Audio: The Listening Post

Back in June I worked on ‘The Listening Post’ – an ambitious sound installation, co-commissioned by LIFT and 14-18 NOW that formed part of the ‘After a War‘ exhibition at the Battersea Arts Centre.

IMG_1613_webWriters James Wilkes and Tom Chivers led the project researching the history and lives of Battersea residents during the First World War. Their research into local archives and town records unearthed a wealth of material to work with, featuring stories from conscientious objectors, the struggles of munitionettes and the local paranoia surrounding activities of German bakers (below).

The pieces were produced and presented across more than 14 speakers spread throughout the installation, supported by work from graphic designer Lina Hakim and installation designer Gary Campbell.

Each section of the installation evoked a different feeling and theme, ranging from orchid growing to leisure activities (roller skating and hot air ballooning) before moving onto the darker tones of wartime industry and tribunals for conscientious objectors.

You can listen to James below as he gives a guided overview of the installation:

https://soundcloud.com/liftfestival/lift2014-after-a-war-a-tour-of-the-listening-post-with-james-wilkes

You can read a review of the event here.

Audio: The Sound in Silence, the Silence in sound

The space between silence and noise

Last year, as part of an AHRC funded project, I was commissioned to make a short experimental audio documentary on the subject of silence. I was given freedom as to how I explored this subject and so I set out to capture the thoughts of those who worked with sound and in silent spaces.

Click here to download it.

The result, unsurprisingly, was that silence meant lots of different things to different people and so thematically it was very noisy! This relationship between noise and silence was one I was keen to explore through the production and so the piece is filled with hiss, distortion and feedback in an attempt to echo the noisy subject matter. This was explored further through the use of interviews but also with extracts of the poem ‘Describing Silence’ which are intercut throughout. This piece written by James Wilkes was a response to his time spent in total silence and explores some of the self generated noise born out of silence.

The audio work was an artistic output for an Arts and Humanities Research Council funded project exploring the role of silence in academia and other professional fields. The project was run by the Science Communication Centre at Imperial College London and the piece was featured at one of their events.

Production Notes

  • The piece features interviews with Sophie Scott (cognitive neuroscientist), James Wilkes (poet and writer), Sara Mohr-Pietsch (BBC Radio 3 presenter), Cheryl Tipp (Natural Sounds Curator, British Library) and Vidyadaka (London Buddhist Centre).
  • The idea of distortion and noise influenced the production from the early stages and as work continued I really wanted to create an intense build up of noise that would level off and really help mark the silence experienced later on in the anechoic chamber.
  • The piece written by James Wilkes ‘Describing Silence‘ – can be heard in full below:
  • The interview and reading from James was recorded in an anechoic chamber based at UCL. The space itself is very strange to stand in, the best comparison I can think of is what happens to your hearing when you travel in a pressurised aeroplane. In terms of recording audio in there, it was actually a pretty boring space to record in!
  • Although it did crop up in several interviews I was keen to avoid referencing John Cage’s 4:33 – there are some great pieces on this already (particularly here: http://www.thirdcoastfestival.org/library/1258-john-cage-and-the-question-of-genre) and it justifies a much longer discussion than I could have accommodated for it.
  • The piece was recorded on a Zoom H4n and a Marantz PMD661 with AKG D230 dynamic microphone. It was edited and composed in Ableton Live.

Audio Piece: The List

Earlier in the year I received a commission to produce some experimental audio work on the theme of ‘dreams’ for the ‘Dark Matters’ event at the Manchester Museum of Science and Industry. For this commission I collaborated with poet James Wilkes who has previously been a poet in residence at the UCL Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience and run the ‘Vox Lab’ project. 

The resulting pieces we produced present a list detailing a week’s worth of dreams – pulling an odd array of incoherent imagery, places and situations into the formalised structure of a list. The list was compiled and narrated by James and then worked into three soundscape movements, each of which were responsive to elements of the list content.

Dreams naturally offer a rich source of imagery to work from, they’re patchy, incoherent and often overflowing with symbolism, so I really like the idea of pulling all this messy imagery into a structured, arbitrary list. In a sense, The List is an attempt to bring order to some of the madness that breaks loose within our nocturnal imaginations. The conscious brain seeking for order from the chaotic ramblings of the unconscious mind.

The  pieces were presented in the form of an In The Dark listening event held at the museum and which pulled together a collection of audio works exploring the human mind, dreams and brain disorders. After curating an In The Dark event for ‘The Voice’  (an event produced by James at the Wellcome Collection) it was great to work with James directly on the production of this commission. It was also fantastic to be given the opportunity to bring creative audio work within the confines of a Science Museum and introduce In The Dark to an audience outside of London!

Voices In The Dark

In The Dark @ The Voice, Wellcome Collection

Friday 1 March 2013, 19.00-23.00

The Voice

In a week’s time In The Dark will be hosting a special listening event at the Wellcome Collection, as part of the larger Voice event. We will be curating an evening of listening that taps into our complex relationship with the voice, featuring a rich chorus of vocalisations, speech and other oral oddities. The listening event will run for approximately 20 minutes and will be repeated throughout the night (timings below) – I’ve just finished mixing the playlist and we’ve managed to squeeze in an interesting range of material, from strong narrative pieces to the more avant garde.

In addition to our own event, there’s a load of other great stuff going on under the same roof, including talks exploring the science of speech, live vocal demonstrations from yodellers and sports commentators, talking parrots and technology that will remix your voice in real time. It’s all FREE as well, so if you’re in London next Friday you may as well drop by and have a look / listen for yourself.

Listening times for our sessions are as follows:

19.30,

20.15,

21.00,

21.45,

22.30.

Hope to see you there.

In The Dark: Beyond The Grave

It’s halloween, so I thought it’d be a good opportunity to post some audio shorts and transitions produced for the In The Dark ‘Beyond The Grave’ event, held back in July. The event took place in the derelict chapel in the grounds of Abney cemetery, Stoke Newington. We ran two sessions with the later taking place in almost complete darkness. Audience members were locked inside the Chapel for their own safety!

These shorts acted as transitions between the main pieces featured at the event.

BONUS TRIP TO HELL: Brighton Horror Hotel

 

Not quite a bonus or a trip to hell, but anyway here’s an extra recording of a Ghost Train taken whilst on a trip to Brighton back in May. Walking along the pier we came across the ‘Horror Hotel’ and couldn’t resist paying for a ride inside. Screams generously provided by my girlfriend.

[audio https://dl.dropbox.com/u/13042873/Fright%20Night/Ghost%20Train.mp3]

 

Expanding on the power of the image

Non-linear use of Multimedia

I was recently made aware of the online platform Thinglink.com – which essentially allows you to ‘tag’ an image and embed media from around the web – such as from YouTube and Soundcloud. Anyway this really got me thinking about some of the potential that such a platform offers – images provide a really powerful and direct way of communicating something (an image is worth a thousand words, bla bla) – and being able to combine an image with additional multimedia or information can offer a much richer experience to the audience.

For example, you could use an image as a backdrop for presenting other media (such as related video and audio), or you could expand upon an image, by tagging key areas and providing additional context with video, audio, text and other images.

I thought a lot about how this could be used in terms of story telling and perhaps even communicating science, particularly by augmenting image diagrams. There’s loads of cool interactive / animated diagrams and educational apps already out there, that essentially bring textbooks into the digital sphere, but they take a lot of ‘know-how’ and time to develop. Thinglink offers a quick and accessible route for users to create their own interactive diagrams and multimedia packages, through which to share a rich wealth of information and also tell stories through non-linear pathways.

So I took my recent audio documentary on the vOICe technology (you can listen to it here) and I cut out sections that matched up with a diagram I found in a New Scientist article on the same subject (you can read it here).

Diagram below:

I then uploaded my clips to Soundcloud here:

and used Thinglink to embed the short sound files into the New Scientist diagram image – to produce an interactive diagram of sorts. The audio accompaniments augment the visual impact of the New Scientist diagram with some added ‘context’ from my documentary. Users can explore the subject at their own pace and explore the clips in any order they choose. Click here to see it all together.

This was just a really quick proof of concept mock up, using existing work – but I’m really keen to start using this platform as a way of quickly creating rich multimedia packages, which combine images, video and audio to communicate stories, ideas and information in a non-linear fashion.

Audio feature: Oh, I See

Seeing with your ears.

An audio feature I produced over the summer for Pod Academy, exploring the development of the vOICe technology and it’s impact on blind users. The vOICe is a computer program developed by dutch engineer Dr Peter Meijer which essentially converts images into sound. Through training and experience blind users can learn to interpret these sounds as a sort of ‘synthetic vision’. The piece explores the technology from the perspective of blind user Pat Fletcher, and uncovers some of the science and technology behind its use with it’s creator Dr Peter Meijer and cognitive psychologist Dr Michael Proulx (University of Bath).

It was my thought that technology and the computer would be my way out of blindness.

-Pat Fletcher, vOICe user

Download it HERE

Pat Fletcher
Blind user Pat Fletcher uses the vOICe with video glasses, stereo headphones and a portable notebook computer (Image: Barbara Schweizer )

Essentially, the software takes spatial information captured by a camera and converts this into a coded soundscape. Users can then learn how to decode this auditory signal into a visual one thanks to a process known as ‘sensory substitution’, where information from one sense is fed to the brain via another. Fundamentally what the vOICe is doing is re-routing information usually obtained by the eyes and delivering it through another sense organ, the ears.

Although the neuroscience and psychology behind the technology is still largely unknown, it is thought that the visual cortex is eventually recruited to process the incoming auditory information and through experience, is able to decode it as spatial / visual information. There’s a great article over at New Scientist that goes into greater depth about the neuroscience behind it  – including a useful diagram depicting how the technology works.

The software is currently freely available and can be used with virtually any imaging device, from webcams to camera-mounted glasses – there’s even an android version available for mobile devices! With the increasing prevalence of mobile computing, the vOICe technology is liberating users from their blindness, allowing them to step outside and experience the world through a completely new visual perspective.

For more information visit: http://www.seeingwithsound.com/ where you can experiment with the vOICe for youself and learn more about how it works. I’ve also prepared a page with a collection of images as heard through the vOICe software, including some featured within the piece above.

Music

  1. Hypermagic – Start Again Start
  2. Ed Prosser – Untitled
  3. – – b31
  4. No Color – L’Aube
  5. Hpermagic – Pico Bisco
  6. Ed Prosser – Untitled
  7. Marcel Pequel – Four

Freesound Credits (freesoundarchive.com)

  1. Alarm Clock – 14262__xyzr-kx__alarm-clock
  2. Camera Shutter – 16071__heigh-hoo__nikonf4
  3. Data sound – 3647__suonho__futuretrocomputing-10-suonho

Pod Academy – In The Morgue

I’ve recently started producing podcasts for a new non-profit organisation called Pod Academy – they release weekly podcasts on academia and research, covering everything from the arts and culture to science and the environment. There’s a really nice range of subjects covered by the podcasts and their library is growing on a weekly basis. You can browse what they have to offer here.

Auto-erotic Asphyxiation

My latest offering takes a trip around the morgue of the Sunderland Royal Infirmary, with pathologist Dr Stuart Hamilton as a guide. The piece provides a glimpse into mortuary life,  from working with the dead on a daily basis, to dealing with cross dressing ‘auto-erotic asphyxiation’ fatalities.

You can listen to the piece over at the Pod Academy website here. Or download it here. The piece takes material recorded for my larger documentary piece ‘The D-Word’.

If you want to stay up to date with the podcasts you can subscribe to their podcast feed via iTunes.

On Location: Writers, Sounds and Places

Dartmoor

A couple of weeks ago I took part in the ‘On Location: Writers, Sounds and Places’ event at the British Library, which was organised in collaboration with The Guardian and In The Dark.

The event explored British landscapes, both urban and rural, through a collection of sounds, words and film and included a panel discussion chaired by the Guardian’s Madeline Bunting. On the panel were writer Rachel Lichtenstein, T.S. Eliot prizewinning poet Alice Oswald and Professor of Literature at the University of Essex, Marina Warner. The event set out to explore how writers, filmmakers and artists explore and capture the essence of British landscapes within their work – and the different approaches they take to achieve their art. You can read a lovely write up of the event by Cherly Tipp here.

To begin the event, I composed several sound pieces, which were to accompany and compliment live readings from both Alice Oswald and Rachel Lichtenstein. These pieces were designed to augment the imagery evoked within the readings and provide a powerful listening experience through the combination of spoken word and abstract sound. The pieces were mixed live under the readings, which brought an element of performance to the soundwork – something which I’d not really explored before in the context of listening events. This also introduced some lovely moments of serendipity, as abstract sounds from the compositions aligned themselves with the words of the readers.

Listening to the landscape

In darkness, Alice opened the event with a powerful reading of her piece ‘Sea Poem’, which was followed by a piece composed from an old recording of Ted Hughes, reading his piece ‘Wild Rock’ (listen below):

After this came  ‘A Whitechapel Walk’ from Rachel Lichtenstein, which introduced the sounds of moden Whitechapel into the auditorium. This was then followed by the second and final reading by Alice, who finished off with a her piece ‘Epileptic’ a piece which brought with it the sounds of night, fluttering wings and the distant tide.

 

You can hear the live recording from the event here: 

The tracklist is as follows:

  1. Alice Oswald – ‘Sea Poem’
  2. Ted Hughes – ‘Wild Rock’
  3. Rachel Lichtenstein – ‘A Whitechapel Walk’
  4. Alice Oswald – ‘Epileptic’

To close the event I’d composed a final soundscape which blended elements of both the rural and urban landscape, moving from the noise of the country into that of the city. With this piece I wanted to demonstrate noise as a feature of both the rural and urban soundscapes and so pulled out elements of both. This piece features a modified version of a previous work, ‘The Dustbin Man Cometh’ – which was produced for an In The Dark listening event back in March.

In addition to the event are a series of podcasts over at the Guardian which continue the themes of landscape literature, dedicating an episode each to the works of Alice and Rachel. You can also view the short film ‘Notes on Orford Ness’ which was screened at the event here, an aurally rich portrait of this unusual location, featuring extracts from writer Robert Macfarlane’s newly commissioned work, Untrue Island.

Audio piece: Porn Whales

From porn wails to porn whales

The idea for this piece fell out of a session playing around with audio samples taken from various pornography films, in a bid to produce something for an In the Dark listening event. After a while of manipulating and stretching out these smutty samples I was struck by how much the moans and groans came to resemble the calls of whales.

After a bit of whale sound research I worked to manipulate these sounds until they modelled the range of sounds associated with whales. From the high-pitched clicks, squeaks and squeals to the lower frequency rumbles. The sounds become slightly more unsettling when processed in this way (although out of context they didn’t originally sound that nice to begin with), removing the visual element with which these sounds were originally presented with, definitely made them more sinister. The high-pitched screams are particularly unsettling on their own, baring very little resemblance to the original sample.

However for the event this piece was to be presented at we were keen to finish with something fairly light hearted and I thought it would be much more fun to experiment and explore the concept of ‘porn whales’ than turn this into something dark and foreboding – there was plenty of that featured at the event anyway.

The sounds of the sea were added to provide a little context (recorded in Brighton on a zoom H4n) and the gentle, soothing music came from Kevin Macleod.

The piece was featured and played as part of the In the Dark ‘One Night Stand’ listening event at the Clachan Pub, London 14/05/12.

An added bonus – I thought I’d also share with you one of Isabella Rosseliini’s great Green Porno films – ‘Whale Sex’ :