February 13, 2014, is the official release date for my 33 1/3 book on Aphex Twin's 1994 album Selected Ambient Works Volume II, available at Amazon (including Kindle) and via your local bookstore. • F.A.Q.Key Tags: #saw2for33third, #sound-art, #classical, #juntoElsewhere: Twitter, SoundCloud, Instagram

Listening to art.
Playing with audio.
Sounding out technology.
Composing in code.

tag: field-recording

Sensing Lisbon

A responsive sonic environment by Abinadi Meza

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The audio is a race of everyday noise at what feels like hyperspeed. There are warbling sirens and clipped voices of public address systems or low-resolution audio surveillance, not to mention foremost this underlying bass drone. Played on a laptop’s speakers at mid- to high level of volume, it will vibrate your desk until your pens and spare change join in the quotidian cacophony. It all has this sense of speed because of the high pitch and the constant pervasive environmental presence.

As it turns out, that sense of presence is rooted in the source audio. The track, “Mere Pis: Lisbon” by Abinadi Meza, is a digital reflection of constant triggers from everyday life. As the brief project description explains:

“Mere Pis: Lisbon is an exploratory atmospherics project that was made in Lisbon, Portugal using custom-built sensors and software. The sensors recorded micro-local environmental elements such as ambient light, humidity, light frequencies, and temperature. Meza treated these sounds as residues, glitches, and afterimages – fragments of a city beyond the city. The project was presented as a live performance at the Sinel de Cordes Palace in Lisbon on September 19 and 21, 2013.”

The above image shows the sensors in question. More on the project at abinadimeza.blogspot.com. This recording was episode 55 of the excellent Radius podcast.

Track originally posted for free download at soundcloud.com/theradius. More details at theradius.us. Abinadi Meza is an American living in Rome, Italy. More from him at abinadimeza.blogspot.com and twitter.com/abinadi.

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Time in the Library with Mark Rushton

An extended Disquiet Junto piece

There are many mysteries to the Internet, among them why Mark Rushton has a total of just 173 followers at the moment on his SoundCloud account. He’s an active and frequent participant in ambient music online, with a deep archive at markrushton.bandcamp.com and a must-subscribe podcast, just to note a few of his outposts. In any case, among his most recent treats is an extended version of an earlier Disquiet Junto entry. Back in June he was among the members to record the sound of their local library and turn it into music. The first take was two minutes, which he found wanting, and so he has extended it by nearly three times. He talks a bit about the source audio in the original post:

I decided I would try to get a recording by checking out a couple of books. There were two people staffing the Service Desk, so there was a chance for additional sounds in the recording. I figured I could easily get a minute’s worth of recording, and I did. The microphone was peeking out of my shirt’s pocket in a rather unobtrusive way. I tried to be quiet and be careful with my breathing as the mic was pointing upwards at my nose.

Since the elevator exit is right around the corner from the Service Desk, I left that sound in. I thought that was an interesting start. Surely if you work the Service Desk you have to hear it all the time.

The extended version takes even more time to locate the musicality in those source elements and create a lithe, gently percussive, quotidian fantasia from them.

Track originally posted for free download at soundcloud.com/markrushtoncom. More from Iowa City–based Mark Rushton at markrushton.com.

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The Geophony + Biophony + Anthrophony of Memory

Reading a listening of a Berlin cemetary

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The Berlin-based musician Micah Frank has posted this nearly two-minute recording of the Schönhauser Allee Cemetery (or Friedhof Schönhauser Allee in German). The Jewish cemetery dates from 1827. Frank’s annotation is simple. He marks it as a stereo recording, and he lists what he hears. What’s especially of note in regard to what he hears is less the sonic objects he finds distinct within the soundscape, so much as how he categorizes those objects. Seemingly drawing from the work of Bernie Krause, the notes here divide the sonic content into three complementary fields:

Geophony: rain, wind

Biophony: birds, insects

Anthrophony: air traffic, city noises

The words are fairly self-explanatory. “Anthrophony” refers to sounds made by humans. “Biophony” refers to sounds made by any other living organisms. “Geophony” refers to the remaining elements of nature. What makes them useful, and worthy of greater adoption by people who post field recordings, is how they usefully break down the sounds in a way that gives them context, makes them comprehensible, knowable, memorable. One might take issue with the difference between “anthrophony” and “biophony,” suggesting it creates a false dichotomy, but given that the intended listener is a human, the focus on “anthrophony” helps give the listener the sense of a broader role in the sound of the world.

There are numerous field recordings on Frank’s SoundCloud page, including ones from Puerto Rico:

And Woodstock, New York:

And the Baltic Sea near Rostock, Germany (“Geophony: waves”; “Anthrophony: beach cleaning equipment”):

Sometimes Frank plays with the source audio, as in this modified recording of his father-in-law’s home distillery (“My field recorder,” he writes, “picked up all of the bubbling and percolations in great detail”):

Berlin track originally posted at soundcloud.com/micahfrank. More on the historic cemetery at jg-berlin.org. More from Frank at twitter.com/micahfrank.

(Photo by Rae Allen from flickr.com, used via Creative Commons license.)

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Numbers Stations and the Fog of War

A series of moodily coded sound pieces by Norah Lorway

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If you tune your radio between stations and come across someone reading numbers like these, it’s likely because you’ve stumbled upon a numbers station, a lo-tech and enticingly antiquated means of transmitting encoded information.

The numbers up top contain basic information about numbers stations. The popular comprehension of numbers stations is largely founded on The Conet Project: Recordings of Shortwave Numbers Stations, a collection that initially consisted of four and, later, five compact discs. The set was released by the label Irdial-Discs in 1997. In 2002, the band Wilco used some of the sounds in a track, “Poor Places,” off its Yankee Hotel Foxtrot album. That album’s title is itself sourced from a phrase uttered on the Conet album. (Wilco later, in 2004, settled a suit about this unauthorized use.)

In a series of haunting pieces of subsumed numbers recitation, the England-based musician and sound artist Norah Lorway threads a needle. She maintains enough of the source audio that it is recognizable if not always comprehensible, yet buries it in enough sonic detritus that the result gives listeners the experience of having, on their own, come upon the numbers. At times, the numbers are kept entirely from sonic view, the voices giving way to harsh static, and to sudden noises that might be heard as air raid sirens or the clash of machine guns. The voices themselves are at times warped, rendered anxious, as if the utterances contain not just coded factual information but also raw emotional content.

This is a set of two of Lorway’s pieces. According to the brief accompanying note, there is also a third:

More from Lorway, who is based in Birmingham, England, at norahlorway.com, academia.edu, twitter.com/norahlo, and norahlorway.bandcamp.com.

(Thanks to Larry Johnson for the recommendation.)

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When Sounds Are Images

Northern Gulfs (Glacial Movements) by Yair Elazar Glotman

The album Northern Gulfs by Yair Elazar Glotman comes and goes in rich swells. The music — entirely free of vocals, and essentially of melodies for that matter — is built less from notes than from images. These are sounds, of course, but each sound is so specific, so distinct from each other, that they individually have the quality of images. They’re memorable less for their sonic content than for their narrative content, the place they hold in memory, the stories they propose. On the track “High Tide,” for example, the constituent sounds include the sawing of wood, the creaking of a rope and a slat pier, some high-pitched ring tones, insectoid percussion that could be a cigarette lighter failing to make good on its sole responsibility, and an underlying bass tone with a somber cast. There are six Northern Gulfs tracks in all, each with its own collection of images. Some are more tonal, others more entranced with sourced field recordings, like the scatter of pebbles and echoed bell on “Low Tide” or the ratcheted gears in “Home Port.” Each of these elements, whether tonal or sourced, is entirely self-defined. Each may individually have been processed — stretched, given texture, looped mechanically, hushed — but they never seem to merge in any given track. They are like semi-opaque cards in a deck being constantly shuffled. “Khaypudyr Bay,” named for a spot in the brittle cold of northwest Russia, features a delicate counterpoint of clipped signals, buried deep in a warm, gray hum. Much of the record retains that muted malevolence, but it reaches an extreme on “Kara Sea,” named for the Siberian waters, which feels truly tortured, its elements including backward masked bits that suggest regret, as well as harsh winds and a haunting organ.

The album is streaming in full at glacialmovements.bandcamp.com. It was released in April 2014 by glacialmovements.com. Yair Elazar Glotman is based in Berlin, Germany.

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