1st TV image from space
1st TV image from space
A still from the original military nuclear test film
At Yucca Flat, Nevada, in 1953 the U.S military and local civilians were invited to watch an atomic blast. It was thought that by observing the explosion the civilians’ fears of radioactive fallout would be eased.
Unlike many other military films documenting atomic blasts this particular film includes audio of the countdown, the delayed explosion, and the reaction of people on the ground. The declassified film can be viewed at the National Archives.
This is the second in my series featuring archival audio of events and interviews – the subjects have been chosen for their heightened relevance in today’s political and social climate.
James Baldwin image Vanity Fair
James Baldwin comments before Martin Luther King’s final speech at the Men and Women in the Arts Concerned with Vietnam: benefit for Martin Luther King (1968).
49 years after these words were spoken Baldwin’s comments have a heightened sense of relevance. Racial intolerance, religious tensions, civil unrest, territorial ambitions … how far have we come?
Visit the internet archive to hear Baldwin and King’s speech in full.
Road sign: high-brow artists contributing to Australia’s culture at the site of field recording
The temperature this weekend has been predicted to be the hottest on Australia’s record. Climate change is hard to ignore in a country that is experiencing hotter and longer summers, shorter winters, and catastrophic fire warnings for significant parts of the year.
The climate and other Unmentionables here and across the Pacific have created an uneasy beginning to 2017. We sit glued to a never-ending news cycle that has become overwhelming. It is as fascinating as it is shocking. A reprieve is needed …
… and so it was with a field recording trip to Tenterfield. I drove 2-hours west to hear one of my favourite natural sounds: the bell bird. Found in pockets of sclerophyll forest the bell bird’s measured 2-note chime provides a welcome reprieve from our daily routines and concerns.
It was 8:30 in the morning and the temperature was already 29°C when the first of the bell birds made themselves heard. There by the side of the road their call created the tranquility that I had been looking for. The act of listening provided a sense of peace and spatial awareness. Other concerns were stilled as the mind focussed on the auditory properties of the recording site.
2-hours later the temperature had risen to 41°C. I wondered about the effects of the heat on the local ecosystem. Would the forest be silenced over time?
Spectrogram of a computer modem
With the aid of a coil pickup microphone it is possible to hear what seems to be an entire orchestra residing inside electrical appliances, each object emitting tones and pulses in contrasting frequencies and time signatures.
At first listen you might only hear dystopian chaos however a careful ear will begin to pick out the layers of sound which constitute the whole. Identifying the auditory structures of the inanimate objects that surround us is a rewarding process, the concentrated listening that is involved in the process connecting us to place in a unique way.
This particular recording is of a computer modem. Here the coil pickup microphone reveals the complexity of the digital signals that pass through our modern day offices as we sit dreaming of the weekend.
A disused rail bridge in Eltham
Summer in northern NSW … humidity, mosquitoes, snakes, heatwaves, swimming with sharks at the beach. Not my favourite season. It is however time to begin collecting new field recordings for a phonographic project focussing on abandoned railway lines. Curated by the Unfathomless label the project has pushed me into the sweaty heat in search of sounds which may or may not end up in the final work.
My first recording was taken around this fabulous old train bridge. I sat in the middle and connected contact microphones to its steel frame but nothing of interest played through the headphones. Instead I trained a shotgun microphone towards a colony of cicadas whose rhythmic stridulation signalled the midday heat. As I recorded I watched a school of fish swimming below, glints of silver broke through the water’s surface.
It didn’t take long before a nest of ants discovered me. Their incessant bites and a hot wind drove me away. A few kilometres down the road an old overpass held the promise of shade and sound.
Contact microphones wedged into splits in the old wooden pylons
I had expected to hear the sound of wind circling around the pylons, and it was indeed present. What was of greater interest were the little clicks and squeaks of insects that must have been living inside the wooden frames. The incongruity of such high pitched signals emanating from such bulky pylons was amusing and fascinating. I have no idea what the sounds were and would be happy for someone to let me know.
That’s enough recording for one hot summer’s day. Once the heat is over it’ll be time to travel and record more of the abandoned railway lines.
This wasn’t a year filled with the best of news. It increasingly felt trite to be posting articles about sound while cities burned, politicians stirred up hate and the masses followed them.
So as a nourishing distraction from what has been going on in The Outside I’m promoting some of the books, movies, tv shows, music that I enjoyed this year. Several of the inclusions weren’t published or broadcast this year however they were discoveries, or re-discoveries, nonetheless. I hope this small list will prompt you to find out more about the artists involved. Meanwhile let me know what your favourite things were from this year.
Pearl: translated by Simon Armitage
Simon Armitage’s translation of Pearl, a 14th century verse-novel written by a poet whose name is now lost in history, follows the melancholic tale of the narrator who reunites with his dead daughter. It was refreshing to read a work that focussed on language rather than page-turning devices. Armitage’s translation from the original author’s 14th-century regional dialect must have been a labour of love. The first page is shown below:
H is for Hawk by Helen Macdonald
Hawk is Helen Macdonald’s memoir dealing with bereavement. Months after the death of her father Macdonald raises a goshawk chick into adulthood. The story of her taming the goshawk runs parallel with another account by Terence Hanbury which describes his successes and failures with both the bird and his private life. This was a beautiful and solemn read.
Favourite Movie: Under the Skin
Visually appealing, refreshingly original, and with a brilliant soundtrack by Mica Levi, Under the Skin follows the story of a mysterious female in Scotland who spends her days driving a white van and picking up hitchhikers. No spoliers here!
Favourite TV Series
You will have to trust me when I say that Transparent is a lot more intense than the schmaltzy official trailer suggests. It follows the story of one family whose father is transitioning from male to female.
The Night Of
After a night of partying with a woman who has jumped into his car Naz, a Pakistani-American, wakes up to find her mutilated body beside him. Thus begins the HBO series The Night Of.
Sunergy by Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith and Suzanne Ciani
Sunergy by Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith and Suzanne Ciani is comprised of drones and loops of synth-generated sound. The two musicians sit in front of a mind boggling array of cables attached to a Buchla Music Easel and a Buchla 200 E in a bid to capture the mood of the rising sun. It’s worth a close listen and is especially good to wake up to in the morning!
Under the Sun by Mark Pritchard
Mark Pritchard’s Under the Sun is an collection of electronically produced tracks which demonstrate a broad range of techniques and styles. I had this album on high rotation earlier in the year.
Desertshore by Nico
Nico’s 1970 album Desertshore features instrumental arrangements by John Cale. Decades later Nico’s music continues to sound strikingly original. It is a curious blend of folk, medieval drones courtesy of her harmonium, all of which support her doomsday vocal delivery. All That is My Own is the final song on the album.
That’s all from me for 2016. Thanks for all your interest and comments this year. Until 2017 …