Eleven – Camping and Recording


This weekend I ending up going on an unexpected camping trip, which was great! Other than being a great time, I managed to record the entire process of putting up a tent, as well as many sounds of nature and some reading of The Willows in the text – which Jamie did for me, which was quite brilliant of her (thanks Jamie).

This post is just going to be a few photos from the trip and a couple of things I learned recording with the Zoom H4N in the middle of nowhere.

Bringing loads of batteries was a good idea, recording at 96khz and 24bit was stupid – don’t do that if you’ve only got a 4gb card. Probably use a deadcat, but a jumper will do. Bring a clamp, you can use anything as a mic stand that way. Oh, and bring loads of water, it might just be sunny.

Thanks for reading.

Ten – On Rhythm in Soundscape Composition (and Adaptation)

Blog The Week, College

As I’ve stated in previous blog posts, I believe the primary literary device used (for suspense and tension) in The Willows is pacing. The use of simple devices, like alliteration and repetition, build pace throughout the text, and the periodic mention of the river along with the reoccurrence of other sonic events create expectations, which can later be broken or adhered to in order to shock or terrify the audience.

Pacing and rhythm, to me, are two descriptions of different levels of the same thing: timing. Though pacing tends to be seen as the timing of an entire piece, and rhythm being timing within a line of text or a single shot – a shorter segment of the piece – they are fundamentally the same thing. This is much the same as the relationship between pitch and timing – though less extreme – in music; pitch is simply a pulsation that happens at a speed fast enough to be perceived as a solid tone.

For me, this way of looking at time has been incredibly useful when considering ways in which to use rhythm in my sonic piece. As I am going to be truncating the narrative (or rather, ’emotional arc’ or ‘atmosphere over time’) of The Willows, I have attempted to recreate the pacing – which is so powerful – using rhythm. For a simple example: we could take the opening of the narrative, the river building in intensity, and use a rhythmic musical device to replicate that building pace that launches us into the story – we could even use a drum increasing in tempo for this opening. By changing this opening from its role in pacing the story to establishing a rhythm, in the sonic version, we are able to take what would’ve taken about ten minutes to read, and pack that same narrative/emotional/atmospheric information into perhaps a ten second build in tempo. Of course, this is a very rudimentary example, and there are obvious flaw in diminishing this build in tension to such a short piece of sound – it probably doesn’t create such suspense, the listener could simply miss it, or it could set an unwanted pace in the sonic piece that doesn’t leave space to represent faster events with any contrast – but thinking about time like this can be very practical when translating what is usually a two to three hour reading experience to a short (under half an hour) sonic composition.

That’s all I was thinking. Thanks for reading.

‘Come and See’: Review

College, Film Reviews, research

I looked blindly at her eyes, unable to recognise her; the blood from her mouth and her thighs seemed to originate in the same wound deep inside her; I was sure I’d been in love with her, but I couldn’t feel the mud on my face or the gun in my arms or the tearing of my lips. I’m still unsure it was her, and I know Florya was equally unsure, and the moment is soul destroying for this very reason. After two hours of intense subjectification, I was finally there with him; Florya is seeing a woman’s broken and raped body walking through the carnage and he feels it like it’s the girl he loves, and we – the audience – see it as though it’s the girl we love – our sister, our lover, our daughter. Perhaps this moment would take on another meaning if I could entirely avoid ‘the male gaze’, perhaps a far more atrocious one, but the relationship built between the protagonist (Florya) and ‘the girl he loves’ (Glasha), and the fact that we are forced into Florya’s viewpoint throughout the film, seems to invite us to experience this horrific event in parallel to Florya – as I did, much to my own anguish.

Come and See grabs your arm and tugs you innocently into the life of Florya. The film starts with a scene embodying the excitement of a danger you’re yet to fully understand. Then we are made to understand. This only accentuates the feeling of dread when we see Florya’s harrowingly naïve smile thrown at the camera over and over – the smile rising from his belief that he’ll be tugged gently towards heroism by joining the resistance movement.

The use of subjectification is perhaps the most powerful element of this film. Using subjective sound – both realistic and impressionistic – creates an immersive world, but leaves you stranded with only the experience of the characters. It creates the illusion of an expansive world by limiting your view of that world: the sonic experience of Come and See is intense and almost cluttered, but frequently seems incomplete, therefore you’re forced to auralise the space beyond the explicit sonic environment. The subjectivity of the soundscape gives you the explanations for everything you cannot hear, removing the need to hear everything.

on sonic art - mental reconstruction of an image from masked data with text

This, when coupled with the meandering camera movement, creates a sense of freedom and space while attaching you to the perspective of characters. This experience is at its most intense directly after Florya and Glasha narrowly escape the German dive bombers; Florya loses his hearing, resulting in the near loss of the diegetic sound for the next twenty minutes of the film. This sequence is particularly poignant due to it being simultaneously the closest we get to Florya’s perspective, and it being the most relatable section of the film – we understand the charming moments the pair of teenagers share while they’re alone, together. Looking back on this sequence, I immediately saw it as respite from the harsh world of the film, but I later realised it was pivotal in creating the heart wrenching finale I opened with.

I can only see one serious flaw with this film, and that’s the transition between the moments before the Soviet soldiers overpower the SS death squad, and the scene in which we witness their execution. Watching this sequence, I was unable to pinpoint the moment at which the balance of power was reversed. Perhaps this was simply a stylistic decision in order to heighten the feeling of uncertainty over the righteousness of the Soviet executioners, but on first viewing – and currently only viewing, as I dread experiencing it again – it gives the whole sequence a momentum that doesn’t give certain events the time they need to settle.

Overall, this film is harrowingly honest. Come and See is possibly the most powerful war film I’ve ever seen, and is certainly the most thoroughly anti-war film I’ve ever seen. There is no hero. There is no winner.

Nine – Inspiration or Adaptation?

Blog The Week, College

This blog post is just my thoughts on adaptation and inspiration, and why I’ve chosen to create a work inspired by The Willows, instead of an adaptation. I have also included my first audio blog (below), which is just a few minutes of my morning – perhaps try listening and reading at the same time, it’ll be less boring.

As I have tried to make clear from the beginning of this project, my piece is not an ‘adaptation’ of a story (The Willows) it is a piece inspired by the story. For me to truly understand and accept this has proved difficult; the most common question I find myself asking is, ‘What is the difference between an adaptation and an inspiration?’ Now, to define that might sound easy: an inspiration is a personal link to a piece of work, an idea that comes to you when or after experiencing the work, it’s more immediate than an adaptation and there isn’t necessarily a perceptible link between your final piece and the original; to counter that, an adaptation is – or should be – carefully considered, your final piece is a different version of the original story, and time is taken to ensure there is a direct link between the two. Furthermore, an adaptation has a certain responsibility to stay ‘true’ to the original work; as opposed to the inspiration’s responsibility to be independent from the original – if only to avoid claims of plagiarism. However, it’s not always that simple, and almost all compositional adaptations are examples in which a clear narrative link to the original work is only perceptible after a level of analysis that would – most likely – reveal any inspirations the composer had during the process of creating the piece. Which is why so many concept albums fall into the ‘loosely based on’ category; for example, Pink Floyd’s Animals is ‘loosely based on’ George Orwell’s Animal Farm, and saying it’s an adaptation would be inaccurate – although it’s conceptually similar, and the connection between the two works is clearly perceptible when listening to the album, there is a certain freedom Roger Waters exercises beyond that commonly accepted when adapting a work.

For me the choice was easy, I wasn’t going to restrict myself to adapting the story – partly because I knew it’d be so difficult to do so. This choice was made a little easier by the age of the story; legally I have the right to plagiarise it as much as I like, as it’s in the public domain – which is actually one of the reasons I am such an advocate for less strict copywrite law, it removes the element of fear when working with existing material, which for me at least allows for a more creative workflow. Having decided to just let my inspiration flow, after reading and studying the story, I’ve been able to take incredibly abstract things from the text – for instance the river intensity graph mentioned in blog ‘Eight‘.

Despite choosing such a loose way of representing and appreciating The Willows within my piece, it’s been difficult to know what is reasonable to lift from the story, and what is practical. All I wanted to capture from the story was the feeling of sublime horror I experienced reading it, and this meant I had to isolate that and lift that from the text. In attempting to do this I have experimented with isolating each part I can see: I’ve taken words from the text, thinking perhaps its essence might lie in its linguistic techniques; I’ve tried replicating its pacing, but I’ve get to create enough material to do so properly; I’ve tried using the series of events, but doing so is clearly lacking the essence I’m trying to reuse. I’m yet to find a way of isolating the feeling, and perhaps I need to go about it differently, maybe achieving the same feeling the text elicits – using sound – requires coming at it from a different perspective.

I’m yet to find a solution, but I’m just going to keep making things and thinking about how to say the things I want to say – maybe it’ll all click. Thanks for reading.

Recording and Processing Vocals – Part One

College, experiments

Due to my love of writing poetry – I would say ‘songs’, but I’m no singer – I decided to experiment with writing and recording some words inspired by The Willows. This (below) is what I came up with after about a day and a half.

Disregarding the rowing sounds at the end, and the flute – though it’s barely recognisable – this track is made up of six voice recordings. The recordings are each in a different location within my bedroom; they were recorded with a pair of Rode M5s, in a cross pattern (see sketch below), into a Zoom H4N.

Vocals setup one (full page)

I decided to record the vocals using several positions – there were eight recorded – for three reasons: one, I wanted to take advantage of the change in vocal quality from whispering near to the microphone and talking from a distance; two, I wanted to use the different acoustic qualities of the microphone positions to create a sense of space; three, I wanted to be able to analyse and compare these recordings in order to better understand the way in which source position effects a recording, so I may imitate 3D space more accurately in my finished piece.

Once I had my recordings I brought them into Adobe Audition, captured a noise print, then applied a batch noise reduction to all the files – just a very light reduction of the self produced noise from the Zoom.

Once denoised I brought them all into Ableton Live (below). Each voice was given a track, then I used an EQ to accentuate the acoustic qualities of each recording positionbringing up the low vocal frequencies in the close recording to accentuate the proximity effect, etc. Then each voice was given a position, the left and right recordings were pretty straightforward. Once this was done I warped each sound slightly, and cut pieces of silence between lines, until I found a synchronisation I liked – having the whisper first and the further recordings happen a little later, all in the hope of accentuating space.

ableton vocals one

Once a simple mix was established I then worked on each sound individually, I’ll take you through the process on the closest voice – the whisper – as that’s the sound with the most work done to it.

Firstly, this voice was positioned in the left of the stereo mix, I felt it needed to be predominately coming from one side to sound like an external voice, as opposed to a voice in your head. I also wanted to keep the voice sounding as though it was moving slightly closer; to do this I had the sound move from the left to the right, very subtly, and then resetting between lines. Secondly, I needed to EQ the voice with the movement I wanted it to make. As you can hear at the end of this test, the voice moves slightly overhead and from the left to the right. To achieve the attitudinal movement I used an EQ to bring out some of the higher tones as it moved from left to right, I also used a volume control to drop the level of the sound to give a sense of distance between the listener and the sound as it moved overhead.

As you can see, not a lot was done to each voice – no reverb or chorusing effects – but the method of recording in several positions allowed me to create an interesting effect, that could be easily manipulated just using the volume and panning of each track.