Thursday 30 April 2020

Rhythmanalysis (originally published Feb 2017)

Being still and listening are a mindful practice in themselves, and they occur naturally as part of the practice of field recording. But being still and listening are not ‘all there is’ to field recording. There is of course the technical form itself, and the aspects of post-production that inevitably are involved. What I am to suggest is that after and beyond these circles of engagement there is a wider philosophical context in which the practice of field recording can be placed. We have touched on various forms of field recording, each having its own particular angle and associated practices. But beyond the practicalities of these forms of sound work lies a bigger picture. The bigger picture is what can unfold in our awareness. Of course while we are listening and recording there is awareness and we need it to perform the task. But rather like a cognitive post-production, perhaps more importantly comes an awareness afterwards, when we move from the immersive to the reflective. It is this reflection that can lead to an understanding and consciousness of ever widening circles. For this, the paradigm is what Lefebvre called rhythmanalysis. Just as fractal analysis infers the potentially infinite observation of repeating patterns creating larger or more complex shapes, rhythmanalysis can observe and consider then in audible terms, the macro and the micro-scopic aspects of sound and vibration, and patterns, in relation to our lives, and life itself, over time. To put this in context: field recording deals with sound, time, and location. As listeners and field recordists, we are dealing with the cynical energy of sound, which becomes recognisable as characteristic patterns. These patterns themselves may be part of larger temporal cycles. All of this occurs in places. From the cyclical modulation of the frequencies of sound waves we are ‘analysing’ when we are listening, to the patternsof the recognisable sounds we hear, to the patterns of the occurrence of the sounds, to the changes of the occurrences of the sounds in that space over a time, to the changes over history. Cycles, patterns, time, changes, rhythms, and ultimately rhythmanalysis. To clarify by revisiting the examples above: field recording is not simply frequency analysis; it is not simply pattern analysis, nor temporal analysis or historical analysis, but the one aspect that unites and connects all of these is the principle of rhythm. Therefore rhythm for the reasons above; and analysis because we are listening and thinking, we are making a recording but we listen back and we review, we analyse the content and we make comment. Field recording practice is a form of rhythmanalysis.

Putting The Two Together

Our memories fail therefore, and our memories change over time. Sometimes a more ‘exact' reference brings all the details flooding back. Sound has the immersive / emotional quality of bringing us ‘back' to a place or experience. In terms of recording the built environment, spaces change, and cultures change; yet the spaces themselves always offer potential for sound that can only be limited by either technology or the imagination.

Today I went to OVADA in Oxford, to recce the place for a piece. It seemed deathly quiet, uninteresting. I stood still and eventually after waiting long enough I began to hear the sound of an electric socket timer not too far away. With the Roland R-05 handheld recorder I had brought with me, I placed it upside down right next to the timer. I set recording levels to high, and began to record.
You can hear the recording here. I will be making several visits to this place over the next few weeks.

Value In The Passing Of Time

As soon as a sound has been committed to tape, it becomes a historical document of value and interest. It is a ‘record’ of a moment in the history of the world. The process of field recording is like taking a pipette sample of the living breathing vibrating world, from the continuum of life and sound. And any sound sample can become relevant. Rather like the ‘pointless’ photos we protest about being taken at the time, four years later we are so grateful that some kind of imprint exists.

I recently listened to the ambience of empty rooms in the Twin Towers in New York, from a recording in 2000 by Francisco Lopez. It may not have seemed that relevant to capture an ‘empty room ambience’ at the time, but of course listening to that sound in 2017 is now eerie, as that space (and the entire building that contained it) no longer exists. The value of this unproven ambient recording increases directly, from historical events.

The Art Of Being There

There’s always something to capture with field recording. You go out to somewhere you think is quiet and boring.. stand or sit, listen, and then ...something appears. Sound is energy; energy is life - there are very few places you can go where neither of these are present. Even if all you get is ‘silence’ there will be a quality to it, an ambience or a tone that speaks of where or how it was recorded. Or it might be that even the sound of your handling of the recorder at the beginning and end of the sequence that mark as some quote marks ” “ to some ‘silence’? Either way, you capture something: a movement, a gesture, a quality of sound, it is some form of energy transfer, and you capture a moment in time.

Monday 1 August 2016

JHBB Improvisation: Ableton Live & Akai APC

On 18th May 2016, I did a short talk and performed a piece at the TDE Research Student Conference. The conference was held in the John Henry Brookes Building, at Oxford Brookes, and was for research students in Architecture and other disciplines under the school of Technology and Design for the Built Environment. The Music department is now within this school, which suits me and my interests perfectly!

To give you some context: I had an archive of sounds (field recordings) that I recorded in the John Henry Brookes Building (JHBB) over the Summer of 2014 when involved in the 'Sound and Space' project, and I wanted to 'perform' the sounds live in an improvisatory way, in the building itself. Using Ableton Live 9 and a hardware controller, I was able to improvise a ten minute piece based on and using, field recordings taken in the JHBB.

In my mind, I wanted to be using an Ableton Push controller, with its 64 pads and potential to manipulate audio; but I hadn't one at that point and so instead I used my travel studio: the Akai APC Key25. This I have taken on tours with me and had great times making music in hotel rooms and on the bus. It allows me to play music by triggering clips, scenes, and also to mute, solo, mix, and manipulate audio effects and software parameters by hand without using a mouse. It also has tiny keyboard and fits in a bag.
DJ the pace: detailing the Frideswide Square sound map

The main drive of the talk was about how collecting sounds in the built environment allows us to play with 'place' and 'space', and (using Bourriaud's Post Production as a context) how you can essentially 'DJ' the place. I gave examples of sound maps online, and how when you can mix two sounds together at the same time you create something new. This concept was also linked loosely to Italio Calvino’s Invisible Cities

My piece was improvised, and ‘open’. I like the idea that there is no monolithic version of it. I like also this kind of democracy of (a) place, discovered and uncovered through sound, and I want to play with this more in giving people the opportunity to DJ a location sonically - creating their own version and discovering new interpretations of place as they go.

Performing the sounds of the JHBB
As you can see I had the session projected up behind me, so the performance could be viewed as happening in real time! 

Building Site Slice

Monday, 1 August 2016

Here’s something I did using Ableton Push 2

In Ableton as with many DAWs you can ‘slice’ a sample into many different parts, creating a palette of sounds from which new sounds and patterns can be created. Very often people use intros to a pre-existing track, or the entire song, even. For this one I used a field recording: this means sounds recorded outside of a studio, in the place where the sounds ‘naturally’ occur.

I tend to find myself making field recordings around building sites (!). This one I recorded on 29th Sept 2011, I think I was in Summertown in Oxford. 

Sliced up into Ableton, and using the Push 2 controller, I’m able to re-imagine the sounds in rhythmic and harmonic ways. I made this track in minutes, then went back to pick up and tweak the arrangement. It’s rough, but you can see here how you can take a general field recording of construction and turn it into a musical piece. I haven’t gone overboard with either the quantisation or the melodic content, instead just content to noodle with the sounds I had.

The original field recording was about 30 seconds but sliced up and playing around with the sections I have made a 3 minute piece. Listen to the sliced version before the original, it’s more interesting that way!

Original field recording: