Author Archives: soundslikenoise

About soundslikenoise

Sound artist and field recordist from Australia.

Raising the Inaudible to the Surface

ear-trumpet
The pulse of an electronic rust inhibitor as recorded through a coil pickup microphone.

 

Trails of sonic activity drift, unheard, around us. Beneath our feet the earth groans in frequencies too low to be discerned. From the trees ultrasonic clicks from insects remain unrecognised. At home electrical pulses radiate from domestic utilities. It is the unheard universe.

Discovering these hidden sounds is one of the joys of field recording. Although contemporary discourse describes the world as getting smaller field recording and the act of listening reveal the planet to be much larger than we think. How satisfying to know that there are still some mysteries to be uncovered!

With the advent of modern recording technology regions of uncharted sound have been made available to us. Contact microphones capture the subtle vibrations of inanimate objects; hydrophones amplify the sound of aquatic life; coil pickups, my new personal favourite, reveal a musicality of tones emanating from everyday electrical appliances. It is in these objects that I have recently found the greatest interest.

Coil pickup microphones detect the electromagnetic signals of motors and microprocessors. It is endlessly fascinating listening to the variety of tones each appliance projects. The timbre, duration and frequency of tones is quite unique, often falling into the region of what is termed microsound. Here short bursts of sound are heard lasting between one tenth of a second and 10 milliseconds.

The effect of these tiny sounds on our approach to listening is immense. They emerge briefly to the foreground forcing the ears to pay attention to the space into which they retreat. Through this process we hear sounds beneath sounds. We notice a polyphony of textures and beats, the complexity of which encourages the mind to lose itself, if only briefly.

When I first started field recording I did so from a concern for the state of the natural environment. Although that concern still exists my interest in recording has moved to a new terrain – that of bringing the inaudible to the acoustic forefront. With the aid of recording equipment we can overcome the limitations of our auditory system, enabling us to listen to a more 3-dimensional version of the world in which we live. We are the richer for it.

Sound and Memory: field recordings and temporality

pied currawon gould 1848

The pied currawong, John Gould (1848).

 

The return of the liquid tones of pied-currawongs in the eucalyptus tree outside my kitchen window is a sound marking the change of seasons. Each year, as the cold teeth of winter lose their bite, the mornings are often punctuated by the sudden call of 15-20 currawongs. What I love about the currawongs is the way in which they appear from nowhere and, for a brief period, rule the the garden’s soundscape, only to disappear as quickly as they arrived.

What is it for something that endures to remain? (Ricoeur. 1984)

Listening to my archive of currawong recordings from previous years it is surprising how clearly the sound transports me back into the past. This experience is shared by many others.

Personal field recordings act as a portal to distant memories, triggering the ghosts of long forgotten thoughts and emotions. The process of recording sounds embeds subjective temporal memories within them. Upon subsequent listenings field recordings tunnel their way through our auditory system and unlock the resonance of the past. The dominant sound of the recorded object thus becomes secondary to the psychological layers present at the time of the recording. 

It has been a year since I last ventured outside to record the currawongs at a local creek. I remember being sick at the time, feeling the guilty pleasure of not going to work, realising that my illness had granted this tranquil moment.

Listening to the currawongs I am also reminded of an earlier walk through snake-infested waist-high grass in order to record the birds’ mercurial calls in a small grove of trees. It was windy that day and I imagined the sound of snakes with the movement of each stalk of grass swaying in the breeze.

And this recording? It too will capture something of the essence of today, the experiences of this present moment to be unfastened in some distant future.

Interview/Documentary: field recording and “sound art”

Radio_National

 

I was recently invited to curate a show about field recording and sound art for Soundproof on Australia’s ABC Radio National. For one hour Soundproof’s host Miyuki Jokiranta and I discussed the physicality of sound and soundscapes, listening to works by Hildegard Westerkamp, Andrea Polli, Richard Garet, Chris Watson, Heiki Vester, Jacob Kirkegaard.

My selection of pieces was intended to showcase the diversity of interests and styles that is explored by contemporary field recordists and artists working with sound. Join Miyuki and myself to listen to sounds from deserts to Antarctic research stations to huskies and helicopters to Mexican train lines to Norwegian killer whales to the vibrations of German bridges.

This show is now available to download directly from the ABC.

Heike_Vesterjacob kirkegaardAndreaPolliwesterkampOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERArichardgaret

Composing The Australian Gothic (an update)

oz goth

A short sample from my new composition The Australian Gothic.

Long before the fact of Australia was ever confirmed by explorers and cartographers it had already been imagined as a grotesque space, a land peopled by monsters. The idea of its existence was disputed, was even heretical for a time, and with the advent of the transportation of convicts its darkness seemed confirmed. The Antipodes was a world of reversals, the dark subconscious of Britain. It was, for all intents and purposes, Gothic par excellence, the dungeon of the world.

Gerry Turcote “Australian Gothic”, 1998.

The Australian Gothic: a creative genre emphasising the terrors of isolation in this post-colonial land. The Australian Gothic weaves the threads of our personal and collective subconscious, revealing a tormented communal psyche weighted by dark secrets.

The Gothic novel was born in Europe in the 1800s. The Gothic showed the dark side of eighteenth-century rationality and morality. It threatened its values in the shape of supernatural and natural forces, imaginative excesses and delusions, religious and human evil, social transgression, mental disintegration and spiritual corruption (Botting. 1996. 2). The Gothic novel was transported to Australia where it readily adapted to the sense of dislocation and disorientation felt by many of the first colonialists.

Growing up in a region where artefacts from the pre-colonial era could readily be found under shallow soil, the local layers of history have always sat uncomfortably with me. We live on stolen land, where immoral and bloody actions happened in the recent past. This knowledge adds a sense of weight, of “unbelonging” to our connection to this country. It is part of The Australian Gothic experience.

With this in mind I have been collecting field recordings in our local area for a composition titled The Australian Gothic. It features field recordings, both modified and unmodified, of sounds captured from local farms, the steady expansion of farming land into traditional Aboriginal land being a primary source of frontier conflict during the colonial period. The composition therefore contains sounds of native and introduced species alongside farm equipment being struck in various rhythmic ways.

Listening to the composition I hope that a sense of unease and dread will be provoked through this combination of sounds. My aim is for the listener to be transported into the fabric of Australia’s Gothic experience.

The Australian Gothic will be released through the Unfathomless label later this year.

 

A Bridge, a Microphone, the Police.

IMG_3655

Contact microphones on a hollow metal pipe at the Story Bridge in Brisbane. A brief recording moments before the police arrived.

 

What is it about wandering around with headphones and microphones that raises suspicion from passersby?  Walking with a camera in hand it is easy to dissolve into the surrounding crowd, but the sight of a microphone and attentive listening seems to amplify the field recordist’s presence no matter how discreet we try to be.

And so it was yesterday afternoon at the Story Bridge in Brisbane …

My recording objective was to attach contact microphones to the bridge’s support beams and listen to it creak and groan under the movement of the city traffic.

The sound of the traffic was so loud that it was impossible to hear what I was recording. A police car drove past flashing its lights. I tried a second recording, this time placing the microphones on a long pipe that ran along the length of the bridge, this being the recording in this post.

While packing-up my recording equipment I noticed two police officers walking towards me. Call it a guilty conscience but I instantly knew they were coming to “have a chat”. And so they did. After introducing themselves they asked what I was doing, having been monitored by cameras on the bridge.

I was asked to empty out my bag, show them my microphones and recorder and explain why I felt the need to record the bridge. And there, on a sunny winter’s afternoon in Brisbane, I had an impromptu discussion with the city police about field recording and “sound art”.

Questions were asked:

Did I appreciate how suspicious my recording looked? Yes, to an untrained and paranoid eye the cables probably looked as though I was setting-up explosives!

Did I make any money from my recordings? Yes and no.

Why had I driven 2 1/2 hours to come to Brisbane? To record the bridge.

What else would I be doing while in Brisbane? Not much, I just wanted to record the bridge.

Pause. Dubious look.

After my I.D was checked and recorded I then demonstrated how the contact microphones worked. I now like to think that the Brisbane City Police will call me any time they need to add sound effects to any of their training videos.

The police were quite polite throughout the interview, and I had a good laugh about it afterwards, but I wonder if any other field recordists have experienced similar interactions with the local constabulary?

As for the sounds I was seeking, they will have to wait for another day …

Sounds from the Colonial Past: Adventure Bay, Tasmania.

Bruny Isle
Adventure Bay, Bruny Island by George Tobin, 1792. The sound of the waves in this composition were recorded in the same area in 2013. Listening to the gentle movement of water it is hard to believe this region has a history of genocide.

 

The arrival of British ships to Bruny Island in Tasmania during the late 1700s marked a bloody turning point in the lives of the local indigenous population. It is estimated that between 6,000-10,000 Aborigines lived in Tasmania before the colonisation of the island in 1803. By 1830 acts of violence and introduced diseases had all but wiped out a people who had inhabited the island for over 35,000 years. This devastation was not isolated to Tasmania. It was a period of frontier warfare throughout other parts of colonial Australia.

Despite its picturesque images, the damaging effects of colonisation, dispossession, and genocide continue to be an intrinsic part of Australia’s social and cultural fabric.

This week, NAIDOC Week (National Aborigines and Islanders Day Observers Committee), we celebrate the survival of the worlds oldest continuing culture. However, it is also a time to consider certain statistics. According to the Australian 2006 Census:

1. Less than 3% of Australians identified themselves as being of Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander descent. Although this percentage is increasing each year individuals continue to feel uncomfortable about being publicly identified as Indigenous.

2. 12% of Indigenous respondents reported speaking an Indigenous language at home; three quarters of those recording they were also fluent in English. The majority of Indigenous language speakers come from the older generations, while younger generations are moving towards being monolingual English speakers.

3. Indigenous peoples’ life expectancy appears to be similar to that of people in developing countries. Indigenous males’ life expectation was estimated to be 59.4 years over 1996-2001, while female life expectation was estimated to be 64.8 years: this is a dramatic gap when compared to the general Australian population of approximately 17 years for the same five year period.

4. For the period 2001 to 2005, approximately two to three times the number of Indigenous infants died before their first birthday, compared to non-Indigenous infants.

5. In 2004–05, half (50%) of the adult Indigenous population were current daily (or regular) smokers, approximately twice the rate in the non-Indigenous population.

6. Excessive alcohol consumption also accounted for the greatest proportion of the burden of disease and injury for young Indigenous males (aged 15–34 years) and the second highest (after intimate partner violence) for young Indigenous females.

7. In the 2006 Census, the mean equivalised gross household income for Indigenous persons was $460 per week, which amounted to 62% of the rate for non-Indigenous Australians ($740 per week).

8. In the 2006 Census, 55% of Indigenous peoples aged 15 years and over were participating in the work force.

9. Between 2001 and 2006, the proportion of Indigenous peoples aged 15 years and over who had completed Year 12 increased from 20% to 23%. There was also an increase in the proportion of people who had completed a non-school qualification (20% to 26%).

10. Indigenous prisoners represented 24% of the total prisoner population (6139 males and 567 females) as of the 30th June 2008.

And what of the Indigenous Tasmanians?

For decades a myth existed concerning Truganini, the last Tasmanian Aborigine, who died in 1876. Her bones were sent to museums around the world, her death being the end to a shameful chapter in out past. Yet in recent years the story of the last Tasmanian has been shown to be untrue, perhaps a story assuaging white guilt for the crimes of the past. The exposure of this lie is no better demonstrated than through the photography of Ricky Maynard.

I stood in a natural shelter at Adventure Bay recording the ocean. Looking at the settlement of houses metres from the beach I wondered what the residents and holiday-makers heard in the waves.

Listening to the Inside of your Computer

vintage computer

 

Field recording often focuses on the exterior world. We step outside with microphones in hand to capture the sounds that add dimension and meaning to our public lives yet there is a wealth of sound within our domestic sphere that is equally as valid.

During a moment of procrastination last night, one of many, I broke away from household duties to direct a microphone towards my computer hardware. In this 3-minute recording you can hear short samples from the computer’s external hard drive, mouse, keyboard and screen.

There are some beautiful rhythms, drones and high pulsating frequencies quietly emanating from these devices. The sounds in the recordings are reminiscent of early science fiction movies based in the imagined hi-tech world of the 21st century. The future is now!