Sound Women Network

I ventured down to the Yorkshire Sound Women networking event on Sat 4th March at Heritage Quay at the University of Huddersfield. The group were celebrating International Women’s Day (a week early!) by showcasing the work of their members and to celebrate women working in technology and sound.

What a diverse array of talent! It was a great afternoon and a very accessible environment to walk in. I chatted to several women there: Sara Brannan who showed coding and performance and who’d made a visualisation of sound installation, Amy Beeston who was researching at Sheffield University into how we respond to sound, Zoe Blade and Nina Richards who had total command and knowledge to build circuits and manipulate modular synths.

There were other demonstrations there. I had a ‘play’ with some technology using both Max msp and an old xbox to generate sound on body movement, and with a vibrating plate which formed sand patterns at differing frequencies. There were musicians there playing with electronic amplified flutes and another woman building circuit boards which generated different sounds.

It was inspiring. And impressive. And intriguing. In terms of my own research I connected the most with Amy’s work and we decided after a longish conversation to swap details in the event we could explore the potential of a future collaboration together. She’s based in Sheffield and comes to Huddersfield for monthly sound women network meetings and was suggesting I set up a Leeds network as there had been interest from women in Leeds! So I’ll give that some thought..

 

 

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Deep Listening

Recently I came across the work of Pauline Oliveros and her work with the Deep Listening Band. I watched her TEDex Talk entitled ‘The difference between hearing and listening’ which resonated a lot with the way I perceive sound and space. She talked of discovering the effects of acoustic properties in spaces and the impact it has on both audience and player. Her band improvised playing music within a cistern they entered (14ft underground space) which had a great impact on how she was perceiving sound. And I think the notion of perception is certainly an interesting one as people would perceive sound differently within a shared space.

I need to read of more of her work as she has developed a system called the Expanded Instrument System an electrical signal processing system  which she used in performance and recordings. From her foundation she developed Deep Listening retreats with the premise to highlight the benefits of greater sonic awareness.

One to follow up on….

 

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.

Speaking at the Cornmill

About a month ago I was invited to speak at the Cornmill Arts Space in Ilkley as part of their Polikana evening events. It’s an idea based on the Petchakucha format whereby each speaker has the same format to talk about a theme, their work or something of interest. The format is 20 slides, 20 seconds per slide for approx 6 minutes. The original Petchakucha format is slides only yet at Polikana the boundaries are a little broader so that video and audio can be added to the presentation.

I was very nervous. Some of the people there were fully immersed in their practices and had been for several  years. It is curated by Gary Winters (Lone Twin Theatre Company) and Simon East (Sonolope) and a diverse and broad set of 6 speakers were asked to present including Joe who runs the Cornmill Arts Space, Lorna Jewitt, who has just completed this MA Creative Practice,  Alice Fox textile artist and Jez, local filmmaker.

Yet I thought it would be a good idea for my practice to test out some ideas, gain valuable feedback and introduce sound as a part of my practice. It was a great evening. After my talk I met with Tom Beardsley, sculptor and Simon East both who have recently heard Susan Philipz speak at Leeds University and it was great to share sound related ideas with both of them.

They both curate a new weekly night called the ‘All Ears Listening Club’ at a local venue in Ilkley and after the talk they invited me to submit some of my sound experiments to their  night. (very chuffed)….so all in all good to build confidence in speaking and good to network with like minded people.

Performance & Uncertainty

Today I attended the Performance & Uncertainty Symposium held at The Tetley in Leeds which heralded the opening of the Dora Garcia exhibition, ‘These books were alive; they spoke to me!’.

The speakers/performers included photographer Casey Orr, performer/videographer Harold Offeh, film/installation artist Corin Sworn, visual & performance artist Rana Hamadeh, artist & researcher Dora Garcia and artist/writer/lecturer Kiff Bamford of Leeds Beckett University.

The day was a combination of performances and speaker events. I caught both Rana Hamadeh’s sound-play and heard Dora Garcia speak. So my reflections are on both of these events.

I knew nothing of Rana Hamadeh’s previous work until now so I entered this performance with no previous experience of her work or preconceptions. It was an interesting set up and predominantly a sound piece, although she was clear to state that she specifically referred to the work as a ‘sound-play’ as it was intended to be a promenade performance where the audience moved around the space and there were  no areas to sit or ‘view’.

The set up from an audio/sound perspective was interesting. I counted 7 large speakers on stands all connected to amps, two vocal mic’s in different positions, one mic near the floor with a stack of metal chains next to it, one speaker facing the wall for a separate vocal channel and a laptop running Logic Pro on a mixing desk.

To be honest I found the whole performance really quite disturbing. The initial soundscape was deep, intense and loud. (earplugs were given out and I wore mine). Then Rana came into one of the vocal mice and began speaking although there was such a big level of intentional reverb effect on her vocals that the words were difficult to define and the delivery was gloomy and foreboding.

Intermittently the vocals stopped and and another soundscape brought in, then Kiff Bamford spoke a part on a different vocal mic, then it flipped back to more from Rana. I moved around the room often to get a sense of what was playing out. I noticed they also had a Zoom H4 on one speaker at the back recording the whole thing.

It was 50 minutes long and deeply intense. What was more interesting was watching how the audience responded to the space and the sound. I sensed a great uncomfortableness, a dislocation, people didn’t know really where to put themselves. Some had faces of bewilderment, others of intense concentration, some of misunderstanding, some of intellectual enquiry. Some found a spot and stayed there, others moved around often. I found myself wishing it was finished sooner because it was so so intense and foreboding but was hoping I’d discover at the end more about the work.

There was a short discussion after where Rana explained that she was in part re-enacting a Shi’ite ritual of a ceremony, Ashura, from the Sunni Muslims in Lebanon which involved ritual chanting and self flagellation.

I took the opportunity afterwards to speak with her briefly. I asked her what it was like for her to perform such a piece and more about the rituals and how they take place in Lebanon. She said for her it wasn’t too much to perform such a big piece, she was so used to it and that she wanted it to feel uncomfortable and disorientating. It was. It was made so much more disorientating given the multi channel use of speakers. She mentioned that previous performances had been done in rooms of much smaller proportions than the larger room we were in. I can only imagine the intense immersive-ness of that experience.

Dora Garcia spoke next. She was really interesting and spoke a lot about her work with performance and literature. She spoke of her alternative practices of performance, of combining audiences who have ‘inside’ information of the performance coupled with those who are not privy to such information. She spoke of exploring Argentinian art ‘happenings’ which were reported in the press but which never actually ‘happened’. And she spoke of her recent work drawn from theories by psychoanalysts Freud and Lacan and the relationships between repetition and memory.

It was an incredibly diverse afternoon. My thoughts are quite dense about the whole experience. Initially I want to document that I feel I have an issue with ‘accessibility’ in relation to sound used in an art sense. What I refer to is that to receive as an audience something which is quite deeply intense and disturbing such as Rana’s work is more difficult to relate to. On further reading of her concepts and themes (which I have done subsequently through her work with the Liverpool Biennale) I can ‘understand’ the work and it has context, relevance and meaning. Yet it was a difficult piece.

Through Dora’s talk I really had my eyes opened to the divergent practice in the contemporary art world. How so many artists are working in ways way beyond the ‘traditional’ and conventional worlds of both visual and performance traditions. It was refreshing and intriguing. I need to research further.

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…

Sounding Leeds

sounding-leeds-banner

Today I took advantage of a cancelled workshop introduction at LCA to catch the remaining speakers at Sounding Leeds, a one day symposium exploring the past, present and future uses of sound, media and music in public art & social practice. It was timely as I am beginning my research into areas of sound used in art within the local geographical area as part of the Research Methods 1 module. It was equally as useful to tap into the arts networks and get a sense of what artists and educators are working on and with whom.

I found Alan Dunn’s talk particularly interesting as he’d directly worked with Chris Watson, who is primarily known in the larger world as the sound recordist on David Attenborough’s documentaries.  What I hadn’t realised is how he works on a really grassroots level. Alan spoke of bringing Chris into his work at Leeds Beckett University to engage students with the basic elements of sound recording. He takes the students to Maplins to buy a basic contact microphone and then they hunt out quiet places in the city such as tunnels. He mentioned how he uses the basis of these simple exercises to great more multi layered pieces of sound/music work.

His talk really demystified some of the areas of sound recording for me around having the ‘right’ equipment or even knowing exactly what you are doing. It made experimenting and feeling out of your depth okay and an acceptable place to start from someone so experienced and competent at the top of the industry.

Luckily I also heard James Mabbett speak. His most recently project was a sound project within Leeds Central Library which was played back to us as an audience with audience feedback voiced over the top. It sounded initially like an organ being played amongst the vaulted ceiling spaces of the library and yet I realised he had left certain instruments out for people to play themselves. An interesting concept and slightly more difficult to curate I imagine as he did find the ambience he was intending became broken when a young man started playing rock songs on the guitar!

As I’d expected somewhat before entering the Sounding Symposium it was predominantly makes in the room. There were two female speakers in Sue Ball of MAAP and Marion Harrison another Leeds artist which sadly I missed hearing. I will make this a part of my next mission to search out other sound artists in the region and try to make connections there.

I was so glad I went down though as it’s so fascinating seeing other practitioners work and to see the scope of what may be possible in terms of project funding, space acquisition, collaborative working and creative ideas sharing.