Australian Sound Artist

Sunday, November 24, 2013

North East England: Sonic Postcard NEE02

:: NEE02 - Barter Books, the old Alnwick train station 4th November 2013. General shop ambience and Moozak with the train set running above and over the book shelves ::


Recording Technical Specifications:
Recording device: Sound Devices 788T
Microphone: DPA 4060 (stereo pair)

Friday, November 22, 2013

Melbourne Now: 'Now Hear this' @ NGV

Curated by Thembi Soddell of the Australian experimental music label, 'Cajid Media', the electroacoustic program of 'Now Hear This' as part of the 'Melbourne Now' exhibition includes works by the artists:

Natasha Anderson            Nat Bates

Samuel Dunscombe        Tattered Kaylor

Jessica Pinney        Lizzie Pogson

Kristian Roberts        Thembi Soddell

Jacques Soddell        Polly Stanton

The exhibition's opening night is tonight - Friday November 22nd, and the exhibition will be running from November 22nd 2013 until March 23rd 2014, at the National Gallery of Victoria

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Parting is such sweet sorrow....

:: Lindisfarne ::

It's always hard to leave a place that you have been getting to know via a two or three week intensive listening and recording experience. I leave Alnwick tomorrow morning and already I'm taunted by all the sounds that slipped through my net. Not - to - fear, I did manage to collect a few gems, one of the last being a recording from the local clock repairer's store. Some of these sounds will become Sonic Postcards in the days to follow and I look forward to sharing them on this blog and on Freesound. From here I travel to London for a couple of days and then to Belgium by train. I'm very excited at the thought of the train journey. I have never been to Belgium before, nor caught a train to another country (Australia is a continent remember!) so will be a little like a kid in a candy store once the experience begins. I'll keep my recording gear handy just incase.... In Brussels I will be attending the L 'Espace du son, the 20th international acousmatic festival and I must say, I (again) am pretty positively wired about the planned experience. Hopefully by attending the festival I will become enlightened to more techniques and skills in sonic diffusion using methods of the acousmonium - which - I hope to use with the sounds I have gathered under the guidance of Chris Watson and in my solo work during this trip.

:: Chris Watson and Dunstanburgh Castle ::
The focussed work I undertook with Chris was a privilege that not only taught me about recording technique and method, but  also inadvertently about himself. His generosity extended beyond knowledge, to an honest point of care and love in the work that he does - recording the sounds of our world. His humble stance on what he has done and is still doing, provided me with an affirmation in my own work and a comfort in the knowledge that my own passion for sound alone - is an invaluable reason to continue (against the odds of finance, travel, time, health etc. etc. etc.) Many thanks (again) to Chris for the sharing of his expertise. The passing on of this knowledge, from accomplished artist to emerging is indeed a noble gesture that can be hard to find.

This project has been assisted by the Australian Government through the Australia Council for the Arts, its arts funding and advisory body. 

North East England: Sonic Postcard NEE01

:: NEE01 - Boulmer Stones 11th November 2013. Tide is rising. I am standing on volcanic stones while the waves come in and wash around me ::



*Please note: On streaming the sound there is noticeable dithering and high frequency artefacts. On downloading the sound itself, these artefacts should not be present.

Recording Technical Specifications:
Recording device: Sound Devices 788T
Microphone: DPA 4060 (stereo pair)

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Winter Sounds of North East England

:: Recording site. North East Coastline, England ::

Recording England's wildlife in Winter is quite a challenge - particularly if wildlife is not your speciality. Unlike Australia (that seems to house a constant crowd of critters all year round), come Winter time in England a number of birds disappear. Along with the Winter closure of buildings whose acoustics I'd hoped to capture, these have been the two biggest hurdles that have arisen throughout this trip. On a positive note, what these unexpected 'exclusions' have given me is a shift of gaze from the obvious splendour of local historic castles and as-yet unheard (to me) birdcall - to the turning cogs in the local community that keep it ticking along year-in and year-out. I mentioned in an earlier post - the blessing-in-disguise of missing the tourism trade times and I think I am still only just beginning to appreciate the impact this will have on my work (with only four days to go....). 

Before I leave I hope to capture the sounds of the local trade. Its butchers it's bakers, its clock makers - those who have lived and worked in this part of the world their whole lives. After chatting to a number of local tradespeople I have found that they are often 3rd or 4th generation in a family business local to the area. It's quite touching to come to this gentle realisation - with each (sometimes a bit awkward) conversation that I have. These families are a part of the past, present and future of these towns. Their names may be found on a street name as they have become inexplicably interwoven into the history of their place of living. Quite a realisation to someone who has lived in four states in the past seven years (ish?) and countless houses... 

In contrast to the sound of industry I am also gathering the sounds of the beautifully wild and wooly nature that sustains the local communities. Crashing waves, churning waters and howling winds are all a part of the soundscape. Today I went recording near Craster, at the old Bathing House on the coastline. I had looked at images of the area but didn't have much of an idea about what to expect - except that the abundant nesting community of birds would not be present (Winter!). What I discovered was beautifully sculpted volcanic stones that have been carved over thousands of years - by the waves of the ocean. Their shapes looked mechanical, artificial and completely organic - all at once. Trying not to slip I managed to clamber on top of a raised ledge and hang my microphones down into carved pools and blow holes as the tide rose. I saw only one person today - an old man who smiled at me but would not speak as we passed each other. It was a beautiful day - with sounds so perfect that even this stranger would not unsettle it with his voice... 

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Day 5. Rock pools and hail of Embleton Bay

:: Embleton Bay ::
Sat 1st Nov. The last day of work with Chris was spent heading along Embleton Bay with the idea being to arrive at Dunstanburgh Castle. Unfortunately we only made it to the foot of the cliff walls - as the castle's grounds begin. The wind, rain and hail had become constant enough as to push us to retreat. I actually revelled in the subtle attack of the elements and if the dark hadn't been approaching (so quickly in the UK!) then I would have happily continued with the hike. I gathered some astonishing sounds of the waves crashing on the shore using Chris's DPA 8011's and attempted to gather the more dynamic sounds from the rock pools but with less success. It seems that the Sound Devices 788T model has a fatal flaw in the the limiters are not available when recording at 96k. This ultimately meant I could not record sounds from the rock pools as their quiets are too quiet and their louds are pure distortion without a limiter. It's worth mentioning that this is the first - ever - downfall that I have found from this model.

:: Recording @ Embleton Bay ::
To record the general sounds I used my old trusty Rode NT4 (stereo). Again, I was disappointed in that there was bad distortion on one channel. What I assumed was wind noise (as you can see - I did not have with me adequate wind jamming gear....) was actually a noise flaw that disappeared once I powered the microphone from the SD's phantom power AND switched the 'ON' switch to 'OFF'. I've never had this problem before and I can say that I won't be making it again but what a frustrating way to learn these beginner errors....... Safe to say - I will be heading back to the Bay and will aim for windy and wild weather when I do so. Night is falling faster and faster so I will be trying to cram my recording sessions in when the light is still present. I'm already dreading the day of 'leaving'. There's so much to record.

The last couple of weeks I will be working on my own and capturing what I can of sounds from the area. It's a strange time to be in Alnwick, the first week of the castle and some surrounding tourist attractions closing down for Winter. In a sense - you could think that I've 'missed it', that I am too late, or, you could think that my timing is perfect, to capture the personal sound signature's specific to this area, devoid of the tourist crowds.

This project has been assisted by the Australian Government through the Australia Council for the Arts, its arts funding and advisory body. 

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Day 4. Good work habits for the field recordist

:: Home-made windshield ::
Friday 31st Oct. 
I enjoy recording sounds as an artist (no surprises there). By undertaking this work as purely a creative luxury and keeping my, 'day job', I allow myself the choice of when and where I record - to satisfy my own ego and intentions. The downfalls in working in such a manner includes the fact that if you have no one to please but yourself you may feel there is no need to set work practice to any uniform standard. As you will be the only individual working with the material - only you need to know facts, figures, dates, tech specs and you've got all that in your head anyway so no need to formally record it right...? 

Well I know this is not the case - I'm merely playing devils advocate to illustrate just how poor my own work methods can be in regards to recording crucial information and maintaining professional work standards. All of those bad habits are in the past

As      Of      Now

Chris: What do you record at? 
Me: 24/48
Chris: You don't record at 96?
Me: No - you can't hear the difference anyway
Chris: Maybe but why wouldn't you? You have enough disc space and when you consider just how fast technology is developing - the sound standard is only increasing. In future we may very well have 96k as our broadcast standard.
Me: .....
Chris: Do you indent at all?
Me: Oh.. ahh... I try to but I generally forget
Chris: You should always indent at the start of each recording. Say your name, the place, your equipment, the date and any other information you would like to add. Do you know 'Wave Agent'?
Me: ....... head shake
Chris: You should have a look at it. It embeds the required metadata into your files and it's free. You can put all your indent information in there and your sounds are ready to be archived. No information is lost. Have you timecoded your Sound Devices?
Me: Yep
Chris: Let's have a look. Furrowed brow, changing of settings
Me: Silently realise that it's still set to time-in-Australia not, time-in-UK. Cringe.
Chris: You must timecode for every place you visit.
Me: nodnodnod

- and so we continue like this for the rest of the morning. It was a bit of a wakeup call in regards to my lazy habits. When I was working as an AV tech I (like to think I) was thorough with the systems I implemented and installed for others, logic has it that I should at least do the same for myself. 

Other tips and tricks Chris enlightened me to include the making of his own windshields (see image above). I have seen this done before but not with speaker fabric (Tygan), for the exterior. This allows the sounds to pass through to the microphone with less frequency filtering. With a simple thread-through and loop of a rubber band you have basic suspension for your microphone and a lightweight shield that won't break the bank or leave you teary eyed if it gets damaged in rough terrain which, as a top paid professional - you mightn't want to use it on set but as a penny-pinching artist.... it's ideal.

This project has been assisted by the Australian Government through the Australia Council for the Arts, its arts funding and advisory body.

Monday, November 4, 2013

Day 3. Sounds from the past cont'd - Brinkburn Priory and Holystone

:: Stunned Gold Crest at Brinkburn Priory ::
Thursday morning (30th) I was bitten by the recording bug - namely - the one that reminds you of just how fleeting your time is - in the area of the world you wish to record. I approach Chris in the morning and request we break our plans to spend the day in-studio - to hit the road and continue gathering sounds (along with lessons in history). Chris is out the door before I am.

"Great! Weather's good, let's go!"

I grab my pack and run to catch-up. No time to check I have everything - it's dark by 5 and daylight hours are burning. 

The first stop is at Brinkburn Priory. Luck is with us as we happen to be visiting on the last day before they close for Winter. Again - the weather is windy and a tad gloomy - perfect in that it keeps crowds of visitors away and creates a feeling of privacy and even intimacy between yourself and the environment. First recording is the wind amongst the Birch trees  - the most detailed yet. They quietly crack and whisper amongst themselves. En masse, they're louder than most to the point that I don't hear Chris when he calls for me to, 'come see!' The Priory's warden is standing at the bottom of the drive, holding a tiny bird in her hand. She's looking at it and it's looking straight back at her fearlessly - eye to eye. The bird was a, Gold Crest', the smallest bird in the UK and this little guy had flown into her reception window. She'd found him/her lying on the ground stunned - but alive. No wings were broken and after a few minutes - whereby he/she graced us with an impromptu photo shoot - he/she takes off into the trees. 

Chris points out the acoustics of the church - beautifully alive they enhance the qualities of sounds. I think of Noirlac - and ponder the question Chris poses, 'At such a time, when technology was so basic, how did they manage to design such buildings - that use highly sophisticated architecture to enhance the sounds through acoustics?' 

Good question..... No idea...... Wish I knew......

:: Trees at 'Lady's Well' ::
From Brinkburn we head North West - to Holystone and its, 'Lady's Well.' The journey from one to the other is filled with historical tales about the area - which like Lindefarne - has a lengthy and detailed past. From what I have read and what I have heard - there is a strong belief that the well was originally a pagan site and adopted by the Christian religion at a certain point in its history. On visiting the well there is an undeniable sense of 'communing with nature' that I don't associate with Christianity. The surrounding fir trees stand as pillars in a cathedral and silently command your reverence. While there are stone idols present, they were added in later centuries and consist of only two. The well as it originated - without these figures - would hold an as-sacred impression - one (even more) intrinsically connected to the nature as found there. 

I place a hydrophone pair into the well and an MS pair above ground at the head of the space, between two of the tree columns. Simultaneously they capture the world above and the world below the well's surface. Darkness falls quickly while we are there as does the volume of my voice. As I exit through the gate I am near whispering and find it hard to pull myself away. Who knows what occurs in such a space under the faceless guise of night.

This project has been assisted by the Australian Government through the Australia Council for the Arts, its arts funding and advisory body.

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Day 2. The wind and the tide of Lindisfarne.

:: Walking path for the Monks to come and go from the island - marked by tall poles ::
Lindisfarne is a pretty interesting community (an understatement!). It has a recorded history dating back to the 6th century that includes tales of Viking attacks and nothing less than the birth of Christianity. Personally - what I find so intriguing about its nature is the fact that at certain times of the day, when the tide rises, the island is cut-off from the rest of civilisation. To live on the island is to live by the tide and in a rhythm with the elements you have no control over. People have done-so for well over a thousand years and I am sure they will continue to do-so in the years to come. 

The day of my visit (Wed 30th Oct) was windy and overcast - well suited to imagining the past lives that have sustained such a setting. We walked along the coastline - around the island and found one particularly striking place at which to record. 

:: Recording at Lindisfarne ::

The howl of the wind was the most voice-like I have ever heard. The halyards of the nearby boats banged against their masts - sounds ricocheted off the wall to my left. Chris's ears were noticeably quick at picking the spots where sounds were sweetest. Sometimes he would silently point and I would know where to move to listen. At times the wind would be too strong and we would stand to block its full gale, allowing the microphones a chance to absorb the sounds before wind distortion. 

In the late afternoon we headed to a hide that we had scouted earlier in the day. It was close-by, on the coastline and one that Chris had not recorded at before. While it was still light we positioned our microphones and ran the cable back to the hide. By nightfall - as the tide was moving in, so too was the bird wildlife and we began the recording. Over at least an hour, I listened as the sea crept closer and the bird's chatters grew louder. It is not a process you can rush - like the people of Lindisfarne -  we were also living by the tide - at the beck and call of it's own internal clock - a spectator to it as it passed us by. In the distance I could hear the trains passing through each half hour as per their timetable, adding to the pulse of the environment. As the darkness fell so too did the general humm of daily noise. The nocturnal cycle of sounds rose together as an unseen orchestra, hiding in the dark beyond the hide. We sat in a small circle of dim light - only able to listen and imagine what this world entails.

This project has been assisted by the Australian Government through the Australia Council for the Arts, its arts funding and advisory body.