- CD Companion Introduction:Interpreting the Soundscape
The theme of LMJ16—Noises Off: Sound Beyond Music—maps out such a huge territory that it would be impossible to be representative here. So with apologies for the areas left out, this CD has been curated around what, for me, is a vital subset of the terrain: interpretations of our sonic environment and today's soundscape.
Within the arts, field recording, phonography and sonification deal specifically with the sonic environment. Soundscapes, however, generate interest from many other disciplines: animal communications, military technology, the media, urban planning, education, community activism, environmental monitoring, industrial design, noise and health, to name a few. For decades these fields have had little contact with each other, but there are now signs of a change as the value of cross-collaboration is increasingly appreciated. The LMJ16 CD brings together tracks by artists and others whose work potentially connects to other disciplines and whose ideas of interpretation allow environmental sounds to speak for themselves on the issues and locations being investigated.
Despite the slow global homogenization of the soundscape, many less-affected places still exhibit an amazing sonic diversity. Wildlife recording can document this preeminently well. The sheer musicality of insects, solo and en masse, is the subject of the tracks Blue Grass Music by Chris Watson and Taiwanese Animal Phonography by Yannick Dauby.
The tracks Scotian Shelf 1 and Scotian Shelf 2 by Tonya Wimmer are more ambiguous. Beautiful but eerie, these underwater recordings from the North Atlantic are the sonic environments of cetaceans and other oceanic species. Faint whale communications are audible, but so are the gas gun explosions of a geological survey. At this distance these too have aesthetic attractions, but close up they are powerful enough to destroy the hearing upon which sea creatures depend. Such recordings can monitor underwater sonic pollution.
Chris Watson's second track, Ant-Steps, has a bizarre connection with military research. As Watson explains, when he wanted to record deep inside ant nests, he borrowed an ultra-sensitive microphone designed by the U.S. Army. It is capable of picking up the footsteps of a single ant. The military purpose of the device remains a mystery. Watson was instructed never to look inside.
Sonification is usually understood as the translation of data into sound. Andrea Polli and Joe Gilmore's piece N. April 16, 2006, based on climate data from the North Pole, is a wonderful example. It is beautiful to hear, but with an edge that comes from knowing we are listening in to the processes, albeit interpreted, of our changing climate.
We live, for the most part unknowingly, in ever-present electromagnetic fields generated by our electro-technology. Much of it—-from AC mains, TVs, microwaves, computers, lighting—-is the by-product of other activities, but plenty is quite intentional. Security, communications and transport systems make extensive use of electromagnetic signals and investigating them is part of the sonification project. Christina Kubisch's piece Magnetic Nets does just that. It is composed from electromagnetic recordings of anti-theft gates in major stores and is salutary. (Remember this on your next shopping spree!)
In Möbius Fields, Charles Stankievech explores the parallel acoustic and electromagnetic worlds of contemporary cities. We hear the two aspects of the same locations during an ordinary journey on the Montreal metro. Familiar audible sounds were recorded on the way out and electromagnetic "noises" on the return. In a nice detail, the fine three-note chord unique to the Montreal metro is revealed to have both an acoustic and an electromagnetic component.
Bridge Vibrations by Rafal Flejter further reveals unheard sounds within the solid structures of St Saviours Dock Bridge in the Pool of London. By means of a self-built contact microphone attached to the bridge cables, vibrations created by the wind and passing footsteps are made audible. [End Page 69]
In a contrast to the quiet investigation of what is around us, Our Streets! by Chris DeLaurenti is a participant's ear on community politics. Recorded during the protests at the U.S. Republican Party convention in New York in 2004, the piece graphically documents the gamut from...