Tag Archives: sound

Field Recordings: abandoned railway lines

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Filters, oscillators, each eliciting the hidden potential within one sustained note. Many an hour has been spent listening to the variations within synthesised tones and field recordings alike. Sitting in the darkness with headphones on it is easy to get lost between layers of sound. A gentle and gradual process of exploration where time is lost, the mind moving beyond the structure of the clock, instead we are transported by sound itself.

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 …

 

 

Auditory Visions: Ascension II by Alexi Keywan

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Ascension II by Alexi Keywan

 

The work of Alexi Keywan can be identified through her etched silhouettes of quotidian urban scenes. This is shown to a powerful effect in her Ascension series with towers rising above the horizon dominating the landscape. Pinholes mark the paper, almost signifying the perimeter of the towers’ sonic territory.

For Ascension II I wanted to adjust the viewer’s sense of spatial perspective by using recordings of electrical activity that would draw attention down upon the township overseen by the tower. Here sound acts to divert the focus away from the main image to details that might otherwise have been overlooked at a cursory glance.

The entire Auditory Visions collection is now online. Please follow the link to view the works. If you are in the local area please drop in to the Lismore Regional Gallery, NSW before October 24th.

Auditory Visions: exhibition of soundscapes and prints

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Sant’Alvise III – Jan Davis (2014)
sugar lift etching with chine collé

Auditory Visions, an exhibition combining prints with original interpretive soundscapes responding to the artworks, will open at Lismore Regional Gallery on the 12th September. The exhibition features works by 7 established and emerging Australian printmakers. The worlds of sound and vision come together in this exhibition curated by printmaker Rona Green and myself.

For the purpose of the exhibition seven contemporary Australian printmakers were invited to contribute two works focussing on an environmental or personal space. In response G.W. Bot, Jan Davis, Rona Green, Alexi Keywan, Bruce Latimer, Travis Paterson, and Michael Schlitz have each created works depicting scenes of quotidian objects under a microscopic lens, exotic locations seen through dreams, and inner worlds rendered visible. Each work was made with the intention to be interpreted through a mix of field recordings and synthesised tones. The 3-minute sound pieces highlight visual and psychological elements within the prints.

Printmaking is a visual medium, but at its best it can trigger and inspire other senses. It is concerned with conveying sensory ideas of texture, space, smell and, in the context of the proposed exhibition, sound. Visitors to the Gallery will be able to listen to the interpretive soundscapes through media players located close to the works. The soundscapes will offer a viewing beyond a literal understanding of the prints, enhancing the viewer’s appreciation of the work in a way that is absent in 2D representations.

I am really excited to have worked with some of Australia’s finest printmakers in this exhibition. Auditory Visions showcases the work of some of our most talented printmakers whose diversity in style and content allowed for a variety of ways to place sound alongside the image. Visitors to the gallery will hear field recordings from the bottom of the Venetian lagoon to the outer edges of the atmosphere, each of which add additional layers to the ink on paper.

The print featured here is by Jan Davis. In 2014 Davis spent time observing the way in which light reflected from the ripples of the Venetian lagoon. While in Venice she completed Sant’Alvise III  for Auditory Visions. Rather than interpret the print with a literal soundscape I imagined the life that exists outside its frame. Thus the sound of church bells and musicians from a Venetian conservatorium blend with the sound of water lapping against the hull of a gondola, none of which are present in the print. Here, sound serves to refocus sight.

The entire Auditory Visions collection is now online. Please follow the link to view the works.

Sound and Our Past

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Sound entwines itself within our memory. Our adult selves are transported into emotional states from childhood through the exposure to sounds connected to past experiences.

 

Sound, like memory, is intangible yet it has the ability to haunt us. States of being rise through buried layers of personal history when exposed to soundmarks from the past. Although sound passes swiftly it leaves raw emotions floundering in its wake.

… and so it is for me.  Sitting by streams the gurgle of water unlocks a deeply hidden reservoir of childhood emotions.

As a child I grew up in a valley filled with farms, patches of forest, and trickling streams. In one sense it was quite ideal though as a queer youth it wasn’t without its problems. Verbal and physical homophobic harassment was something to endure on a daily basis and its shame was something to bury and keep silent about when at home. A sense of insecurity prevailed.

But there was a refuge. On the outer perimeter of my parent’s farm was a place where the anxiety of the school week could wash away. A stream flowed under the shade of trees which lined its bank. It was a space where I could sit alone allowing the week’s accumulation of fear to sail downstream. The sound of the stream allowed me to move beyond those experiences.

At the time I didn’t know that the sound of water was burying itself inside my subconscious, becoming an emotional memory, a personal soundmark. I sit by streams today and feel myself transported into the past. This familiar childhood sound provokes a confusion of sadness, anger, quietude. I walk away from streams feeling unsettled.

This is just one soundmark however there are so many more tugging at these barely hidden emotions from the past.  And so it is with us all.

Which sounds reverberate inside your personal history?

Sound and Memory: field recordings and temporality

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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.