Posts tagged with recording methods

In December, 2011, I visited a protest outside of the Credit Suisse offices in Manhattan to make sound recordings. Below is the podcast that resulted. The event was staged against that day’s military contracting meeting, hosted by Credit Suisse, but connections to Occupy Wall Street were evident on many levels, from the organization of the protest to the perceptions of observers.

Image from

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Chris DeLaurenti, field recording specialist and member of the Phonographer’s Union, was on KUOW‘s “Weekday” program yesterday to discuss many of the most important issues around the study of sound. This post is a listening guide to the discussion, and serves also as a pretty decent primer for understanding how and why sound is useful as a type of analytic material.

“Sound Studies,” while increasingly common in the academy, still lacks basic definitions. This post is part of an ongoing effort to provide clear, descriptive expositions of what the study of sound encompasses – as an art form, as a humanistic science, and as a general philosophy.

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Speaking of film, as we have been, Melena Ryzik interviewed Clint Eastwood’s Academy Award-winning sound designer Alan Robert Murray yesterday.

The pursuit of authenticity apparently knows no bounds. Says Murray:

We went and recorded a lot in South Africa and tried to be accurate to the background. My recorder went to the shantytowns. We found circa 1990 phones that we believed would be in Mandela’s office. We went to Robben Island — the jail door you hear is actually Mandela’s cell door. We got to record in his cell, which is kind of eerie.

and …

In South Africa, we recruited 25 guys, professional players that they rounded up in Cape Town, and we had a professional rugby coach there. We got them together and we set them 25-30 yards apart and said, O.K., you guys run into each other as hard as you can. And I mean, it was just brutal what we got back.

Ryzik professes honestly that sound design is a mystery category, Academy-wise, that it’s “one of those categories that make people lose their Oscar pool.” Murray, like most people who deal with sound professionally, is obviously used to the association of invisibility with nonexistence that accounts for such a lack of awareness. (He starts the interview by saying “thanks for noticing. A lot of people just think the sound happens when they shoot the movie.”)

Coming up: a sound studies primer

The other day, a man with Tourette Syndrome got on the subway. The scenario played out as it usually does – people were jolted by an out-of-place sound, looked straight at the source for a few seconds until they figured out what was happening, and then slowly turned their attention back to what they were doing before. There’s an overwhelming normative pressure after a few seconds to look away – he can’t help it, don’t make him feel awkward. But what are the ethics of listening in a situation like this?

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In the 1950s, music enthusiasts in the Soviet Union made copies of banned Western records using sheets of x-ray film purchased from clinics and hospitals. Photographic film, like wax, acetate, or vinyl, is thick and firm enough to be used with commercially available music engraving machines. X-rays weren’t the ideal medium, being prone to warping, but they worked well enough, and were cheap to boot.

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How do you make a decent sound recording on the fly? The challenges are legion.

I’ve had a pretty good set-up going for about two years now, and for those interested in the technical details I’ll describe it today. This is what I use for every recording presented on this site, unless otherwise noted.

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In addition to discussion of sonic politics, this blog will include short audio sculptures that investigate the interaction between space and sound. This is a project that’s been in the conceptual stages for a while.

The idea is 1) to render an image of a space in the shortest time possible (always under four minutes, and usually under two); 2) to try to capture that space in an active moment so as to render its image robustly; and 3) to select politically compelling or aesthetically charged moments.

My only real background in art is as an amateur photographer who was lucky enough to be able to take multiple classes over the course of three years at a photography school where I was doing fundraising work. I read a lot and thought a lot about approaches to photography during those years, and what I picked up has informed my ideas about audio sculptures. I try to record the same event multiple times from different angles, and to think about framing.

Sound, of course, is very different from imagery. A recording (usually) has a definite length, and (usually) suggests a linear apprehension. Viewers are used to approaching visual media in a less linear, more deliberately subjective fashion. People don’t usually attend to photographs for more than a couple of minutes, and this threshold of interest likely holds for sound as well. I think it might be brazen to expect someone to listen to 11 minutes of a recording, unless they’ve really come to trust you, or unless there’s a rock-solid narrative, or unless it’s music they like. So I’m starting, at least, with shorter segments. Listen to them like you would look at a snapshot – expect funny juxtapositions, emphatic arrays of forms, minor narratives, and surreal scenes.

Artwork #1 was recorded inside a student art gallery in Madison, Wisconsin. For the first minute, I walked around with the door closed. You can hear voices. Then I opened the door and joined the group outside.

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