Category: acoustic flotsam


In last weeks Guardian, Tom MacCarthy promotes his upcoming novel “C” with a fascinating reflection on writing, technology and melancholia. By quoting literary critic Laurence Rickels, he elucidates the idea that each technological device thought of as a prosthesis in Freudian terms embodies an absence or loss: “every point of contact between a body and its media extension marks the site of some secret burial”. McCarthy traces this notion back to Alexander Bell who lost a brother in his adolescence: “As a result of this, he made a pact with his remaining brother: if a second one of them should die, the survivor would try to invent a device capable of receiving transmissions from beyond the grave – if such transmissions turned out to exist. Then the second brother did die; and Alexander, of course, invented the telephone.” That the dead can be detectable in airwaves via wireless devices is still widespread today, as can be observed in the 3 CD-set “Okkulte Stimmen – Mediale Musik” with recordings of “unseen intelligences” 1905-2007. McCarthy takes James Joyce’s novel “Finnegans Wake” as a literary example of “a long radio-séance, with the hero tuning into voices of the dead via a radio set at his bedside, or, perhaps, inside his head.” As Joyce scholar Jane Lewty suggests, the “hero” might even be the radio set itself. McCarthy concludes, that the literary work can be comprehended “as a set of transmissions, filtered through subjects whom technology and the live word have ruptured, broken open, made receptive. I know which side I’m on: the more books I write, the more convinced I become that what we encounter in a novel is not selves, but networks; that what we hear in poems is (to use the language of communications technology) not signal but noise. The German poet Rilke had a word for it: Geräusch, the crackle of the universe, angels dancing in the static.”

Tom McCarthy is not only a writer but also an artist who occasionally sets up art projects connected to his ‘semi-fictitious organisation’ called the International Necronautical Society. In this video he talks about a broadcasting project for a Swedish art gallery:

More information about him can be achieved over his webpage “surplus matter“. Also worth reading is Zadie Smith’s comparison of the two novels “Netherland” by Joseph O’Neill and Tom McCarthy’s “Remainder” which is a stunning meditation on reality in a postmodern life that is a good read along with the much-hyped “inception” movie about dreamstates becoming reality.

Touch Radio 49 features Chris Watson’s Journey to the South as member of the film team for the forthcoming David Attenborough series “The Frozen Planet” (BBC, 2011). When it comes to nature sound recordings Chris Watson’s work is unequalled: the sound quality is superb and the variety of locations he had visited is unrivalled. In this interview for line-up magazine, he provides insight into his technical equipment, working methods and experiences during the recordings in Antarctica. But most entertaining is listening to himself in the touch radio episode where he speaks about the several places that he recorded and what impressions those places left in him. Only the underwater sounds of squeaking ice floes rubbing into each other is worth listening to this 50 minutes of recordings from the remotest locations imaginable.

http://www.touchmusic.org.uk/touchradio/Radio49/Radio49.mp3″

Silent Sounds…

Faszinating high speed films by Trevor Cox of University of Salford, Manchester UK, demonstrating the effects of acoustic vibrations and sound waves (the videos are mute, so don’t reach for the volume knob…):

And want to see glass breaking by the power of sound?

Trevor Cox also runs some interesting experiments in the rare area of whoopee cushion science, if you ever wondered if unexpected sounds are funnier, check this example:

Spring has finally arrived, but I stumbled over two very interesting adventurers dealing with the sounds of ice that I find worth sharing. Marlin Ledin travelled the snowcovered Apostle Islands of Lake Superior in Northern Wisconsin by bike (!) and did some fantastic ice recordings on his way. And Cheryl E. Leonard reports from her journeys to the Palmer research station in Antarctica where she collected sounds for her musical work. On Saturday she will perform at the Activating the Medium XIII : Ice festival in San Francisco. In her blog some fine ice recordings can be heard, next to recordings of seals, pinguins and other stuff, which has been also released on the CD Chattermarks.

In 2008 an intiative of musicians called zero dB formed as protest against the use of music as sonic torture in Guantanamo Bay. Many musicians were upset about the fact that their music was played blaringly loud at detainees in freezing cold rooms as interrogation tactics. In this video filmed inside Cambridge University’s anechoic chamber, former Guantanamo Bay detainee Ruhal Ahmed speaks about his experiences being interrogated and subjected to high-volume music. His testimonial is cut against typical sound art icons like vibrating chladni plates and loudspeakers placed horizontally to move fluids while a narrator reflects on the acoustics and physics behind the loudness tolerance of the human ear. Excerpts of Massive Attacks beautiful “Saturday Come Slow” sung by Damon Albarn is interwoven in this remarkable video shot by Adam Broomberg and Oliver Chanarin. For more advanced reading about sonic torture there is this article written by Suzanna G. Cusick and a book by Steve Goodman (a.k.a. Kode9) called Sonic Warfare (in his blog there are more findings related to the same subject).

The hydrophones of German Alfred-Wegener-Institut recorded an iceberg crashing into the ice shelf close to the Neumayer III station in Antarctica on 11th Feb (German report about it here). The incident went unnoticed by the crew on the station even though the crash caused a 2 km crack in the ice and destroyed a supply road. It was a German scientist in Bremerhaven who monitored the audio live stream from the Palaoa underwater microphones to figure that something was wrong. He heard a loud growl from the hydrophones and informed the staff at the station. An excerpt of the collision can be heard on this German news site. There are several other underwater noises that occasionally occur in Antarctica, some are collected on this site of the Alfred-Wegener-Institut. And you can still listen live to the antarctic underwater world at home here.

Underwater Recordings

After the dispersion ice sound went so popular last week I was asked a couple of times what hydrophone I use. It’s the DPA 8011 hydrophone, in connection with a Sound Devices 722 portable recorder. For the particular ice recordings during winter 2005/06 I borrowed a second 8011 to get a stereo effect. The microphone is really expensive and I’m the last person to ask about quality differences to other available hydrophones since I only know this one underwater device. But I once spoke to Jana Winderen who does great things with underwater recordings and she confirmed that the DPA hydrophone is the best. Nonetheless you can do great things with other more affordable solutions. Two years ago I heard an underwater recording by Chris Watson in one of his presentations made with Dolphin Ear hydrophones and it was just great. You can see him digging the hydrophones in the sand of a beach in this swedish (?) video, demonstrating another way of (mis)using an underwater microphone… (sorry, I can’t embed this video here)

Other hydrophones are available from Aquarian Audio ProductsCatecean Research and Jez Riley French, but the rolls royce in the underwater audio domain is probably the new German start-up Sonar Surround. They deliver a surround underwater rig called Surround Atmo RS 5 which to my knowledge consists of the same DPA 8011 capsules I have mentioned above. You can rent the device and they recommend you to book an operator as well – so far for spontaneous underwater surround adventures… There are some neat sound examples on their page and they even provide a surround MP3 player. For an indepth report on using the Aquarian hydrophone this article is highly recommended – it is also a very good introduction into underwater recording itself.

Me digging a hole in the ice – that is the night where the big cracks appeared. The photo was taken by Hans Hafner who assisted me on the recording session. I was happy to have him around because later we nearly walked into a water hole in the ice and it was him to warn me to not go any further…

Oct. 2010: Update on the hydrophones manufactured by Sonar Surround here.

Rhizome.org just finished their week of documentaries about the history of electronic music. I recently already introduced some of the featured BBC4 videos here, but the collection of rhizome reaches much further. There is this documentary about EMS – What the Future Sounded Like:

…but there is also footage (of sometimes annoyingly bad quality) about the Telharmonium, the Sonovox, an early vocoder-like device, a short clip about the first singing computer, a documentary about Moog, the Theremin, Max Mathews & Miller Puckette, The Shape of Things That Hum, Landscape with Alvin Lucier, Chicago Hip House, The History of House Music, Laurie Spiegel of Bell Labs, a BBC2 Jungle Documentary, Detroit Ghettotech and Imaginary Landscape by Brian Eno. Speaking of Brian Eno: Paul Morley recently spoke to Brian Eno for a BBC arena documentary in which Eno proved that he is always good for a controversal and catchy phrase about the music industry:

“The record age was just a blip. It was a bit like if you had a source of whale blubber in the 1840s and it could be used as fuel. Before gas came along, if you traded in whale blubber, you were the richest man on Earth. Then gas came along and you’d be stuck with your whale blubber. Sorry mate – history’s moving along. Recorded music equals whale blubber. Eventually, something else will replace it.”