My interest in sounding the world was peaked when I attended Elise Witt’s weekend of song and exploration on Ossabaw Island off the coast of Georgia in 2004 or 2005. Time is a blur, but I vividly remember that weekend, carrying a hand held cassette tape recorder everywhere, and later creating a memory soundscape for each person who attended our glorious days of song and sun on Ossabaw Island GA. This was the very beginning of sound and soundscaping as my creative focus, awakened on this magical island.
The next trip to Ossabaw was as a creative artist with a desire to make a piece for the Annual Ossabaw Foundation Pig Roast and Art Auction, The field recording you will hear below was made standing underneath Sandy West’s tree on Ossabaw Island during a sunny afternoon in May 2006. From this recording, I created one of my first “soundscapes” and my partner, Trudie Kiliru, created the watercolor “Sandy’s Tree”. We felt they were a package and donated them to the auction. The recording presented here is an edited version of the original audio file and focuses on the natural and human-made sounds one might hear on Ossabaw on a Spring afternoon.
Sandy’s Tree Watercolor by Trudie Kiliru
The recording was made with a mini-disc recorder through two small microphones attached to a ball cap on my head. Occasionally you will hear my steps on the shelled path, but mostly I stood in one spot and looked around. Listening to the recording through headphones, you will hear the birds move across the tree canopy, a plane pass by overhead, and close encounters with mosquitos, angry squirrels and electric ciccadas. I hear at least a dozen different bird calls. What do you hear?
Now in 2020, Ossabaw Island’s protected status has come under threat of private development. The Ossabaw Foundation and their supporters have been able to fend off the threat so far, and hopefully they will continue to do so. Putting this news together with climate change and rising seas, I realized that these few moments by Sandy West’s tree are a record of something that I want to preserve.
For more information about Ossabaw Island, The Ossabaw Foundation and the amazing Sandy West and her special tree, visit https://ossabawisland.org/
Last year, during a Human Origami movement workshop, the son of one of the participants added vocals to the soundscape. This was a spontaneous offering on his part and I was delighted. I tend to favor the bright and shiny high end of the spectrum with bells, chimes, vibes, etc. Matthew’s voice is deep, gravily and provided a beautiful balance to the scape. His voice became an integral part of the larger Nested Soundscape.
On a recent trip to NYC, Trudie and I went to the Rubin Museum in Chelsea to listen to their exhibit The World is Sound. It was an interesting and moving exhibition pointing to sound as the alpha and omega of existence! Yes, WoW! The Rubin is a museum devoted to artifacts and teachings of Tibetan Buddhism, so the installations included The Collective Om, which was a long loop of voices sounding Om. (Later we were delighted to find out that our hosts, Winnie and Phil Richmond, old friends of Trudie’s, had been among the Oming voices.) Le Corps Sonore presented ambient waves of sound that enveloped the spiral staircase at the Rubin. Here is a short sample going down the staircase:
I particularly loved the soundlings that are part of this section of the exhibit:
The human voice and spoken language played a large part in many of the sound offerings, so I listened intently to each one. One piece distorted the sound of spoken words, rendering them meaningless, but not before imprinting a verbal message that remained in my brain as the words failed. I am particularly interested in exploring the second question in my own sound work.
But the most amazing sound I heard that day was in a room on the fourth floor that held a reconstructed altar from a Tibetan monastery. A recording of chanting Tibetan monks plays in the room. As soon as I entered the room, I heard Matthew’s voice. The same gutteral resonance and shades of overtones that Matthew brought to the soundscape were permeating the room. I made a short recording, and have coupled it with an excerpt from Matthew’s accompaniment to illustrate:
It is amazing how we do not know who lives and loves among us!
With all of the Universal Juiciness that is going on right now, I am drawn more deeply into this sounding world. Still highly under the influence of Caverna Magica. (Wow, I just noticed that influen-ce and influen-za have a lot of letters in common. Infected by Caverna Magica? Hmmmm…) There are four primary pieces that have my attention right now and they are:
A performance for Jim Kellough’s show Warmed Over Sue Realism will be an “opera” woven by myself, June Merlino and Jim. This soundscape is really raw right now, but forming. (March 7 – Tea Time @ The Scrap)
“New Music 4Trudie” is a present for Trudie where I attempt to capture what she loves in the song “New Music” from the musical, Ragtime. I presented her with these two themes for Valentine’s Day. (Perhaps a performance for next Valentine’s?) Here they are:
Soundscape for All Hallows Eve for Allie Mullin’s Halloween-inspired photography exhibit, where I will create a multi-facted, creepy, yet inviting sonic vibe. I am really interested in spreading the sound around The Makery via small, wired together speakers units. I have some small speaker units from recycled TVs and I think they could be wired together and run along the floor for effect. (Anyone reading who knows how to do this, please contact me. I could use the help. This is for the end of October, 2015.)
“VolleySunds” (after Caverna Magica) still has me interested in further development. I want to get together with Susanne and Eleanor Mills to work on ways of shaping it. I added a new section to it this week.
As more Ableton projects get started, left behind and returned to, I am beginning to have a “Hope Chest” of ideas to use as starters or as extenders for larger pieces I am working on. This is an example of a phenomenon of synchronicity that I have been observing lately. I call it “planting seeds for your future self.” Those moments when you commit to a project, or buy a book, or make a call for no sensible reason. You are just compelled to do it and you do. Afterward, you think “what was THAT about?” Six months, 3 years, 15 years later, you realize that THAT moment has manifested into this present one, and you, alone on your own, could NEVER have planned this out. So very important to adknowledge and appreciate the Divine WoW in action.
Which brings me to the title of this post. I want to pay closer attention to the process that is involved in creating soundscapes. As questions arise, ways to explore those questions must be created. I want to create flexible templates for composing and performing soundscapes. In order to do this, I am taking some time to look back and take note of the various methods as they are evolving.
I found notes from the very first soundscape I performed at the Durham Arts Council, Far Afield (A Response to the Art of Nancy Tuttle May). NTM sent me the images for her show and I spent time with each image while the soundscape was being created. I really love her work and was very excited by the images. They were profound and whimsical at the same time. I worked with the ideas of mystery, playfulness, whimsy and an exotic universality. At that point the process was to flesh out my responses to her art work, select voices for the piece based on those responses, and proceed from there. A concept, some voices and we’re off!
The next layer is harmonics. Modes and scales are of particular interest to me. They are like Lego blocks that you can use to create all manner of sound textures and feelings. I chose to begin Far Afield with a watery, wavering sonorous Dorian-stepped scale, repeating over and over in an urgent appeal. From there, we moved through vast, prolonged pad synth lines in counter-harmony with the original Dorian wash of tones. There was a sort of Latin tinged movement in there, ending with a Native American flute loop created by Susanne Romey. When I performed it, I added in vocals and percussion. The most recent recording of the entire piece that can be heard on Soundcloud does include the vocal and percussion parts.
I am very fond of this soundscape and enjoy listening to it myself. When I performed it at the opening reception, I invited people to listen to it as they looked deeply at NTM’s art. Very few people did this, mostly people chatted with each other, which added a dimension of sound that I had not taken into account when preparing to play it live. Certain nuances could not be heard, while other parts swept through the space, riding on the voices. Here is a 30 second video of the event that gives a feel for what I am talking about: (Thanks to Eleanor Mills for this!)
Friends in attendance that night were upset that people were not listening. While I had not planned for people to give me their rapt attention, I had hoped they would engage in the process of looking at the art with the soundscape accompaniment. Since this did not happen, I realized I had to rethink how I would go about presenting soundscapes in a public social forum. (Luckily, in this case, the soundscape played in the gallery for the run of the show, so people could go and hear it while looking at the art that inspired it.)
Since then I have had three more soundscaping experiences, and each one has reshaped my intention and process.
2015 ushers in a burst of creative energy with many potential collaborations hang-gliding out there, and lots of time and space in the studio. Trudie gave me an Ableton Live upgrade, so I am now using Ableton 9. Excited to explore all the new features and hear how much more expansive the audio field is in the latest upgrade. I have only upgraded twice, but each time the Ableton Team has improved the functionality and expressiveness of the software by building on the strengths of previous versions. Upgrading always makes me nervous especially when I am perfectly happy with what I am using, so it was very satisfying to jump right into Ableton 9 and be delighted with the sound immediately. The upgrade includes new instruments and samples. (I don’t use the loop libraries as I prefer to make my own loops.) Much to explore and learn as I convert all my projects over to the new platform. Plus I am taking a Coursera course on Ableton Basics through Berkeley School of Music in February. That will be helpful as the instruction will be based in the new version. It will be like a four week tutorial!
Trudie and I are committing to spending time in our studios everyday. We identified “home” as a topic we both want to explore in our art. We have had several hours of discussion about different ways of relating the idea of “home”. I keep wanting to cover home up, obscure it so that everything that home contains is set free. I started with trying to cut the fundamental tone out of the recorded wave form leaving only shimmering harmonics. (“real” sound engineers would be laughing very hard right now) I thought,”If I can cut off the attack, I can erase the fundamental tone.” But, no! Where EVER the sound begins is the attack, so a fundamental tone is always present. The tone is like an earthworm in reverse, you cut off it’s front and it makes a new front.
So I decided to back into exploring “home” by working on “New Music 4Trude” since she is a big part of what is “home” to me.This piece came about because we have seen two really fine versions of the musical, Ragtime, and Trudie loves the song “New Music”, which is about how the new music of ragtime touched and connected people. When I think of ragtime, I think of a one-two rocking feel and a simple, cheerful melody. Yesterday we listened to the song and I asked her what she liked about it. She said it made her feel like dancing. I can’t really feel a dance beat in it except for gentle rocking. I will study this song more deeply.
Right now there is SO MUCH information coming to us from the Universe/the Divine WoW/ God. Everyday I receive a new understanding about myself and my beliefs/perceptions and how we shape the world together. In meditation the challenge has been identified as feeling warm and loving heart connection with people who I do not feel love me back. You know how easy it is to love someone who is looking at you, seeing you, loving you. The heady out-of-this-world feeling of a deep and special connection with another. The kind of feeling that makes you feel impatient, bored and disdainful of having to spend time with those who are NOT the beloved. After years of chasing this felt ideal and withholding myself from anything (I perceived to be) less, I have woken up to the here and now. I WANT to be FULLY present to love in this space and time. I WANT to deeply connect with and SEE others as much as I want to be seen and connected with.