
centre, which, in the case of a 4/4 rhythm, corresponds with the 2nd and 4th beat.
Furthermore, we hear 33 instead of the expected 32 loops, which means we perceive the
pattern at a slightly higher speed. This new tempo can be calculated according to the
following formula:
New tempo = original tempo + (original tempo / (unit / loop length)),
whereby "Unit" represents the number of offset steps per beat and "Loop length" stands for
the length of the loop in quarter notes (i.e. 2 in the case of a 1/2 beat, 4 in the case of a 1/4
beat, etc.).
This montage technique can be used for all rhythmic recordings but it has the most
pleasing effect if the value for the offset steps is at least around 20 pulses per second, i.e.
around the frequency at which the human brain can just about discern separate pulses.

Wednesday, 1 October 2008

Austria September 2008

just back from a few days spent in Vienna visiting my friend Frank, who's rather good at knowing where the best old coffee shops are - you know, the ones where they haven't been gutted & turned into faceless, bland spaces. The ones where the wallpaper has turned brown !

I took some recording equipment with me but actually hardly made any recordings. As i've mentioned elsewhere sometimes I just don't feel like turning on the recorder, even if I make the effort the results leave me cold. However I did make a few on the trip we took to a mountain trail some 1 & a half hours drive from Vienna. A small water mill offered up some nice sounds but the highlight (recording wise - the scenery was, of course, breathtaking) came when we reached the reservoir. The water level was such that the horn-like overspill channel was exposed & from it emerged a tonal, bell-like sound - a mixture of rushing water & the effects of the massive and focused reverb. Unfortunatly it wasn't possible to get really close to the opening but I still managed to get some nice recordings from a short distance away & am currently talking to the Austian water company responsible for this reservoir about returning & making more extensive recordings.

Whilst in Vienna itself me & Frank went to an opening for an exhibition featuring artists from the UK - it was, probably, the worst i'd been to in a long time. The work was badly concieved, badly chosen (2 works being almost identical) & displayed / installed with a heavy hand to say the least. Each to his own of course but....So, me & Frank sat in the car afterwards feeling somewhat at a loss when suddenly a girl who had been standing at a nearby bus stop calmly walked up to the side of our car, turned round, adopted a starting position & then ran as fast as she could back towards the bus stop & her waiting friends - all laughing of course. It took us a few seconds to realise that she had been testing herself against the street corner speed camera ! (she reached 7km). Now that was the best peice of art i'd seen in Vienna !!!! & it made that evening worthwhile after all.

Unfortunatly, music wise, I had a not so enjoyable experience when we attended a concert at Alte Schmiede:
Sigrid Trummer (piano) performed works by Katharina Klement (reell leer, 2004), Oskar Aichinger (Ouverture ouverte, 1995), Bernhard Lang (Differenz/Wiederholung 12 Cellular Automata, 2003 & Michael Amann (Indian summer, 1999).

The room acoustics made the piano sound rather dry for one thing. The pieces themselves were, perhaps, ok - some rather clumsy and full of the usual 'serious contemporary music' tricks of the trade. The works by Lang, Aichinger & Amann had some good moments but I have to say that the pianist was really not the best person for the job here. I understand that she is more associated with work from the 19th century but there was something in her approach to these pieces that raised serious concerns for me. For a start she played as if she had no real knowledge of these pieces (made more worrying knowing that she had performed some of these works in the past so must have 'known' them for sometime), her eyes rarely leaving the scores. I am of the opinion that music needs performers who have an instinctive connection to the work for it to be performed at its best, but in respectful hands should still offer up something of its intent. I felt that wasn't the case here at all. Sigrid wore shoes that made sound whenever she used the pedals for example. Her transition from playing the keyboard to the sections in Klement's piece that required her to play the inside of the piano was noisy and clumsy, breaking any journey that the piece was making. Her choice of pieces showed a real lack of ability to know how contemporary works can work best together - it felt as if she had given no thought to the overall shape of the evening. She left barely a second of silence after each work before gesturing for applause &, well, to put it bluntly, she made it impossible for these works to be appreciated. Oddly, three of the composers were at the performance & seemed pleased so perhaps I missed the point, though this only made me wonder how they would react if these works were performed by one of the few pianists able to approach such work with a more sensative focus. Perhaps Sigrid's rather cold, stiff style of playing appealed to them, but for this listener, as you can tell, it made me rather annoyed. The concert was free but I still felt like asking for my money back ! (nb: this paragraph is part of my grumpy old man therapy !)

So, on my way to the airport to fly back to the UK & with only perhaps 20 minutes of recordings made I had some time to spare before catching the U. I sat on the banks of the Danube, put my binaural mics inside an MP3 pouch & recorded for 28 minutes the sounds of the river itself, the nearby U bridge, passing swans & the wind blowing the nearby trees. As often the case, this random & quite casual pressing of the record button resulted in a really pleasingly simple recording (to me at least).

all in all my trip to Austria & the experiences mentioned above resulted in a reminder of the importance of sensativity & simplicity - and not getting caught up in the negative elements of ones creative urges - leaving the recorder in your bag is often just as valuable as taking it out !

link of the month: October - radio aporee

interesting sound map set up by Udo Noll - take a look & do add your sounds to the map:

radio aporee ::: maps is an open project about the creation and exploration of public sonic layers. it collects and organizes sound recordings from daily surroundings and living spaces all over the world. the sounds are organized within a mashup system of mapping software, databases, telephone networks and the Internet. sites and sounds can also be explored and accessed in situ by recent GPS-enabled mobile devices.

the project reflects on actual changes and developments in mobile computing and so called locative media, which we assume to be crucial to the way we experience our near future daily life, where media and markets will emerge at the precise position of our body. whether and how we can create and keep unoccupied spaces aside from predetermined functions and fictions, is an important question to the project.