For some reason, the track page for this live improvisation by Karen Power and John Godfrey isn’t allowing me to embed it here. So, to hear it, head over to Power’s SoundCloud page, at soundcloud.com/karenpower.
Earlier this year, back in January, Power worked with Joyce Majiski on an installation at the Yukon Arts Centre titled Inside the Glacier. Both of the women were part of an Article Circle Residency Program expedition to the Yukon to collect sounds and develop art from them. This recorded performance teamed Power with musician John Godfrey, and together they, through live improvisation, developed a sonic response to the Yukon soundscape that emanated from another room in the gallery where this was all recorded. Their initially tentative plucks and whirs emerge from the winds and watery sounds of the arctic audio documents. At times the sounds are distinct from the sourced audio, but much of the time their playing achieves a naturalistic presence: strange birds in strange weather.
There is a host of images from her arctic trip at karenpower.ie, depicting the use of omnidirectional microphones inside a wooden boat, microphones inside the remains of a locomotive, hydrophones inside icebergs, and much more. Power produced this half-hour documentary, Can You Hear the Arctic?, about her acoustic experience in 2013:
Susanna Caprara works widely under the moniker La Cosa Preziosa, or “the precious thing.” Originally from Italy but living now in Dublin, Ireland, she posts experimental audio work and field recordings to her SoundCloud account. The latter are generally brief segments of daily life. Part of what distinguishes her field recordings is that they often are not pristine documents of specific sounds, but instead snatches of the broader array of sounds in which those sounds are heard. They are frequently messy (in a good way) and lively, more along the lines of diary entries than encyclopedia entries.
A recording of a bagpipes player, for example, entertaining a crowd in front of a department store has nearly as much crowd noise as it does the sound of that slurry, fuzzy bellows instrument, and it is a cause for her reflections (at her soundreflections.org site): “there is a strange excitement in the air, and with all the surrounding shops still closed this man has the full & undivided, freezing-cold audience’s attention.”
Among her most recent uploads is an echoing track made inside the Botanic Gardens in Dublin, abundant with a chatty naturalism, a mix of constructed natural space and bystander conversations. The piece is itself a construction, made from three different spots: “outdoors, by the stream in the rockery, and at the Wittgenstein steps (inside The Palm House greenhouse).” It’s a great example of how field recordings can be as much about memory and experience as they can be about taxonomy and data.
The word “rhythmanalysis” is from the work of Henri Lefebvre (1901-1991), who explored — and forgive my poor paraphrasing, as I’m still learning about the topic — the role of rhythm in the social construction of urban environments. The theme of “rhythmanalysis” provided a structure to an exhibit earlier this year at Simon Fraser University, reflecting on a half century of artistic activity at the school. The exhibit, Through a Window: Visual Art and SFU 1965-2015, was in the Audain Gallery and Teck Gallery at SFU between June 3 and August 1. It is archived on the school’s website and SoundCloud page.
One of the earlier works in the overview is by Emma Hendrix, “Horizon,” dating from 1999. The piece mixes found audio of transportation sounds into a rhythmic excursion: the underlying churn of a bus en route, the beeping of a signal, the enclosed acoustics of vehicular space.
Writes Hendrix of the piece:
The title of this work refers to the imperceptible and unacknowledged loss of the acoustic horizon within the urban sonic environment. Horizon was completed in 1999 in SFU’s Sonic Research Studio using analog tape loops of field recordings taken along the Hastings corridor, bus route #135, between Commercial Drive and SFU’s Burnaby Mountain campus. Soundmarks that comprise this work evoke the university/city commute and the deserted, last bus’ nightly departure from campus.
We already have our jetpacks. We just happen to call them drones. Sure, these drones don’t carry us into the sky the way we were promised in our childhoods, but they carry with them our eyes, our imaginations, and our ambitions. Now that we live so much of our lives online, is it much of a stretch to suggest that drones take us up in the air?
Thanks to Tim Prebble, drones also carry with them our ears. Prebble is an accomplished field recordist who lives in Wellington, New Zealand, where he runs Hiss and Roar (hissandaroar.com), a sound design library of everything from fireworks and metal resonance to chimes and tortured pianos. His lengthy sound-design film credits include Antarctica: A Year on Ice, 30 Days of Night, and The World’s Fastest Indian. Prebble this week posted on Facebook a single photo of a small consumer-grade (i.e., non-military) drone carrying an audio recording device (the second still image down below). When I asked him for more details of what he was up to, he sent me a lengthy account, and many more photos, plus the two videos shown here. The video up top is a quick summary of experiments he’s been doing recording with drones, and recording the sound of drones. It’s a Doppler paradise.
Best experienced in headphones, the above video shows various settings for the drone recording, including an opening shot from the drone’s own perspective, while recording the audio effect of it passing by several microphones. Later on in a subsequent clip, the three-dimensional motion can be experienced as three-dimensional sound: stereo manages left and right, while relative volume accounts for foreground and background. Throughout, the primary sound is that of the drones themselves, a sound Prebble likens to that of bees. The results are striking.
In experimental electronic music, the word “drone” is virtually a genre unto itself, one that explores stasis in everything from field recordings to sine waves to layers of ambient textures. Since the word “drone” has come, popularly, to refer to flying devices, jokes are made regularly about “drones of drones.” Prebble has managed to make the joke real, and the result is no joke — it is alternately eerie and warm, anxious and majestic.
Here is Prebble himself, from an email he sent to me with permission to share, on what he is developing:
“The Bees Sound Angry”
While I’d seen plenty of drones & footage shot with them online, I never really appreciated their potential until I worked on a short film project recently where we wanted aerial footage but a helicopter was unaffordable. We ended up hiring an experienced drone pilot and after the first shoot I began dreaming about their potential, for image but also for sound.
Once the project was finished I decided to get myself a quadcopter, a DJI Phantom 3 Pro. My first experiments were focused on technically learning to fly it, but also learning to deal with the discombobulation of having a set of eyes that can move remotely in three dimensions. I consider a camera drone akin to having a set of tracks & dolly (or a camera crane) which can move in any of the three dimensions without the constraints — the first video I shot was effectively a vertical tracking shot from outside my house…
One aspect of using a drone that can be problematic is that it tends to attract people, and avoiding slack jawed observers in shots can be a challenge. But it is often the sound of the quadcopter that first draws peoples attention – if you haven’t heard one close up, then the best description I can think of is that they sound like a small swarm of angry bees, and when you do fast movements the bees sound very angry! Ever since that first drone shoot I’ve been fascinated by quadcopter sounds, which led me to this experiment:
From a sound designers perspective I LOVE the idea I can control & perform movements with this swarm of angry bees, so the first idea I am pursuing is to capture a library of sound effects, much as I would for a vehicle for a film. I am capturing a lot of variations of quadcopter start, take off, away, hover, approach and land, as well as doppler passbys & moves at various speeds. While the resulting library will be useful for practical purposes it will also be rich source material for manipulation & processing….
But as with any vehicle recording, exterior recording is only half the story. When recording vehicles I happily capture onboard perspective sound to multitrack; placing mics in the engine bay, near the exhaust, near tyres and inside the cabin. Effectively capturing constant perspective, isolated elements to be rebalanced as per the needs of the film.
So that first photo above was an attempt at recording onboard, constant perspective quadcopter sounds. I’d first thought of using a pair of tiny DPA4060 lavalier mics but the recorder soon became the issue eg my Sound Devices 722 recorder weighs 1.2kg & while the Phantom 3 is powerful it was never going to carry more than its own bodyweight as cargo. So next I tried the Sony PCM D100, rigged to hang below the drone.
The results were surprisingly good – there was some wind noise, a 150Hz HPF got rid of most of that but more layers of Rycote wind protection will achieve that better & at the source. There was also a very small amount of motor whine & electrical interference from the camera gimbal, but once the rotors are working that sound is masked. The next iteration of rigging I suspended the recorder on rubber bungy rather than string, to avoid transmission of any vibrational noise, and I also experimented with different lengths, attempting to place the recorder & mics further from the prop wash.
A secondary sound recording idea I am pursuing with the drone is purely as a transporter. Imagine placing your mics in the top of a 1000 year old Kauri tree, or on a small island in a lake. Both would potentially provide unique ambience recordings, but getting the mics into place is difficult. So I’ve been thinking about whether there is a way to have the drone carry my recorder to such locations, safely land & power down to allow clean ambience recording, and then fly home.
The recorder hanging below the quadcopter means that landing is difficult – I’ve avoided this issue so far by hovering the drone within arms reach & simply grabbing it & powering off. With the extra weight I would want to be VERY confident before risking losing my drone & recorder – if it toppled over while landing then it would be a very tough decision to either abandon it, or risk life & limb to retrieve it!
Suspect we will be seeing more ads like this in future!
The track is described by the musician who made it, Samuel L. Jetson, as “a looped arrangement for a short sample from field recording.” Listening into the loop, you hear what seems to be the rough static of precipitation, the intransigent melodies of car horns, and the echo of urban space. Would those associations be clear to the listener without the provided title, “A Rainy Night in Shanghai”? Perhaps not, but the one-line summary combined with the four minutes of audio certainly opens a window into a hypnotic state.
• December 13, 2015: The 19th anniversary of Disquiet.com.
• Ongoing: The Disquiet Junto series of weekly communal music projects explore constraints as a springboard for creativity and productivity. There is a new project each Thursday afternoon (California time), and it is due the following Monday at 11:59pm: soundcloud.com.
• My book on Aphex Twin's landmark 1994 album, Selected Ambient Works Vol. II, published as part of the 33 1/3 series, an imprint of Bloomsbury, is now in its second printing. It can be purchased at amazon.com, among other places.