Following up from this month’s reading list, Soundings presents Listenings!
For all of the reading lists online that focus on sound studies, there is a noticeable lack of listening recommendations. This page will be home to a growing list of record label releases, interactive websites and ethnographic films that feature field recordists doing sonic ethnography.
As most recordists would advocate, it is strongly recommended that listening in the classroom not cut the piece short. If a piece is 15 minutes long, listen to the entire work! Many students have never sat and listened to a soundscape at all. The duration of the work may afford listeners the opportunity to ‘open up their ears’ to the experience.
As always, suggestions are encouraged. Ely can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Gruen 127 / LC 09488 – Cathy Lane “The Hebrides Suite: Mapping the Islands in Sound” (2013)
Cathy Lane is the co-director of Creative Research into Sound Arts Practice (CRiSAP), University of the Arts London, whose impact on the sonic arts in the UK has been massive. Those interested in feminist sound art should have a look at the Her Noise archive, presently co-curated by Lane and Holly Ingleton. “The Hebrides Suite” uses a wonderful balance of soundscape compositions, spoken word, and various archival materials to create a historical and cultural trace of sounds on the Isle of Benbecula, Scotland. Out on the German label Gruenrekorder that has a wonderful soundscape series, this CD is a condensed version of her recent exhibition and performance series that has toured internationally.
TO:47 – Chris Watson “Weather Report” (2003)
A record from the acclaimed UK recordist Chris Watson, this is perhaps his most acclaimed release. Watson has been active for many decades producing recordings for the BBC, and runs recording excursions to Iceland with fellow recordist and creative technologist Jez Riley French. “Weather Report” features the epic Vatnajkull, an eighteen-minute sonic collage composed of shifting glaciers picked up by hydrophones. The result is a very unique listening experience that points toward our relationship to the changing (and degrading) sonic environment.
HRT15009 – Steven Feld “Voices of the Rainforest” (1991)
It would be remiss of me to start a list of sonic ethnography without mentioning Feld’s ongoing research with the Kaluli of Bosavi, Papua New Guinea. Feld’s use of soundscape composition is heard when condensing an entire day’s worth of community activities, rituals and customs into an hour-long experience. Three standout tracks are From Morning Night to Real Morning, From Afternoon to Afternoon Darkening, and From Night to Inside Night. And for those familiar with his writings about one of his long-time interlocutors, Ulahi, the track Relaxing by the Creek is particularly poetic.
ES 02002 – Hildegard Westerkamp “Into India” (2002)
This record is an excellent introduction to the acoustic ecology movement, though it was released long after the World Soundscape Project. I use the piece Gently Penetrating Beneath the Sounding Surfaces of Another Place in the classroom to generate intrigue surrounding our perception of place and othered communities and cultures.
Interactive Programs and Webapps
Cities and Memory
Stuart Fowkes’ sound mapping and remix project has gained massive traction in recent years. A resident of Oxford active in the electroacoustic music scene, Fowkes has developed a worldwide sound map similar to Radio Aporee, but with the added capacity to contribute remixes of field recordings. Listeners then have the opportunity to hear the city as it was documented, and as the listener interpreted it. Fowkes regularly posts new sounds on Twitter and Facebook, is incredibly knowledgeable, and a pleasure to chat with!
With participants from all over the world uploading soundscapes, Noll refers to his project as “experiments on localized radio, performative broadcasting and affective geographies” (Noll 2014). All the sounds are hosted by archive.org, a not for profit that provides 2 million daily users with open access to their growing “digital library of internet sites and other cultural artifacts”.
Sound maps like Radio Aporee bring the composition into the world of sound art, and the world of sound art into digital spaces. When these sound maps are inherently collaborative endeavours, the result is the circulation of recordings and electroacoustic manipulations that create a meta-composition – a mosaic – constituted of sonic environments.
I recommend interacting with Sound Transit, particularly in the classroom, for two reasons. Firstly, it is fun to play with. Secondly, listening to compositions created through interaction can raise important ontological and epistemological issues about the manipulation of field recordings. The interface allows for automated composition by creating ‘flight plans’. In the creation of an itinerary, a script generates soundscapes that fade in and out of one another during these ‘trips’. These soundscapes create associations between recordings from around the world, many of which are highly problematic pairings of sounds from vastly different locations. The user-friendly interface is a helpful prompt for discussion within the classroom about the use of field recordings when separated from their source or original context. Sound Transit draws from the work of Aaron Ximm AKA The Quiet American, who creates high quality binaural recordings with head-worn microphones. His recordings can also be used in the classroom to demonstrate the technical ability to create immersive sonic environments.