Author Archives: soundslikenoise

About soundslikenoise

Sound artist and field recordist from Australia.

Road Trip: Snowy Mountains

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A road trip into the Snowy Mountains region. Driving south from Canberra we entered foggy valleys with yellow grassland. Leaving the city behind we were ready for a new landscape, something to jolt our senses into a renewed state.

And then it began. Road-kill to the left and right. Wombats, kangaroos, emus, wallabies. Not a kilometre without bloated corpses defrosting in the early morning wintery sun.

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At first we counted the number of dead wombats we passed. Not native to our home region we had been excited at the prospect of seeing them in the wild. As the number increased we told each other they were sleeping by the side of the road but this feeble joke grew old pretty quickly.

We soon entered a region where even the vegetation was dying. Huge old Monaro eucalyptus trees standing like skeletons, their fate not changing from one field to the next.

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Researching it later we had unknowingly passed through a 2000 square kilometre area regarded as a tree graveyard. For over two decades the eucalyptus trees have been dying leaving behind an eerie landscape.

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We finally arrived at the Snowy Mountains. The mountainsides were characterised by lines of thin white tree trucks. They were the remnants of forest that had burnt to the ground in bushfires in 2003. Bleak, devastated, silent.

Walking through the countryside it was hard to feel uplifted. Signs of loss were everywhere. Many reports suggested the Snow Gums were not growing back.

We stayed in the area for 3 days. On our last night we watched the breaking news of a mass shooting in Orlando. We fell into silence.

Driving back north we again passed the corpses of the local wildlife. They hadn’t moved since days before, still sleeping in the midday sun.

 

 

What’s on the telly?

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Brexit. Orlando massacre. ISIS. Trump. Global warming. Syria. Financial crisis. Presidential election. Healthcare. Nauru. Sea level rise. Human rights violation. Gun laws. Sun spots. Turn Back the Boats. Clinton. Marriage inequality. Putin. Coral bleaching. Brussels. Zika virus. Drones. Taliban. EgyptAir. Poaching. Merkel. Suicide bombers. Pope Francis. Refugees. Pistorius. Catholic Church. North Korea. Asylum seekers. Terrorism. Forest fires. Methamphetamine. Julian Assange. Flooding. Fallujah. Abortion ban. Domestic violence. MH17. Famine. Security alert. 

A bridge in Thredbo (or, why I love contact microphones)

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Contact microphones – my favourite portal to listening to “the inaudible”.  Whether recording in domestic spaces or the outside world I love nothing more than connecting contact microphones to inanimate objects and listening to their voice. Not only do they reveal unexpected tones and pulses but they also stand in contrast to their surrounds. The juxtaposition between the landscape and its elusive auditory companion keeps me occupied when I’m on field recording trips.

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Thredbo in Australia’s Snowy Mountains. A short metal bridge crosses a creek at a place alluringly called Dead Horse Gap. The ambient sound is as you’d expect, a rush of water gurgling over rocks, a pleasant soundmark for those lucky enough to spend time there.

What took my interest though was the potential of any sound that might vibrate within the metal handrails of the bridge. I wasn’t disappointed. A sound similar to the low drone of a pipe organ moved with the flow of water. With headphones on, looking at the surrounding landscape, I had my own private soundtrack to the region. What could be better?

 

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Moving the microphones to the bridge’s thin wire-grill deck a shrill high-pitched sound replaced the softer tones that flowed beneath my feet. It wasn’t a sound that was easy to fall into however I continued recording as I thought it held the potential to be mixed into a slightly nightmarish composition somewhere in the future.

I left Dead Horse Gap feeling lucky to have experienced its hidden soundscape. With temperatures well below zero it was time to return to the apartment for some warming red wine.

Next, electrical sounds in hotel rooms …

 

 

Electrical Pylon: contact microphone recording

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Electrical pylons. Towers dominating the landscape, fields dissected by lines of parallel wires. Their symmetry and incongruity have always been appealing.

For years I have wanted to record their steel frames. Passing them along country roads I have always wondered about the sound vibrating within them. How does its low level frequency affect those who live around it; can we hear crackles of electricity, a low monotonous drone?

Until recently these questions had been a source of frustration with each pylon sitting within private land. However on a recent trip to Canberra one electrical pylon stood by the side of a quiet road. I quickly took the opportunity to record it.

The recording process was hampered by wind and rain however the contact microphones brought an otherwise inaudible side of the pylon to life. Its sound being quite different to what I had expected. The recording is short due to the weather and my fear of being apprehended by the authorities so I still don’t feel entirely satisfied with the end result …

… but here it is, my first recording of an electrical pylon.

Sound and memory: Helsinki

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Sound and memory. We turn to the visual image for reminders of the past. Leafing through personal archives we view photos for clarification and confirmation of events blurred by time.

Although photographs depict certain scenes and events, I find them to be lacking in ways that field recordings are not. Looking at old photographs I remember the scene through the object itself, it is an external act, the gaze failing to unveil the hidden layers of experience within the subconscious. Compare this with the act of listening. Turning the ear to personal field recordings a free-flowing association of memories rises to the surface. The sounds of place act as a conduit to the past.

Helsinki, December 2013.

We had left Estonia earlier than expected. After 5-weeks in an isolated village, our inability to read the local attitudes had divided us. We had planned the trip for over 1 year, anticipating a sense of stimulation in the unfamiliar post-soviet neighbourhood of Mooste. The stimulation was present but so too was a sense that we didn’t belong. We were an openly queer couple viewed with suspicion and derision. Walking through the village we felt vulnerable, it reduced us to silence, our minds turned inwards separating us from each other.

Arriving in Finland we felt a flood of relief,  but the experiences of the past were not forgotten. The previous 5-weeks of unnatural and forced communication had wedged a sense of disconnection between us. The dark winter light spread a quiet across Helsinki, it amplified a level of gloom that now pervaded our interactions.

Only once did I take my microphones outside. We took a ferry to a neighbouring island, the fog on the ocean sometimes cleared to reveal our destination. Upon arrival it began to rain however the knowledge that we were leaving the next day forced us to make the most of our remaining time there. We walked in the rain, a favourite past-time of ours, but this time it left us feeling despondent.

Before catching the ferry back to the mainland I took out my microphones for my only recording in Finland. I recorded the waves gently gurgling against the rocky edge of the island as the rain continued to fall. It is a completely unremarkable and flawed recording. At the end of the trip, home at my computer, I listened to the sound file and was annoyed at myself for not having recorded more while I was there.

Only recently did I listen to the recording again. Overlooking its faults, memories began to surface. I remembered the damply muted colours, the cold wet wind, the tour groups competing for seats on the ferry. More acutely the recording returned the sense of hopelessness I had felt while walking around the island, the sinking feeling that another attempt at reigniting a warmth between us had again failed. I remembered the silence between us as we caught the bus to the airport.

The water lapped against the island’s edge as I wondered who we now were.

Night Night: Ludwig Koch project

koch2Ludwig Koch. Image supplied by the British Library.

 

In 2014 Cheryl Tipp from the British Library invited me to create a sound piece that would pay homage to the German wildlife recordist Ludwig Koch. Tipp’s project outline provided a brief biography of Koch:

Ludwig Koch (1881-1974) is one of the greatest figures in the history of wildlife sound recording. He made his first recording in 1889 at the tender age of 8 and went on to pioneertechniques for recording wild animals in the field. He championed projects such as the sound book, which combined text with audio recordings and published a range of titles from soundscapes to identification guides, first in his native Germany and then in Great Britain. His work at the BBCallowed him to bring the sounds of nature to a whole new audience through the medium of radio and he soon became a household name. In 1960 Ludwig Koch was recognised for his services to broadcasting and natural history and awarded a MBE by Queen Elizabeth II.

Cheryl Tipp and David Velez invited artists working with sound to create pieces based on a specific theme. Each theme was to be informed by material held in the archives of the British Museum. I was given the theme of “Night night”. Two photos of Koch recording at night were provided to me.

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The photos suggested a sense of wonder, a new age of recording and listening to the world had begun. Looking at the men in hats and coats I also felt a slight sense of menace, perhaps this merely reflected my consumption of 21st century popular culture rather than what is really present in the photos.

The sound piece uses my own recordings taken at night in the surrounding forests. It also mixes a few of Koch’s recordings, those being a curlew, wolves, and incidental crackles and pops. Unfortunately the project never got off the ground. So here, presented in two parts is my own contribution, Night Night.