Early Micro Beginings

It’s Practice 2 – the final journey through the MA Creative Practice. It’s the only project for which there has been no external exhibition to work towards (outside the University degree show). It started not as an outward facing project but of an interior one. One which would culminate over time. I intended to let the project unfold organically and see what it would be like to not over research. There were elements from previous projects to envelope in. The minimalist manifesto I’d written last year would form the backbone of the way in which I worked, pairing elements down, using less.

In the earlier stages of the project I found myself not only listening more, but watching too. Watching people move in public places, along the coast, seeing what I could see when I slowed down enough to watch. This led to a series of short very mini clips of film which I found sound for. There seemed to be a good serendipitous relationship between finding sounds in my piano whilst watching these moments. short film series.

On the back of the research for the dissertation and an intense period of writing and reflection on the use of sound within an arts practice I moved my practice forward by entering into the darkroom for a period of time. It felt like the most succinct environment for an incubation of a new project. Time in there stood still. Lingering in the wet rooms of Vernon Street made play possible again after the long writing and research. I chose to work with both cyanotype and photogram methods. I find both of these methods of contact printing experimental, tactile, fluid, unknown. The material I’d chosen to work with primarily was salt, metaphorically for it’s cleansing and preserving properties and sonically I thought I’d find some interesting sounds from working with it in a sound recording capacity. It also is a constituent of the body and therefore felt resonant with exploring an embodied sensory phenomenological essence of this project.

 

Salt scan copy
Detail of Salt Photogram

It lets the light through well and gives structure and form. I let myself play around with these crystal forms for some time, exploring how much light to let through and which light sources I would be using. It wasn’t immediately obvious what the material was and therefore the references were ambiguous and they had an visual element of how it may appear when looking through a microscopic lens.

 

Having worked with a very small radius of space and time since the early days of the MA through parenting and work constraints and hence learning to work with the micro elements of life, small things, small moments, captured time in minutes, it felt resonant to produce more work at this level. There were no grand gestures, but smaller incremental changes, acute visions in the mundanity of life. This really has been a constant in the realms of MA work I’ve produced.  In previous sound installations completed this last two years I have used found environmental sound, breath, microphones in small places in the natural world, a sort of a quieter walk through the world yet with an active ear.

salt lines photogram
salt lines photogram
salt line photogram
salt line photogram

I began to record some qualities of the salt falling on salt, salt falling on different surfaces, salt being moved around on wood and then the idea came to explore the possibilities of working with dancers. I began to wonder what this material would sound like under moving limbs and what shapes maybe left by the human interaction. This was the next chapter to explore and I got in touch with Beth, leader of the MA Choreography at Leeds Beckett University.  She was very supportive of my initial ideas and said she’d speak with her dance group to see if there was initial interest. This is explored in the next post…

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Jez Riley French Talk

With a little bit of polite asking and with the okay of both Jez Riley French, sound recordist and Paul Ratcliff, Head of Film and Music at Leeds Beckett University I went to hear Jez speak to the undergrad students at Leeds Beckett. So that was an interesting experience – me and a lot of 20 year old boys…didn’t feel out of place at all. It’s 2017 and sound/film is still so gender specific.

I digress. The talk was fascinating. He talked of the main kit he uses which consists of good omni mic’s, contact mic’s, Hydraphones and a two channel Sound Devices recorder. Then we listened to many projects on which he has worked which are listed below:

Humber Bridge (Opera North commission for Hull City of Culture 2017) – haunting sounds using contact mice inside the tunnel of the Humber Bridge and some pick up of the wind and traffic ambience.

Howard Assembly Rooms (Leeds) – he placed microphones on the roof of the building whilst the orchestra played inside and what a lovely sound. Although the projector in the room was buzzing and their was a slight hum from the speakers, what was heard was a drifting sound of an orchestra in an architectural space. He also used a Geophone to hear ‘through’ the building.

Teleferrica’s Italy – used microphones on the tension wires. Really supersonic sounds came through. Very Star Wars  – turns out this is originally how George Lucas’s team recording light sabres and other flying sound effects back in the 70’s. The ‘zooming’ sound effects came from insects colliding with the tension of the wires.

Antenna cables (Iceland) – contact mic on cable – sounded very ‘primordial’ to me, low sounds with some high pitch frequency overlaid.

Score for a Print Rack – he recorded 8 hours of playing two bows against a traditional metal print drying rack. Interesting!

Fence in Iceland for the Acoustic Cameras Project – the project is recording soundtracks from around the world.

Johann Johannsson – he is working with him and some of Jez’s recordings have been used in Bladerunner. Recording again through a building lovely sounds of strings came through over a low pulsating hum.

Fire  – of the more unusual sound experiments was the hazelnut. He stuck a fine needle in a contact mic, added a hazelnut on the end and set fire to it. It was really interesting, especially towards the end when the sound of the nut creaking and groaning came out.

Hydraphones- he played the sound of water beetles and tadpoles in a pond near where he lives.

Glacial Lake – Fjallsarlong, Iceland – beautiful location – recorded the sound of millions of ice bubbles – sounded high pitched like a tweet of a bird and water running sounds.

Lava Beach (Iceland) – hydra phone stuck deep in the sand of a lava beach with the sound of the waves crashing overhead. Nearly came out and hit the audience – we all jumped back…super powerful.

Electromagnetic/Infra/Ultra Sound – he used an ultrasonic detector in geothermal pools in Iceland – this wasn’t quite the sound I was expecting. It was higher in pitch and sounded a little like rain. I had expected a lower frequency deeper resonant sound for some reason. Perception…?

Lightbulb – with ultrasonic detector and a coil pick up on a florescent lightbulb strip. Pitch changed when the lightbulb heated and cooled down.

Audible Silence (Tate Modern) – he had 7 days on his own recording areas of the turbine hall at Tate Modern. Sounded like a low eerie hum with some high pitched sounds in there also.

VLF Dectector – this was one of my favourite sounds – recorded in Japan. The VLF detector picks up radio fallout in the universe (i.e.: from stars exploding). The sound was immense. Crackly sounds but then a really strange movement sound which was the sound of a shooting star trail. How cool is that…?

He talked of other aspects like playback volume and recording volume for field recordings which was useful as I’d put my input recording volume high but he said that isn’t needed on his Sound Devices recorder as the pre amp is such good quality. I may need to higher mine through on my minute Zoom.

So glad I went and listened. Learnt a lot which I can now input into my own sound recording experiments.

Microphone Placement

This week has been an exercise in finding the optimum area for placing the contact mic I bought a few weeks ago. So what I wanted to record was an old Tibetan singing bowl I’ve had for years which sounds incredible and multi tonal. I wondered what levels of sound vibration a contact mic would pick up?

I initially attached the mic to the side of the bowl just under the rim and immediately discovered it deadened the sound and there was no vibration at all. I moved it in different places all around the bowl and thought I’d been defeated in that quest until I tried attaching the mic to the underneath part. This seemed to work if I used the wooden baton to make the sound on the rim of the bowl. I almost had to hold the bowl at a slight angle to prevent the mic from stopping the sound waves again, but it worked and I recorded a couple of minutes of sound to build upon.

What I wanted to know was the difference in sound quality between recording a singing bowl with a contact mic and then using a surround sound mic function on my Zoom recorder. So both tests have now been recorded and I’m aiming to transfer them into Cubase and listen/edit…