Acoustic recordings vs. Desk recordings

At Audiograft 2012, Felicity Ford and Stavroula Kounadea performed their new work, “Towards an Excellent Finish”. This piece included a sewing machine, a handbuilt Atari Punk Console, and a Dictaphone containing a software cassette for creating “classic knitting patterns” made for the Spectrum 48k computer. A light-sensor attached to the sewing machine, 2 contact microphones, and an electronic coil were also fed into the mixing desk where Ford mixed the sounds, while Kounadea employed scissors, pins, fabric, and her sewing machine to make the piece.

A phono-cable from the main output on the mixing desk to the line-in on a FOSTEX FR-2LE allowed Ford to capture the sounds of the electronic signals of which the piece was ultimately comprised, but Valeria Merlini made some recordings from the point of view of the audience, using a Zoom H4, with an Audio Technica BP4029 stereo shotgun microphone. This set-up allowed Merlini to capture some of the ambience in the room, and also to focus in on specific sounds, such as the sewing machine pedal being put to use, the audience surrounding the performance, and the texture of the cheap amplifier which the duo used to amplify their sonic materials.

Comparing the desk recording with the field-recordings Merlini made during the performance is interesting; the desk sounds have an electronic purity about them and give a very detailed representation in particular of the electronically-generated sounds, such as those produced by the Atari Punk Console. However the desk recording also totally lacks any sense of space, air, or acoustics. Contrastingly, the field-recordings created by Merlini are full of atmosphere, and reveal many of the sounds heard during the performance which the desk recording failed to pick up. Examples include audience sounds; the sound of the sewing-machine pedal being operated; and the resonant sounds of the mechanisms inside the sewing machine reverberating as Kounadea used it. Both are useful for the future development of the work; the desk-recording gives an idea of how well the levels were mixed during the piece, while the field-recording is useful for showing how the performance sounded in a real place.

Roughly one minute of each recording is included here, for comparison and interest. What do you make of the difference?

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Felicity Ford’s electronic desk recording of “Towards an Excellent Finish” (excerpt)

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Valeria Merlini’s field-recording of “Towards an Excellent Finish” (excerpt)

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