The Dümmer See, a lake in Germany’s Lower Saxony close to where I was born, suffers from heavy nutrient pollution. During spring and summer, the lake is full of blue-green algae or cyanobacteria and it is frequently forbidden to swim in the waters. This is caused mainly by two factors: to prevent floodings the lake is surrounded by dykes which takes the possibility to filter the shallow waters and results in silting. The second factor is massive cattle farming in the area around the lake, one of the most extensive in Central Europe. The liquid manure accruing from this is distributed on the farming land to grow crops and large amounts of it eventually ends in the Dümmer See. It is estimated that 30 tons of phosphorus every year is spilled into the lake depriving fish and other organisms of oxygen.
Last year I dunked my hydrophone into the green, muddy water of the lake to see if I can hear anything at all. Surprisingly I found a constant chirping that was onmipresent in the lake, I heard it everywhere I put my underwater microphone in the waters, even in ditches around the lake. I have no idea what species this is, I guess it must be a small water bug that seems to find perfect conditions in the polluted lake. This example is a close-up of one bug I recorded from a jetty in Lembruch. The other sounds come from the waves lapping against the jetty.
Today I had the pleasure of meeting Timo from Sonar Surround at the SAE alumni convention in Berlin. He developed a new line of hydrophones that are based on the underwater technology of Reson, a company usually producing equipment for military purposes, sonar systems and marine research. The microphones of Reson are of the highest quality, but because their business laid exclusively in the industrial and military area, those superb hydrophones were not available for the consumer market yet. Sonar Surround will change that. The TC 4032 hydrophone has the most natural sound quality and the lowest signal-to-noise ratio one can imagine. We did a very quick shoot-out of my DPA 8011 hydrophone against the TC 4032 in a small aquarium in the booth of Sonar Surround at the convention. Only the high output level of the in-build mic preamp of the TC 4032 with literally no audible hiss was reason enough to get excited. I had to lower the gain input at my Sound Devices recorder to zero while the DPA hydrophone had to be preamplified to about 30 dB to get the same input level with correspondingly much more noise floor. Here are some short sound bits that we produced with a pipe bubbling into the aquarium and recording simultanously with both microphones. First the DPA:
Then the same take with the TC 4032:
The difference might even get clearer with this second sound bit of water dripping in the aquarium. In the background one can hear the chatter of the people at the convention which is transmitted over the glas and the water in the aquarium. Again first DPA 8011:
Then the TC 4032:
The deeper rumbling are footsteps on the wooden floor of people passing by… I hope it gets clear how much better the TC 4032 sounds and how balanced the frequency range is. The typical sharpness and biting higher mids of hydrophones on the market – which is already rather soft with my DPA microphone – is completely avoided with the TC 4032. And the low noise design of the Sonar Surround microphone is especially helpful when recording sound sources from far away distances, because that’s where the hydrophones I know add too much noise to the signal. Moreover, this comes at a prize roughly the same than for the DPA. Of course the flagship status of the TC 4032 is not affordable to everybody, but still this is the highest audio quality one can get in the mid prize range for the first time. Sonar Surround has some smaller and less expensive microphones as well so it might be worth a look. And if I sound like a sales person here, I’m sorry for that. I was just carried away by some crazy ideas that would be possible with such hydrophones… By the way: does anybody wants to buy my DPA 8011 second hand?
More about underwater recording and an overview of other hydrophones can be found here.
With this track you can travel down Mount Etna, the highest active volcano in Europe, in the cable car called Funivia dell’Etna. It is now replacing the old cable car that was distroyed after the 2001 and 2002 eruptions. I edited this recording to shorten the 15 min. trip down to La Montagnola station. At this day there was a strong wind that one can hear howling in the cabin. The noisy interior is interrupted by the periodic passings of the cable car posts. At the end the cabin comes to a halt before moving into the base station with its loud machinery driving the cables.
The Ear of Dionysius is a cave situated in the Parco Archeologico in Syracuse, Sicily. Its S-like inner shape resembles the human ear as the cave winds 65 metres into the mountain and provides phenomenal acoustics. The legend says that Dionysius was able to eavesdrop on the conversations of prisoners inside the cave through the hole on top of the entrance. Because of its shape the cave focusses and amplifies all noises from the outside, even the far away street noises. Inside the cave, swallows are nesting and doves fly in occasionally. I recorded this track at the deep end of the cave in 2007.
Since 5 days now Europe is plagued by the ashcloud caused by Iclandic volcano Eyjafjallajökull (I had to copy-and-paste this name – gosh, how to pronounce the word…) Beautiful pictures taken from the eruptions are easy to find in the net, also nice speculations like the Guardian’s “How an Iclandic volcano helped spark the French Revolution“, but has anybody thought about the sounds of a volcano? The eruptions of a volcano are hard to get on tape – most active volcanos are no-go-areas because of the fatal dangers that can happen in closer proximity. There are only few volcanoes on earth which are accessible for non-scientists, Mt. Yasur on Pacific Island Tanna, part of lovely laid-back Vanuatu, is one of them, sometimes promoted as the world’s most active publicly accessible volcano. I did this recording on the edge of the volcano during a longer stay on the island in 2004. I had the chance to go to the rim of the volcano for three nights and to stay longer then the tourist crowds who would have spoiled the recordings with their “aahs” and “oohs”. Suffice to say that it was a bone-chilling and mesmerizing experience which is not really carried along with this uncompressed and raw sound recording if heard at normal level – so please turn up the volume for a bigger effect (and imgine the smell of sulfer crawling up your nose)…
During my stay on the island, Mt. Yasur was on a low activity level – the breathing of the volcano almost feels peaceful, like a hyperventilating giant with occasional sighs and coughs. To get a feeling of how it looks like on the rim of the volcano, check this video (turn the volume back to normal before watching this):
Mt. Yasur still is a potentially dangerous volcano, with this sort of activity now going on for hundreds of years. Tourists have been killed by hazardous lava bombs which can reach over the crater rim after strong eruptions. Here is a tourist videotaping a group of people nearly targeted by such a lava bomb:
In Thailand sacral places are sometimes very close to the most secular things. Bangkok’s famous Wat Saket hosts a temple fair each November and during this time the golden mount is surrounded by a carnival with food stands, circus performances and gambling booths. On the winding way up to the temple top there are two rows of differently tuned temple bells that are struck by the pilgrims on the way back down. In this recording you can hear the bells and buddhist lectures that are transmissed by loudspeaker on top of the mountain. Later some music from the carnival down under interferes.
Rushing over the Biennale in Venice and trying to grasp most of its art exhibits in one day lets your receptors overfire at one stage. It could sound like this recording that is a detail of an installation of Rosa Barba named “The future last one day” comprised of several film projectors running at varying speeds and screening evocative word fragments around the visitor.
As the film is running at high speed through ones consciousness it slows down at certain times when the overwhelming scope of this years Biennale offers little gems and islands of contemplation. The Biennale is everything in one: sometimes boring, modiocre, infuriating, partly brilliant, thought-provoking, irritating, reflecting the modern world as it is, I suppose. Reading through reviews in the guardian, the telegraph or in Texte zur Kunst, it is easy to understand that our world is as scattered and disintegrated as our reception of art in general. This is not too bad at all. My inner film was even set to another contrasting speed when I visited the new exhibition space at Punta della Dogana by French billionaire Francois Pinault who showcasts his pompous and intimidating collection at one of Venice most central spots to overtrump the Biennale with his sense for spacious and expensive art objects. Italian artist Maurizio Cattelan left one of the lasting images at the Biennale with his dead art collector swimming head over in his pool, only to re-appear at Pinault’s collection with his taxidermy-horse sticking out of a wall. It would be intersting to check in 10 years time which artists of this years Biennale will have made it into the universe of Pinault’s prestige craving.
To get to the Art Biennale of Venice the way to go is usually by a waterbus, the so called vaporetto. The vaporetto station at Biennale is particularly noisy as one section of this sound recording mix can bear witness. The swimming stations are connected to the waterfront with metal bridges that swing up and down with the waves coming in, causing high screaking sounds. Vaporetti themselves make fascinating sounds when they are tied together in rows of 5 or 6 boats at night time. They bump into each other with the waves and the deep tones of this bumbing can be heard occasionally when strolling down the promenade of Riva degli Schiavoni from Arsenale back to Piazza San Marco at late hours. I even sneaked onto the resting boats to capture some of the sounds featured in this little collage of vaporetti noises. The ropes with which the boats are moored together produce a rhythmical texture that translates the incoming waves into a sonic pattern that is quite appealing. To hear a more tranquile version of vaporetti sounds, also check the beautiful recordings of Enrico Coniglio at touch radio that he did not far from where I recorded.