Christ Church Bells, heard from four directions

I thought today I could share with you 4 recordings which detail the bells of Christ Church, Oxford, being rung by the Oxford Society Of Change Ringers, as heard along the different trajectories of North, East, South and West. The recordists for this exploration of the bells’ reach were respectively Dimitri Batsis (N), Felicity Ford (E), Sam Kidel (S) and Victoria Bosher (W). The recordings are held on RADAR.

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North – recorded by Dimitri Batsis

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East – recorded by Felicity Ford

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South – recorded by Sam Kidel

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West – recorded by Victoria Bosher

The bells of Christ Church, as heard from 4 different compass points, and rung beautifully by the Oxford Society of Change Ringers. You can hear the final recordings through four pairs of stereo speakers coinciding with the compass points at Audiograft 2014, during the Sound Diaries concert on Thursday 13th March.

Make Sound Here

One aim of the HEARth programme is to celebrate the works of artists connected with Audiograft, and to introduce audiences to some of their projects. Works which are by nature participatory and inclusive lend themselves beautifully to this aim, providing forms for connecting the vast creative energies of the Audiograft festival with everyday life. We are therefore delighted to be able to include James Saunders’s “Make Sound Here” project in the HEARth programme as part of Audiograft and we really hope you will join us to explore it in more depth on Friday 1st March at 1pm at Modern Art Oxford!

This year James Saunders has launched a project entitled Make Sound Here, which makes use of the GPS and audio recording facilities on mobile phones, and the audio recording platform Audioboo, to create a map detailing the sonic potentials of places. Very simply, you go to a place, you make a sound there by whatever means you like, you photograph the situation with the label “Make Sound Here” displayed prominently, and you record the sounds that you have created there. If you use a smartphone to take the photo, record the sound and upload to, the sound will automatically be geo-tagged. However it’s also possible to create recordings using another device and to manually add in photos, geo-location etc. via the upload channel created especially for this project. All the instructions are provided here on the Make Sound Here website, where you can also download the labels.

As part of the HEARth programme, Stav (of STELIX) will be leading a soundwalk from Modern Art Oxford on Friday 1st March at 1pm, taking a route which has previously scoped out by us for its sonic potentials, using “Make Sound Here” as a basis.

Doing the walk with a view to “Make Sound Here” was a really wonderful experience; the project inspires a different mentality regarding your navigation of urban space. Where the normal use of the city involves thinking about where to go to meet someone or to buy something, wandering around in search of sounds leads you by the ears to new avenues, alleyways, paths and corners… places you wouldn’t normally go unless your ear spotted a sonorous-looking railing… or perhaps a wooden bridge, suggestive in its construction of a kind of xylophone.

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The rediscovered childhood pleasure of trailing a stick across many surfaces created a lovely new way to hear and explore Oxford. An extremely lo-tech contact microphone, the stick allows surfaces and materials to be tested and heard… the qualities of the stuff that the city is made of (its bricks, its wood, its metal) thus become audible. We traced lines through the city with our walking, and our stick-dragging; we drew happy lines of experimentation and soundmaking lightly on one corner of the city.

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Chance played a large part in our sonic investigations of Oxford. At some point I stumbled across some delicate seedpods; tiny rattles that could be activated by the slightest of touches, and which shed their seeds on my recorder as I shook them gently, listening to their miniature percussion accompanying the song of a nearby bird.

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Less poetic perhaps in origin but just as interesting sonically was the chance discovery of some litter (which we of course tidied away after playing with it) being lifted and blown over a camber in a road by the old brewery. So began a process of deliberately placing the litter in the path of the wind, and documenting its journey across the tarmac, gathering momentum as it passed the highest point and tumbled towards the kerb.

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We found other sounds, too. The splish of coins dropping into a very still place in the river; an especially brilliant ornamental gate, full of deep and complex metallic tones; the chalky sound of old bricks being touched with a blunted twig.

We really hope that you might join STELIX for further forays into “Make Sound Here”; you might find places in Oxford that are completely new to your eyes and ears! Special thanks to James Saunders for making a project for sonic-geo-caching. We had no idea there were so many musical surfaces and objects surrounding us in Oxford; our ears are open.

Recordings from Lost & Found

You may remember the lost sound which Christina wrote about a few days ago?

Here are some recordings and notes from other participants on the workshop.

The Holywell is a very particular acoustic space with its wooden floors, curved walls and special creakiness; it has an acoustic affinity with Harp & Things, which is all about exploring the resonant sonic possibilities of the harp (also specially creaky). There is a section in my piece where I rub the sounding board of the harp to produce a shuddering, groaning sound. I mix this with a field-recording made on Amroth Beach in Wales. The result is meant to have a slightly maritime quality. To attempt to capture this quality, I recorded the concert with a hydrophone placed in a bottle of water on the floor. The soundwaves travel along the wooden floorboards and are picked up by the hydrophone underwater. I’ve made a small mix to give you an idea of what I mean; in this audio-clip, we begin with a standard acoustic recording of that point in the score which I made with a shotgun microphone. This is so that you can hear the creaks as they sounded in the space. I then fade that recording into some of the sounds captured by the hydrophone so that you can hear what the sound was like travelling along the floor, and heard from a submerged position. – Felicity Ford

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In both my recordings I was interested in capturing the acoustics of the Holywell Music Room.
In the first recording, Tim Parkinson & James Saunders were setting up their set before the start of the concert. Two big boxes full of objects were taken behind the table and some tools were being organised. The sound of the space reacts to their movements getting ready to perform.
In the second recording, The Albion Players were smoothly moving in Holywell and playing with the resonance of the space. – Valeria Merlini

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This recording was made by placing a pair of binaural microphones inside a glass jar, which has a particular effect on the acoustics. It was made by Charlotte Heffernan.

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Synchronised record player recordings of Ricercare

ricercare [ˌriːtʃəˈkɑːreɪ], ricercar [ˈriːtʃəˌkɑː]
n pl -cari [-ˈkɑːriː], -cars (in music of the 16th and 17th centuries)
1. (Music / Classical Music) an elaborate polyphonic composition making extensive use of contrapuntal imitation and usually very slow in tempo
2. (Music / Classical Music) an instructive composition to illustrate instrumental technique; étude.
[Italian, literally: to seek again]

ricerca pl. -che /riˈtʃerka, ke/
(studio) research (su into, on);
(risultato dello studio) study, survey, piece of research;
~ sul campo field study, fieldwork;

This post features 2 synchronised recordings made by Felicity Ford and Valeria Merlini during Audiograft 2012.

The idea behind these 2 synchronised recordings was to try and capture the specific qualities of the performance of Paul Whitty’s Ricercare at Modern Art Oxford. This version of the piece involved 3 performers, who would each take a score and a corresponding recording of that score. Picking a moment from each page of their chosen work, performers would then search through their recording in order to hear that moment. Once the phrase, chord, note etc. was played out loud and clearly heard, the performer would pick another moment from the next page in the score, and then search for that in the recording. After methodically going through one score and recording in this way, performers picked up another score and record from the pile in order to continue this process.

The performance lasted for 6 hours.

Performing in Ricercare involved intense listening – especially as the noise from the other performers searching on their recordings often interfered with one’s own listening process. The sounds resulting from this listening process were a discontinuous medley, featuring snippets of classical music, mixed with moments of beautiful quietness as notes were sought, scores consulted, or records replaced in their stacks around the table. The sounds of the records themselves and the technology used to play them were also a prominent feature of this performance.

To try and demonstrate the active listening involved in performing the piece, Ford wore headworn binaural microphones as she leant over her record player and craned her neck towards her speaker, trying and determine where she was in the work. At the same time, Merlini attached a contact microphone to the arm of the record-player, to pick up some of the materiality and surface noise of the recordings themselves, which added a patina of dust and time to this methodical, research-based creation of complex, polyphonic music.

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Here is the score for the piece;

ricercare or where the f*** are we?

Paul Whitty

Sept 2008 rev. Sep 2011

for tim parkinson & james saunders

to be played by any number of performers with found scores; recordings; turntables; cassette players; CD players; and any other appropriate sound reproduction devices.

1. select a pre-existing score or scores – they can be of the same work in which case each performer should select a different edition – or of different pieces.
2. search out as many alternative recorded interpretations of the work or works as possible on a diverse range of formats.
3. procure the means to play the recordings.

1. select a single event from each page of your score – use a systematic method of your own choice. in this context an event is considered to be a single action – it could be a chord or a single note – the event or action ends when the next event or action is performed.
2. search out the chosen events on the recordings of the work – in performance you should be seeking out the events for the first time. searches should not be pre-prepared
3. do not seek to minimise the sounds resulting from your search – for example do not use headphones or turn the volume down to a level lower than the level at which you will finally play the selected event.
4. when the event has been found – play it once. as far as possible seek to isolate the event from the other events surrounding it.
5. once the event has been played begin to search for the next event on the same or an alternative recording and format.

Where possible use internal amplification – where external amplification is required the volume should be at a domestic level.

The performance ends once each performer has found an event from each page of their score or when a pre-determined number of events or a pre-determined duration has elapsed.

Audiograft 2011 Diary

In music, we should be satisfied with opening our ears. Everything can musically enter an ear open to all sounds! Not only the music we consider beautiful but also the music that is life itself…the more we discover that the noises of the outside world are musical, the more music there is… in the case of sound, whether the sound be loud or soft, flat or sharp, or whatever you like, that doesn’t constitute a sufficient motive for not opening ourselves up to what it is, as for any sound which may possibly occur.

John Cage, For the Birds, 1981

In 2011, Felicity Ford documented the Audiograft festival, organised by the Sonic Art Research Unit at Oxford Brookes. The recordings that she made of individual events, performances and sound installations are gradually being archived on the University website, and the archive will expand further as new documentation – from this year’s festival – is added. Documentation ranges from interviews with artists about their work; recordings of concerts and sound installations; and recordings of the responses of the public as they viewed and heard the work.

However, there are no picture frames to surround pieces of soundart, and we began this discussion with a quote from John Cage because since his proposition that we should “open our ears” to “any sound which may possibly occur,” the boundaries which separate special “Art Sounds” or “Music” from the din of the world become ever harder to delineate. In the creation of all sonic documentation, or sound recordings of any event, the “music that is life itself” unavoidably leaks in. When documenting events like Audiograft, the resulting recordings contain not only the words of artists or the sounds of their work or the reactions of the public, but also the spaces in which such words or works are heard; the timbre of halls and rooms; and the background chatter of “Non-Art” sounds.

Therefore, the documentation of Audiograft 2011 contains the creaks of the wood in the Holywell Concert Hall as much as it contains the sounds of Orange Event Number 24 by Bengt af Klintberg; the sound of students crashing through the foyer and chit-chat at the Audiograft 2011 launch between the wine and the nibbles can be heard as clearly as the George Brecht piece which was performed there; and recordings of performances and installations created at Audiograft 2011  also document passing sirens, the coughs of strangers and the beat of high-heels clacking in the vicinity. To the post-Cagean field-recordist – whose ears are open to “all sounds” – there is no problem with this type of documentation, which situates Music or soundart in the rich, sonic contexts of the world, and which records that when the “Art Sounds” were happening, people were talking and laughing, a woman passed by in noisy shoes, and an ambulance wailed in the street.

The process of documenting a festival like Audiograft presents a rich, imaginative situation to the field-recordist whose interests lie in documenting everyday life, and to whom everyday, incidental sounds are as interesting and as important as the “special” sounds purveyed at cultural events. Such a field-recordist, interested in the idea of recording everyday life in sound, will have trouble accepting the distinctions between special sounds and ordinary non-art sounds, and will tend towards subverting those borders in some way, or at least testing their flexibility. The Berlin Sound Diary by Paul Whitty is one such instance of this; the ordinary sounds of eating and travelling are positioned beside the sounds of the performance Whitty and Cornford gave in a gallery at Berlin, and are conversely then in turn made special through the processes of archiving and editing, and through their presentation here.

Perhaps it is not important to resolve the distinctions between “the music we consider beautiful”  and “the music that is life itself”; nor to attempt to delineate borders between those two realms. Perhaps instead the post-Cagean situation – in which there is no hierarchy of sounds – can be seen as a rich seam of complexity to be mined and explored indefinitely. For the purposes of documenting events such as Festivals, one such project might involve recording processes and procedures which point the microphone around, beside, before, after and beyond the duration of the Designated Cultural Experience as well as at it, so that the resulting documentation – like the experience of attending such events – can be read in relation to the surrounding sounds of the world. Conundrums can be created such as “is this a recording of a concert, or the recording of a man coughing while a concert is happening?” or “is this recording the sound of a man talking about the wind, or the sound of the wind with a man talking in it?”

To explore the complex nature of documenting special “Art Sounds” in more depth, Ford will be co-running a documentation workshop at Audiograft 2012 along with Valeria Merlini. You can apply to take up one of the limited places on this workshop by emailing felixbadanimal[at]hotmail[dot]com. Expect to ask yourself:

What will I record?
How will I document an event?
How will I tell the story of a Designated Art Experience?
Will I distinguish between special and unspecial sounds? How?
When will I switch the record button on and off?
What is worth recording?
How will the act of documentation frame how an end user experiences the original work?

In the meantime, throughout February 2012, a selection of recordings from Audiograft 2011 will be shared here as a Sound Diary, like a series of sonic snapshots of moments from the festival; though without framing, and without borders, and filled with the overspilling sounds of the surrounding world.

The first Sound Diary entry from Audiograft 2011 is: The sound of the corridors in the Richard Hamilton Building, where a performance of George Brecht’s piece, Polishing, was taking place. The performers – Sarah Hughes and Patrick Farmer – were polishing a violin and a double-bass, respectively. Chatter, doors, folks passing by, and the exhibition launch event were also happening and sounding in the same space.

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