Category Archives: Contact Microphone Recordings

Sounds from a Deserted Town: Dalmorton

Dalmorton Butchers

The old Dalmorton Butchers

More than a 1-hour drive along a narrow dirt-road winding its way through river-valleys lined with eucalyptus trees sits the deserted township of Dalmorton. Once a gold-mining town boasting 13 pubs Dalmorton is now a small collection of abandoned buildings whose facades are barely surviving the elements and mindless actions of some visitors.

There under the unrelenting midday sun an old butchers shop and residence begged to be recorded …

Butchers

Inside the butchers

The heat was oppressive inside the old butchers shop. I definitely didn’t want to spend much time there. Quickly scanning the room I saw some rusting metal rings from which meat once hung. They looked an ideal place to connect a contact microphone.  The metal transported a definite thumping sound. A loose sheet of corrugated-iron roof was flapping in the barely existent breeze.

Residence

Next door an old residence baked in the sun. Although it had survived decades of abandonment visitors had at some stage kicked in the walls and windows. In a room to the left a tree branch scraped against a sheet of iron. My recording was cut short by the intense heat. The space or sparseness of the sounds caught in the recordings somehow reflected the slow pace of the empty township.

Dalmorton creek

 Boyd River

Walking around the remnants of the old township it is easy to forget that a a river runs through the valley.  The sounds of life by the riverbanks were in direct contrast with the town. We entered its fresh water contemplating the place Dalmorton had once been. Questions were asked:

How had the land shaped those who once lived there? How could a town big enough to host 13 pubs all but disappear? What emotional attachments did residents have to Dalmorton in order to call it home? Did the local soundscape help form a connection to the land? What sounds had since been lost?

We floated in the water, no answers came …

Tallinn

Tallinn

Contact microphones attached to a hotel window

 

Tallinn, Estonia, 2013. Early in the morning listening to the traffic below the hotel window. The sound of the quotidian sounding exotic in this unfamiliar terrain.

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The act of recording that morning has deeply imprinted that simple moment into my memory. I remember a light layer of snow in the gutters slowly melting under a weak winter’s sun, the sound of traffic drifting according to the changes in the traffic lights.

 

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It was the only recording I made while in Tallinn. I preferred to walk the streets without the feeling of urgency to capture sounds.

 

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Years later, on the other side of the world, I listened again to that recording. With the aid of filters I pushed the recording beyond its original form. The traffic droned and washed past in previously unrealised pitches and tones. Somehow this distortion mirrored the evolution of memory, it established a new truth.

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

electrical pylon

 

 

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.

Flinders Ranges – a trip into South Australia

Flinders New Year

I swore there would be no field-recording during the much treasured summer holidays. This would be a time to rebalance the senses, to enjoy the outdoors without microphones and recorders. For the most part this resolution was maintained, helped in no small way by strong winds and temperatures of 40 degrees.

But there were some key sounds that couldn’t be left undocumented. Dry plants swaying in the relentless wind …

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On New Years Eve we climbed a hill adjacent to our cabin to watch the final sunset of 2015. It couldn’t have been more perfect. As a rainbow stretched from one range to another the sky started turning into various shades of blue to indigo to violet.

The sky, the ranges, the plains … colours enough to startle my jaded self into a renewed sense of wonder, an appreciation of the ephemeral. The wind tore through the trees.

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The following morning we walked into a small section of this range. Here we were told Indigenous rock paintings telling the story of the formation of the ranges could be found.

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It was early in the morning but the heat radiating from the rocks was already intense. The unfamiliar terrain kept us walking.

Flinders rock painting

 

Finally we came upon the ancient paintings, the sunlight reflecting off the rocks. The weight of its history and significance kept us there, we looked at the contours, the colours and motifs, but couldn’t decode its narrative.

A wire grill protected the paintings from human interference. I attached microphones to it and recorded the wind passing over the wires. A sound imposing a cinematic effect upon the location.

Flinders eagle

Eagles and hawks dominated the sky.

Flinders wallabies

Kangaroos and wallabies watched us wherever we went

Flinders Canyon

A canyon in another part of the ranges contains another set of visible reminders of the first Australians.

Flinders rock carving

Carvings in the stones signify pools of water that can be found in this arid region, others signify emu footprints. Here the sound of flies dominated the small space. I regretted leaving the microphone behind that day.

Flinders last day

 

The first sunset of 2016 was quite unlike the evening before. A brilliant gold swept across the valley. Wind and flies welcomed the new year.

Adelaide

A 5-hour drive south brought us to Adelaide. We sat on the street and saw a man walk into a tree branch. He cursed loudly before tearing it to the ground. Days later David Bowie died.

Floodwater and fencelines: a contact microphone recording

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This New Year started with the intense sound of thunder ricocheting through the valley. At times it sounded as if the sky was being pierced open. With the thunder came heavy torrents of rain, bringing our first flood for 2015. This photo shows our driveway submerged under murky floodwater, a regular occurrence during summer.

Aside from the humidity that rises from the earth after a flood there is another common phenomenon that I have noticed over the years: the locality is rendered mute, a virtual silence  surrounds the water-soaked valley. So, recording the floodwater receding has never been as satisfying as I hope it to be. That is until this morning …

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Stepping across the flood debris that lay on the bridge I noticed fence-lines stretching into the quickly flowing water below. Contact-microphones brought their sonic characteristics to life. I sat on the bridge and listened to a dystopian choir rising from the floodwater. It felt like the perfect combination between object and sound. It was only the relentless heat and the need to clear the bridge that dragged me away.

Happy New Year and fingers crossed for less floods in the future.