Posts Tagged: ‘soundscape’

Taking back the soundscape!

April 9, 2012 Posted by Milena D

Just a little Prezi thing I put together for last day of class (Cmns258) a bit of a hodge-podge of different initiatives, projects, uses of sounds and listening that are, at least in my view, transgressive and interesting.

Aural Postcard: Bikram, the Sound of Yoga

January 20, 2012 Posted by Milena D

Sadly I wasn’t able to record any of this experience which is prompting me to write…but it is understandable I couldn’t really bring a recorder into a bikram’s studio. The environment there struck me for two reasons, first in a good way and then in an off-putting way. The class started with a series of breathing exercises, long inhales and exhales. In a class of 30+ people the effect was amazing. Everyone exhaling at the same time made the sound not only full and rich but take on an almost modulated, off-phase quality because of the tiny delays between individual breaths. I felt like I was listening to a skillfully made electroacoustic composition. The breath felt amplified as natural a process of amplification as can be – a result of exaggerated listening…

Then the instructor put on a close mike and started the main part of the class. Now, my surprise wasn’t so much because of the novelty of using amplification for a generally small room of quiet yoga practitioners. My comment isn’t even about how amplification changed the relationship between her and the class. It’s more about the way she used her voice, which somehow thematically connected for me with the amplification itself. She spoke in sharp, forceful sequences fairly persistently like an aerobics instructor, or better yet – a bootcamp personal trainer to “go longer, go faster, go deeper, go more, stop” into our yoga poses. The jarring of the physical environment – one of sweaty delirium and the sharp vocal feedback was hard to deal with, to say the least.

No doubt I’m not going back there (http://www.bikramyogavancouver.com/)

Aural Postcard: Paradise

July 9, 2010 Posted by Milena D

This post is a bit of a departure from “secondary orality” as it is about experiences in “nature” (covering my ass by putting contested words into quotation marks – priceless. Or words I use that I am not quite sure what I mean by…) However, in some ways this isn’t a departure, precisely because I bring my urbanized, city-cultured, secondary oral ears to the pristine locale of nature, and my listening experiences are so coloured. This is what precipitated this post – I was lying yesterday under a tree, on a huge garden in front of the house on Galiano, and reading. Rather, trying to read. I kept getting distracted by the “silence” around me. I will try to analyse this situation but of course, it is interpretive – I think two things were happening for me. I felt both a visceral lack of people/car/media sounds, and at the same time resisted and was frustrated by that and wanted to enjoy the sounds of nature around me. The second thing was the “silence” – it wasn’t actually silent, it was a constant chorus of very vocal birds, swooshing of hummingbird wings, the clear almost crisp woozing and buzzing of various insects near me, the gentle sway of trees and leaves, and the distant calls of bigger birds high up in the sky. I guess it was amazing that I could actually clearly hear and pick up on such a variety of natural sounds. So why did I feel like I was in the middle of a busy highway?????

Even inside the cabin I feel the omnipresent silence, and it will be a matter of time to see whether I’d get used to it (probably..) but for now I am in a very existential way haunted by it, reminded of being alone, and reminded that nature is a relaxing and pleasant, yet also dark and dangerous place. This morning I turned on the tv just to have some familiar sounds…embarrassing! I don’t even watch that much tv in the city, but I guess its pervasive nonetheless and habitually associated now with my urban memory.

A little update from 07-14-2010

More sounds I am aware of and able to distinguish: at least 5 to 7 types of bird calls, and almost link it to time of day; at least this much insect buzzes and behaviour; and when I went out kayaking around the Montague harbour park, the most curious thing, among soft water, washing over rocks – what sounded and looked like the sound of seaweed drying in the sun. A very faint sharp bubbling sound, almost like tiny frying pans – I stuck the microphone way close:

So it’s kinda remarkable to marvel at the subtlety of how much sounds I can pick up here, in the absence of the ever-present drowning spectral effect of traffic and [white] city noise. I was lucky enough to go camping last week to a beautiful place (Sombrio beach – pic on the left) for four days and that’s where I started to notice the granular [well, actually, quite pronounced] differences in ocean and wave sounds – a sound we think of as uniform or even “universal” yet no two waves are ever the same. What I hadn’t thought of before was the differences introduced by surrounding terrain, type of body of water, ocean floor – rock, pebble vs. sand or mud, and strength of tide. With the sounds of the ocean as a leitmotif of my recent times I’ve noticed my senses tuning into the unique sounds of pebbles under my feet, and the water of the ocean rhythmically washing over different types of beaches. Below are three samples that I found most strikingly different. The first, Sombrio, waves are washing over a bed of round pebbles, soft edges, and the sound of the wave retreating had, I noticed, a particular sound quality, the words for which elude me (impoverished vocabulary to describe sound) and the best articulation I can give is that it sounded like a flanger effect – a natural comb filter most likely, produced by tiny periodic phase differences. It was a crisp, liquid sound with a strong peak near the 1kHz, very particular sound. I noticed later on, though I didn’t make a recording of it, in a fresh water bed, the sound of water going over jagged, sharp rocks was just slightly (but noticeably) different. I am not sure whether the fact it wasn’t salt water had anything to do with it. It had a similar sharp timbre, but without the flanger effect….wonder why? The last two samples are also interesting to compare. One is also Sombrio but the ocean waves come over a mostly sandy bed – so note the difference with the first recording. However, there is still an air of mist and the deep hissing of foam from the ocean tide that is missing in the quiet waters of Galiano (last recording) in a small alcove of a beach – there, the water is calm and gentle.

 

Aural Postcard – Suffering for art?

March 24, 2010 Posted by Milena D

During the last FUSE I went to (monthly event at the Vancouver Art Gallery), which by the way sucked anyway, with low attendance and third grade art/performances, I decided to once again employ my new fervid passion for sound level measurements. I didn’t take any recordings or get too caught up in measuring out of courtesy to my company, but here’s what I do have…

These guys here were making some serious noise behind this Hawaii-esque curtain. I guess they are a hard rock band or punk band (who even knows, I never had much appreciation for either) so I don’t know how to interpret the hula action there – ironic? In any case, the band not only sucked, but as it struck me – horribly over-amplified. For the size of space it was in, the atmosphere that was implied by the space – one of intimacy and acoustic-style recital, these guys really pulled out the big amps. It was quite unbearable and thus, I believe dB measurements were fairly accurate (see my notes in earlier posts on the iPhone app “dB” being unweighted and thus unreliable in certain situations).

Fuse-3 Fuse-1Now the second screenshot – Edge of a Wood, was a curious installation, and the reason why I want to juxtapose it to the first one is to illustrate when noise is actually appropriate and effective. (profoundly subjectively evaluated, of course) This installation consisted of a large-ish black room exhibition space with only a bench across from a full-size wall double video screen. Curiously I ended up walking right at the beginning of the art installation loop footage so what I found was relative silence and darkness. I made my way over to the bench and sat poised in expectation when a rumbling sound of an aircraft started to fade in, and the video started. The video was basically of a couple of helicopter lights being shone on what looked like a forest or mountain hill – the idea of the video presumably was to never know, and forever guess, exactly what was concealed by the darkness gauging by what was revealed by the lights. Meanwhile, the rumbling sound of the helicopter became progressively louder signalling the proximity of the craft to “us” the audience’s imaginary location. It became really loud. Way louder than the snapshot measurement I used above. It filled the space completely, there was simply nowhere to go, nothing to say, the space was so full of sound. Pink noise. But more periodic. Wide frequency rumble just pulsing through each one of us, resonating in every possible cavity. Like an invisible beast, who got angry and then it calmed down.

The reason why I titled this post “suffering for art” was just to trouble the notion of how art – particularly installation and performance art – challenges not simply our expectations, notions and beliefs, but quite practically – our senses. And sometimes – I would argue – it’s justified, but sometimes it’s really not, especially when it has the potential to harm or destroy our senses. Yes, I will admit that I am oh-so sick of shock-value art, but a further point is that while I can deal with emotional disturbance for some time I really don’t want to pay dearly for art in terms of my hearing. Or the affronts would at least have to be worth it!…

Aural Postcard: 2010 Olympics

March 1, 2010 Posted by Milena D

I really wanted to do an aural postcard of the festivities following some olympic events as that is a one time opportunity for a field recorder (I still warmly gloat over my recordings of Commercial Drive’s meyhem over EuroCup 2007 when Portugal was playing Greece). So in fact, I’ll have several aural postcards, with a multitude of recordings that I’ll try to load all up here. Once again, I have to explain the dB readings. While I used dB once again (the app) I wouldn’t say this time that the readings are off by 20dB, precisely because an unweighted scale of measurement means taking into account those low, rumbling traffic sounds that characterize the street (as opposed to the home). Thus I would venture to guess that these readings are up by more or less 10 dB, not more – it was pretty darn loud there!

Car-2 Main2

Annotation: I was standing in front of 5th Avenue theatre on Burrard street, recording with my iPhone the traffic and street mob sounds after Canada won gold at men’s hockey at the 2010 Winter Olympics. Clearly it was a big day for Canada.

Narrative: While the recordings represents snapshots of the ambience, what cannot be gleaned from them alone is the overall impression and patterns of soundmaking that in my opinion characterized the afternoon and evening that night. What was striking to me  the whole way home after the game and well into the evening is how the usual connotation of horns – a warning signal; communicating anger and annoyance – was turned into a friendly and catching overture. As I drove down Commercial Drive after the game, not feeling particularly patriotic, I was quickly taken with the fan cars – people waving flags and honking as they slowly drove up and down. Quickly I caught myself honking too, in response to other horns, as well as to get a rise out of pedestrians who seemed to be fans too. The opposite also worked – crowds of walking fans’ shouting got a response from almost every car, whether adorned in maple leafs or not. My friend and I quickly got into the flow of this strange communication between cars and cars, cars and people, people and people. It was as if the car was an extension of our voices projecting them outside the interior space we were in, pulling us into the soundscape of celebration, but it was also as if the cars had voices of their own that they raised above the ambience to greet each other. The energy generated by this call-and-response was amazing and very very tangible! It was a joyful experience to welcome and appreciate noise for once (not be annoyed by it, as I usually would be), to feed off it, in a situation of instant community. It was also an incredibly powerful participatory experience – everyone in the vicinity was beckoned into belonging. It was also profoundly a sonic experience. When I finally turned onto a less busy street, where cars were silent, it was very quickly obvious to me that honking was no longer appropriate, sought after or appreciated.

Being outside on foot was also a profoundly sonic experience. I noticed later on when I myself was out there downtown, if groups of people were walking towards each other (going in opposite directions) even though they were in visual line of sight, they did not holler and cheer each other until they were in auditory range of each other, rising levels, feeding off each other’s energy, in a communal roar fest. Same with cars – when I was driving, even if I can see a group of fans ahead of me, I waited (same as other drivers) to get into auditory range of them to begin honking and enjoy their cheering response. And the opposite, fans on foot would wait for a car to come near before they yelled congrats. The picture above plus the recording is of a group of fans positioned in the drop-off area in front of City Hall mall who hung out there for a while just cheering each passing car, trying to get a car honk symphony going especially when cars were stuck between two red lights in the small intersection. Even though I didn’t catch any cars on the street, it was busy and these guys got a rise of out many drivers, cheering together as any car approached.

Reivew – Sound Level Meters for the iPhone

February 25, 2010 Posted by Milena D

Just wanted to share two apps that I recently discovered for the iPhone. I was looking and trying to sift through various audio tools that are of decent quality given the hardware limitations (of which I am yet to educate myself).

One of them comes from Faber Acoustical I haven’t personally tried it, but it looks really good. So good, I had a dream about it (#nerddreams, what can you do). The Suite is $9.99, while the Sound Level Meter app standalone is $19.99, while a smaller app called dB is only 99 cents. As I don’t own any of them I can’t tell why the price disparity, as “dB” is a fun all-in-one snapshot of life – takes a picture with the date, time and dB measure for posterity. Some guesses are that perhaps “dB” doesn’t have A/C scale-weighting or other typical pro-SLM settings. However, in my opinion, unless you have a pro SML (those are in the vicinity of thousands of $$$) it might not be worth spending $20 on an app that you can’t calibrate professionally. I still think I’ll buy dB though, it’s too cute. And the Signal Suite, looks pretty good.

The other SLM comes from Studio Six Digital and is simply called SPL. I already bought that one ($8.99) and it’s quite good I think, readings seem accurate and stable, too bad I had already stored about six values before I realized the trim (the calibration setting) is set to +17.5 dB as default. Boo. I’ll have to redo those. Studio Six Digital also suggest a pro-calibration but offer that a typical trim would be +7 dB on the internal iPhone 3GS mic. I will give that a whirl.

Dare to Dream

Here is what I would ideally like – and why, oh why doesn’t it exist: A sound level meter app that comes with a signal noise generator for accurate calibration; many more slots for saving readings, a image capture capability with annotation (create a complete aural postcard of a place!); an embedded Spectrum and RTA visualization with each reading; A capture function – record dB readings or just peak values over a period of time; and an export function to export all the beautiful data in some great format to my computer.

Is that too much to ask?

America’s Vanishing Silence (story)

February 18, 2010 Posted by Milena D

A professional acoustic ecologist! Wow. Good quotes from the video below – “Silence is the absense of sound, but quiet is something very different – a space away from human noise.” … “so much of the noise people make today is irrelevant to the natural world around them – it’s like listening to a concert and then vacuuming, nothing to do with each other” … “It’s not about the recordings, it’s about the place.”

So let’s see, he is a soundtracker – he tracks “quiet” places in Washington State – in 1984 he identified 21 places with noise-free interval of 15 mins or longer, today there are only 3. The average noise-free interval today, near and around urban places is 2.5 to 3 minutes. Ecology – protecting those vanishing quiet places…

“Audio ecologist Gordon Hempton talks about America’s vanishing quiet spaces, and how our lives can be helped by listening to the silence.” Newsweek