Tuesday, August 28, 2012

While I listen to my current soundscape I generally try to first establish hearing the keynote sound. This being the anchor or fundamental tone and although the material may modulate around it, it is in reference to this point that everything else takes on its meaning. The psychologist of visual perception speaks of "figure" and "ground," the figure being that which is looked at while the ground exists only to give the figure its outline and mass. But the figure cannot exist without its ground; subtract it and the figure becomes shapeless, nonexistent. The keynote sounds of a landscape are those created by its geography and climate: water, wind, forests, birds, insects and animals. I always think of water as the main keynote of life. Water never dies. It lives forever reincarnated as rain, as waterfalls, and swirling rives. The rhythms of the sea are many: infra-biological--for the water changes pitch and timbre faster than the ear's resolving power to catch its changes. No two raindrops sound alike, as the attentive ear will detect. In parts of Australia it does not rain for two or more years. When it does, young children are sometimes frightened by the sound. On the Pacific coast of North America it rains gently but continuously on an average of 148 days each year.

I think of our sonic environments using two terms: hi-fi and lo-fi. A hi-fi system being one possessing a favorable signal-to-noise ratio. The hi-fi soundscape is one in which discrete sounds can be heard clearly because of the low ambient noise level. The quiet ambience of the hi-fi soundscape allows the listener to hear farther into the distance just as the countryside exercises long-range-viewing. In a lo-fi soundscape individual acoustic signals are obscured in an over dense population of sounds. On a downtown street corner there is very little distance; there is only presence. There is cross-talk on all the channels, and in order for the most ordinary sounds to be heard they have to be increasingly amplified. After the city settled down for the night, the soundscape, even of a big city like Cleveland, became hi-fi. I find it important to stop making sounds for a while and eavesdrop on those made by others.

When I'm recording in the field I enjoy taking mental notes and cue markers on my recorder of interesting sounds that may have happened by chance or strike my ear. I also take physical notes on my setting. I find it helpful to document and notate single sounds in the soundscape in order to get a better impression of their frequency and patterns of occurrence. This system is useful for the detailed analysis of isolated sound objects. Estimated distance from observer, its strength, whether it rises clearly out of the ambiance or is barely perceptible, whether the sound under consideration is isolable or is part of a larger context or message, and whether environmental conditions produce reverberation, echo or other effects. I find it useful to establish and document this information while recording because later when I'm in the editing process I have a much clearer understanding of the sounds that I've captured and how I can work with them.

If I'm interested in recording a large bell, my recording and samples would function best if the sound is isolable, and rises clearly out of the ambiance of the environment. While I'm recording I listen deeply to the distance, and always consider the amount of space between the source of the sound and my microphones. I'll often wear headphones while listening and making recordings. I am no longer surrounded by a sphere of moving elements, but become this sphere. By monitoring my recording I can clearly hear how these sounds are being captured and if the perspective and distance from these sounds seems correct for my intentions.

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