Recording the wind is often a boring task, but I wanted to create something a bit different with my recordings. Using pipes of different length to record through, I could use the natural acoustic qualities of the pipes to manipulate the wind into something a little more musical, each pipe creating a different note, I can mix and match the notes to create the ideal sound for the wind in my piece – I can also use pitch shifters to tune the sounds to one another. I used four pipes: one metal, one cardboard, and two PVC pipes of different lengths. I spend about an hour recording sound in the college courtyard. I’ve included a little recording that includes some talking and some of the pipe sounds.
Firstly, who listens to electroacoustic music? Electroacoustic musicians, ravers, unwitting film goers? Not a great many people would actually say they listened to ‘electroacoustic music’; there are plenty of EDM-heads around, and progressive rock generally shares a lot of characteristics with electroacoustic music – say for a distinct lack of spatiality – and film soundtracks often use heavily electronically processed sound recordings to create music (often to blur the line between the soundtrack of the film and its diegetic sounds, a great example being Tarkovsky’s Stalker). The art world is saturated with great electroacoustic music, though a purist wouldn’t like to hear it – at least, not from an amateur like me. So, we do listen to electroacoustic music, but unintentionally?
I want to know how to make electroacoustic music interesting and accessible, without it being made a side-attraction; I believe electroacoustic music has the capacity to transport a person who’s totally ‘uneducated’ (in terms of music) into a fascinating sonic environment, and I want to share that.
My question is: how does one exhibit an unchanging piece of electroacoustic music (in my case a soundscape composition) and what makes live exhibition important for pre-recorded music – if it is? An equivalent question is often posed when working with film, but unlike the relationship between film and theatre, pre-recorded music and live music are often grouped incredibly closely together, though they are equally dissimilar. I believe this is partly due to a lack of adequate notation for pre-recorded electronic music – due to the prevalence of time/pitch notation – though I won’t get into that now.
In his 2014 article ‘Shamanic diffusions: a technoshamanic philosophy of electroacoustic music’, Jon Weinel describes the phenomenon of unification (and positive loss-of-self) that can arise when a large group of people are subjected to the same piece of spatially complex and rhythmically simple music – such as a psytrance – and looks at the role of the DJ, or ‘technoshaman’, in guiding that experience. His article clearly argues a necessity for live exhibition of pre-recorded electroacoustic music to fully utilise the hypnotic qualities of psytrance and other styles of EDM, but still sees the role of the DJ as indispensable in guiding the collective psychoacoustic journey. However convincing this article is – and I was utterly convince I should be dosing up on stimulants and heading to a rave, for about an hour after reading it – the audience at such an event are experiencing a unique piece of live music, though it is often created from entire tracks. This avenue of exploration only leads me to two questions: how long does a piece of pre-recorded sound have to be to considered its own piece of music at a live event, and does the importance of exhibition in pre-recorded music lie in experiencing a collection of curated works? So, despite this being an interesting argument for the necessity of live electroacoustic music, this doesn’t apply to my situation (as I’ll be exhibiting one piece).
Another argument that can be made for the exhibition of pre-recorded electroacoustic music is simply to allow the audience to access the equipment necessary to experience the music fully. But this argument can be somewhat discounted when exhibiting a stereo composition – as most people will have access to sufficient headphones or stereo speakers to experience the full effect of the composition – which means it needn’t apply to my current work, or should be given little weight in my consideration.
We could also look at building the environment for the listening experience, and creating a space in which the listener can be fully immersed in the composition; we could add visual stimuli and/or create a multi-sensory experience. But, personally, I don’t like supplementary visual (or other) information, as almost always this information is either unnecessary or ends up being a feature of the piece and therefore equal and necessary for the composition – thus creating something new entirely, or being a distraction. But, isolation, or a controlled listening environment, is something that could benefit my work, which makes this argument quite compelling. Then again, where does one draw the line? What is the difference between a multi-sensory exhibit, and simply creating an adequate listening environment? And should one create their piece for a particular listening environment? Kevin Austin sheds a lot of light on this question in a masterclass video on electroacoustic composition and working in an electroacoustic studio – he talks about the effect your working environment will have on your final composition.
So, how do I apply this to my work; how am I going to exhibit my work? The most important thing I’ve been considering is isolation, how does one isolate a listener from their immediate environment – considering especially how to avoid making the novelty of it a distraction? I’ve been considering two options, either the use of a separate room from the rest of the exhibition, or a semi-soundproof booth within the main exhibition. Next I want to provide the technology to experience the full scope of the music, I’ll do this by simply offering the headphones I used for mixing the piece for the listener to use, or by installing high-fidelity stereo speakers into the booth or room of the exhibition. As for visual supplements: I think I’ll keep those to a minimum.
And, finally, the reason I think this is necessary for my piece is just because people don’t like electroacoustic music – normal people don’t, and this is the only time I’ll get the chance to show normal people this work. I don’t want to make soundscapes for people who understand how I made them, and will see it as an intellectual exercise; I don’t want Trevor Wishart to enjoy my piece, nor would I want Jonty Harrison to wind down to it. I don’t see electroacoustic music that way, the mystery is one of the most beautiful parts of the experience – and I guess I just want people to experience that. Exhibition of electroacoustic music is about catching a group of people and letting them experience something they haven’t before. I remember the first time I learned how to pan a track in ‘MixCraft’ when I was about ten years old: I turned off all the lights, I got my friends to dizzy themselves, then I gave them headphones and spun the entire acoustic environment around their heads until they fell over – and they thought it was magic.
Thanks for reading my ramblings!
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 tent.
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.
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.
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.
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.