Listening to Spaces: Adventures in Binaural field recording!

I bought a pair Roland cs-10em microphones a couple months ago to use as part of the My Other Half mixed reality project, and I realised with all the business of getting resettled after being out of the country for a year, I hadn’t used them for much else. They sound pretty good, especially with the custom windscreens I made for them (basically faux fur on some thin netting, a bit of thread, and some hot glue πŸ˜‰ ), and I decided I should start recording more with them. I was in Sooke this weekend, so I wondered down to Whiffen Spit to record some waves.

The interesting thing I find about field recording is the expectation versus the reality of sounds. I had in my mind that I was going to record some calm binaural waves, but in reality, there was a lot of boat traffic going in an out of the Sooke Basin this weekend that can clearly be heard to the left, going around the spit, in and out of the marina. I hadn’t considered boat traffic at all, but sitting on the beach with microphones in my ears, it was all I could focus on. I hadn’t considered or even noticed the boats as being obtrusive to the soundscape until I sat down and listened.

This is why I find the practise of “sound walking” so interesting. We seldom focus on what we are hearing, and become used to the sounds that occupy our daily spaces. But, when you focus on just the sounds, you realise how much of an impact things have on the acoustic environment.

You can take a listen below (use headphones!) and I’ll try and add some more to this account. Also note, these were recorded in *my* ears, so if the effect doesn’t sound quiet right, ours ears are probably shaped pretty differently. That’s one of the big challenges of binaural in general!

 

 

A Semester in Norway

A photo of the coast of Stavanger with a ferry in background. The sun is setting.

It’s been 5 months since I posted that I was moving half-way across the world to Stavanger, Norway, to do an audio post-bacc at the University of Stavanger, so I felt that I should give a little update.

The city of Stavanger reminds me a lot of home. Like Victoria, it is a coastal city known for it’s old streets and wet weather. Sometimes, when I’m out for a jog, I forgot entirely that I’m not in British Columbia… and then my ears turn to the different sounds– the language, the soundscape– and I am reminded that that’s not the case.

Stavanger is a known for its street art which is celebration at the NuArt festival each fall. Wandering through the city there are playful and challenging images everywhere in all sizes– from the size of your thumb to the entire side of a a building. Mixed with the traditional white wooden Norwegian houses, it creates a city vibe that doesn’t take itself too seriously. This has mostly been my impression of Norwegians in general. Nothing is so serious. Just enjoy.

The audio engineering program itself has not been entirely what I’ve expected. There is a lack of structure to the program which in some ways is creatively liberating; but, in other ways, is uninspiring. No one is telling you what to explore; but, no one is guiding you to be better. Because of this, it’s been difficult to fully engage with the research I’ve wanted to do and I haven’t felt as challenged as I’d like. That’s not to say I haven’t found some great opportunities while I have been here. I have worked with some extremely talented student musicians, the Stavanger Symphony Orchestra, and visiting performing artist Julis Smack. In addition, I have been working along with Sonovo Mastering in experimenting with 9.1 recording (I’ve linked my project report here), and also getting an insiders view of the world of mastering audio. In December, I started working with the Norsk Lydinstitutt (Norwegian Institute of Recorded Sound) in digitizing some of their massive collection of audio, which is one of the largest of it’s kind in Europe.

I’ve also had the privilege of being exposed to a global group of engineers and producers– my class itself is made up of people from Iran, Slovakia, Czech Republic, Bangladesh, United Arab Emirates, United States, Norway, Colombia, Serbia, and Mexico. Anything I’ve learned here so far has been from my classmates– whether about audio or about life– and it’s been great to collaborate with a diverse group of people. It’s also been great to get back into working with music.

We’ll have to see what 2017 has in store… but hopefully this is all leading somewhere.

S.A street in Stavanger, Norway. The sun is setting in the background.

Some exciting news!

I’m aware I’ve been a little AWOL lately, but it’s because I’ve be up to generally no goodery! thor

Firstly, I can now say I’ve been 100% off antidepressants for a month! Which is a pretty great and wonderful feeling in and of itself.

Secondly…

I’m moving to Norway in August!

I’ve been accepted into the Music Production and Recording post-bacc at the University of Stavanger! I’m so incredibly excited for this opportunity and to FINALLY get back into working with musicians and recording music after 2 years of some serious healing. I can’t wait!

More on that later. Dance time now!

S.

Hello New York!

For those of your that don’t know me, these last few years haven’t been easy.

I finished my degree the Summer of 2014 with good grades and great references; however, I was also dealing with the aftermaths of a severe trauma. One day I’ll write a post about those things, and that particular journey, but right now all you need to know, is that in September of last year, I left my home town and moved to Vancouver, BC. I had no job, I had no idea what I was going to do, but I knew I needed to heal.

I’m extremely fortunate to have found the resources I have in Vancouver. For the first time in my life, I have an amazing family doctor that I trust, have met various support and therapy groups, and have enjoyed exploring a city mostly unknown to me before. There is something incredibly comforting about being in a city where you have so much to experience for the first time. In many ways, Vancouver has brought me back to life, and to this city, I’m grateful.

Over the past year, I’ve tried to keep up my audio skills as much as possible– when I was finishing my degree, I was madly in love with acoustics, recording, DSP, and was starting to get into film sound. I knocked on a lot of doors, drank a lot of coffees, and was lucky to get some freelance dialogue editing work at The Mix Room. In addition, I’ve kept up with the local AES chapter, gone to Vancouver Post Alliance Events, and been active in Women and Film and Television Vancouver. I’ve tried to find ways to keep my skills sharp; however, it’s not enough. I want to be submerged in audio. I want to live it and breath it and learn new things every day. I want it to be my day job.

I wish I didn’t have to explain to people that my portfolio the last year has been minimal because of mental health issues. But this is my biggest hurdle. I know deep down that when something big happens, something that makes me feel like I really am part of this industry, then nothing else can ever tear me down.

Some days I feel like I’ve forgotten everything I know; but I know it’s in there. It’s like speaking a foreign language– when you immersive yourself in it, it comes back to you. Those circuits turn back on and you think differently. You start to look at things in a new light again.

So what’s a girl to do?

Last August I decided to take a leap. I found all the money I could and bought a ticket to New York City to attend the 139th Audio Engineering Society Convention. And today I arrived in New York.

It feels like it was forever in the future for so long, but now I’m here. I can see the Manhattan skyline out the hostel room I’m writing this in. And I’m brimming with new found excitement and enthusiasm. I can’t wait to see first hand what’s going on in the industry as a whole, to shake the hands of professionals, and to be surrounded by a mass of people that love the things I love. I can’t wait to discover new avenues for audio, new techniques, and maybe make some important connections.

I don’t know what this week will bring, but I know I’m open minded. Who knows what can happen in the Big Apple.

S.

Sound Walkin’ and the World Soundscape Project

In the late 1960s at Simon Fraser University in Burnaby, composer R. Murray Schafer started a project that would lead into what we now know as acoustic ecology. This was the World Soundscape Project, an initiative that would bring awareness to the changing sonic landscape of Vancouver, and raise awareness about noise pollution. You can read all about the project and it’s legacy here. During the 1980s, composer Hildegard Westerkamp became part of this project. One of her major contributions to the project, and something that continues to be practiced by groups in Vancouver, such as the Vancouver Soundwalk Collective, is the idea of soundwalks. In her paper Soundwalking, she defines a soundwalk as “any excursion whose main purpose is listening to the environment”. This sounds pretty simple; however, when we go about our day to day lives, how much do we really focus on sound over the visual?

Yesterday I had the opportunity to go on my first every soundwalk as part of ISEA2015. It took place in Charleson Park here in Vancouver and lasted about one hour. I didn’t record it because I wanted my first experience to be truly organic. Walking in a large group of people who are all focusing sound over anything else is an incredible experience. You notice a lot more– where the sound of cars rises and falls, how people’s shoes sound, the sounds coming from houses. Everything suddenly becomes more complex and interesting– because really, there is an orchestra happening all the time, right? I’d like to do some more of these on my own and record them. I think they could be invaluable for rich sound designing and composition.

At the end of the walk, someone from the group that had lived in Vancouver talked about how Vancouver had been considering the work coming out of the World Soundscape project. The park we walked through had been designed to have a buffer from the traffic created from dredgings from False Creek. When he said that, it made sense– the cars couldn’t really be heard in the park, but when you walked up they were very loud. We had all noticed that. How different would that park feel if that sound buffer wasn’t there? And how much do we consider sound this way in designs now?

Lots to think about.

The night also included a series of audio/visual installations throughout the park that used electronics melded with the nature of the space entitled “Oscillations”. You can read up on some of these works here— there were a lot!

S.