COMMENTS ON SOME LANDSCAPE REPERTOIRE
"Recording sounds meaning putting a frame around them. Just as a photograph frames a given visual environment which can then be analysed in convenient detail, a sound recording isolates an acoustic environment and turns it into a repeatable event which can be examined." So said the director of the World Soundscape Project, Ray Murray Schafer, in 1973. An ideal quote to introduce and characterise the sound repertory we will be looking at here.
Chris Watson is a British sound artist who travelled to various countries in the early nineties in search of natural environments which were particularly attractive in terms of acoustics. On that journey, he had the chance to make a series of splendid recordings as a "detailed memory of certain original events". 1 The recording we are interested in here is entitled: 'Stepping Into the Dark'. In the author's own words, the recordings contained in this work "are the atmospheres of special places". 2
A few years earlier [1984-1990], Richard Lerman, a sound artist and researcher from North America, composed 'Within Earreach: Sonic Journeys'. A work which, like 'Stepping Into the Dark', was created as a result of journeys which the artist made to Newfoundland, Canada (1986); Australia, Bali and New Zealand (1986); Argentina, Peru and Chile (1988 and 1989), and Japan and Hong Kong (1989 and 1990). In Lerman's case, the recordings, mostly made in different natural environments, involved a rather particular means of capturing the soundscapes in question. The author designed and built the microphones beforehand using piezoelectric transducers: "I imagined an indefinite series of sound explorations which had to be recorded, basically using transducers and custom-built microphones. I thought that if the human hearing experience was founded on the vibrations produced on the surface of the eardrum, we could also experience sound as a perception/recording through other eardrums." 3 The result is an extraordinary collection of seventeen pieces which manages to convey the smallest of auditory situations, materials, textures and fauna he discovered on these journeys.
'Resonance' by the Bruce Odland-Sam Auinger duo [O+A] takes a rather similar approach to Richard Lerman's. It is a remarkable study of the expansion and resonance of certain sound sources, both natural and urban, which were captured by microphone, using a series of situations, objects and receptacles of different kinds. From Roman amphoras to pipes, including aeolian harps and rain. 'Resonance' is a highly original example of stimulation and magnification of certain details which are inherent in soundscape.
"We collected, filtered and expanded the resonance we found in nature and cities to make these hidden voices audible." 4 The eleven sound pieces included in this work, often flooded with musicality, were composed and produced in 1995.
Literary and acoustic rudiments
'Frijoles Canyon' by the North American artist Alison Knowles is halfway between soundscape and a work for radio. Best known for her work as a member of the renowned artistic movement Fluxus, here Alison Knowles offers us a sound work dating from 1991. 'Frijoles Canyon' is a place in New Mexico that provided the setting for a work which combines clear soundscape elements with the same dexterity as certain literary rudiments. At various points throughout some seventy minutes of work, Knowles recites a series of poetic texts taken from the following literary sources: 'Brothers of Light'; 'Brothers of Blood'; 'Villages of Hispanic New Mexico'; 'Southwestern Indian Ceremonials'; 'Santos and Saints' and 'Enchantment and Exploitation', as well as books about nature from Banff Library in Alberta, Canada.
One of the most interesting aspects of this work is the way the composer captures the raw sound universe under examination. Most of the sound sources (storms, the creaking of rocks, metal objects, water, an electric saw...) create a soundscape of openly primitive roots, and their auditory presentation is often extremely familiar. A sense of dramatism looms up in certain landscapes, undoubtedly as a result of the artist's effective interaction with the sound materials and expertise in use of the microphone. Once again we get a whiff of the photographic nature inherent in sound recordings of our surroundings.
The soundscape of 'Frijoles Canyon' is complemented by a textual section which aims to reinforce the sensation of presence or knowledge. Most of the poems contribute detailed information about the countless spots, situations and objects which dominate this world. 'Frijoles Canyon' was produced by Joshua Selman and Steve Peters, the latter also being responsible for the recordings made in the environs of the place.
''Within Our Reach - a symphony of port River' is one of the soundscape adventures proposed by Australian composer and sound artist, Chester Schultz. Recorded between 1989 and 1994, 'Within Our Reach' is a soundscape - symphony - comprising thirteen movements which examine the singular acoustic nature of Old Port Reach in Port River, Australia. The composition "highlights the open space and the relative quietude of the port which, despite its rundown nature, has become a public space in the city where people can relax their eyes, their ears, their minds...". 5 In the course of its seventy-seven minutes, 'Within Our Reach' evokes a certain intimist, almost nostalgic component. Because the passage of time, speculation and technological innovation have gone a long way towards the degeneration of the Port River environment. Schultz makes an exhaustive journey in sound through the ins and outs of this panorama with its ever-faithful companion, the sea. Although nature is taken as the basis for this soundscape, the author does not forget the conversations, the demolition machines, even, the means of transports which have come to form part of a contemporary social scene. "The recording includes musical and sound performances in situ, some on objects which were found there, others on conventional instruments, played in most cases by people who live there, often with no kind of musical training." 6 'Within Our Reach' is dedicated to all the inhabitants of Port Adelaide, especially Jacques Ellull (French sociologist and theologist) and the composers Olivier Messiaen and Ray Murray Schafer.
Work for radio, electro-acoustic music and soundscape are the main creative features of Hildegard Westerkamp, a composer of German origin who has lived in Canada since 1968. 'Transformations' is the culmination of a long period spent composing [1979-1992]. It brings together five meticulous explorations which take microphone work and careful attention to the phenomenon of sound as their point of departure. "I understand the soundscape as a language by means of which places and societies can express themselves... I compose using any sound that the environment offers up to my microphone, just as a writer works with all the words that a language provides." 7 The artist invites the listener along on an itinerary full of subtleties: the urban setting of Vancouver's Skid Row ('A Walk Through the City'), the Zone of Silence in the Mexican desert ('Cricket Voice'), Kitsilano Beach in the very heart of the city of Vancouver ('Kits Beach Soundwalk'), Carmanah valley ('Beneath the Forest Floor') and also certain of Vancouver's distinctive sounds ('Fantasie for Horns II').
Particular mention should be made of 'Cricket Voice', a composition which analyses a cricket chirping in the desert backdrop of the Zone of Silence. Using an obviously electro-acoustic process, Westerkamp exhibits an intimate, mysterious work which is in keeping with the venue of the piece. On the one hand, electro-acoustic transformation uncovers certain nuances and particularities in the original sources which enrich our auditory perception and, on the other, it undertakes to subjectivise, to a greater or lesser extent, the sound creation in question. The language of soundscape often uses tools which, far from detracting from the originality of the message, examine it from a multitude of points of view.
From New York to Africa via Naples
"A Sound map of the River Hudson" is the particular proposal of the veteran composer and artist Annea Lockwood. An acoustic journey along the Hudson River (from Tear of Clouds Lake to the very Atlantic). The river recordings that Lockwood made during the second semester of 1982, are the examples of the sound variety of that environment. That is; the place conditions, environmental factors and even the human intervention, all these have definitely influenced the creation of a perfect range of timbres. In addition, the artist offers a detailed itinerary of the different parts of that big river. Something like a visual guide of moments and locations, that contributes to some interaction in the work's enjoyment.
Annea Lockwood explains how, along with these recordings, she had the chance to compile the stories of certain people (a farmer, a fisherman, a forest ranger...) who had experienced the river's power. Another inestimable sound document to complement this magnificent landscape composition. 'A Sound Map of the River Hudson' was originally commissioned by the Hudson River Museum.
"One of the biggest discoveries to influence my later work happened in 1958... I simply set up a microphone at the window and recorded the sound environment with a tape recorder until the tape ran out. When reproducing the tape, I realised that even though I had been listening carefully to everything that happened around me during the recording, I had still not heard all the sounds which appeared on the tape. Basically, that was when I discovered... that the microphone discriminated sounds very differently to the way my ears did. From that moment on, I set out to expand my awareness of the global sound environment. I set myself the apparently absurd task of listening to everything, always. With this exercise, I started to listen to the sounds around me like one great composition." 8
Somehow, there is an undeniable harmony between the words of the prestigious composer Pauline Oliveros and the creative approach in the work for radio-cum-installation 'Napoli' by Italian composer Roberto Paci Dalò. 'Napoli' is, quite simply, an acoustic portrait of the city of the same name. This twenty-nine minute piece was produced in 1993. Voices in a market, a Heidelberg printing press, metals, fountains, motorbikes, water, footsteps, and the voices and instruments of the folk group 'E Zezi form the palette of sounds for this imaginative representation. Paci Dalò analyses in great detail the qualities of each of these source sounds, which he places under his own particular microscope; the microphone and his attentive, tenacious sense of hearing. Gradually he penetrated the secrets of a city which lives in close communion with words, music, banging, hubbub and silence. Roberto Paci Dalò seems to know the city very well.
Once again, nature plays the lead in an exquisite sound landscape in 'The Lion in Which the Spirits of the Royal Ancestors Make their Home', produced by North American composer David Dunn. A real collage of African vernacular reality. Rather like a window open onto the everyday life of a country, Zimbabwe, which certainly unfolds a formidable sonic wealth. The recording consists of seven fragments, one after the other with no leading thread to cultivate a sensation of wholeness of the work. In his response to comments on his work, David Dunn makes it quite clear that 'The Lion in Which the Spirits...' should not be seen as a reportage or sound document of a specific environment, but as an acoustic description of the dynamism and behaviour that characterise a community which, in spite of obvious external intervention, does not admit the possibility of terror, revealing its ancestral disposition. Attentive listeners to this soundscape certainly work their way into the very essence of an inviolable culture.
" 'The Sharawadji effect' is an aesthetic effect characterised by a sensation of plenitude generated, on occasion, by contemplation of a complex sound landscape of inexplicable beauty." 9 Claude Schryer (Ottawa, 1959) picks up this quote, from a specialist dictionary of sound effects, the work of Jean François Augoyard and Henry Torgue, to preface his work: 'Autour', a cycle of four compositions which analyse the integrity and musicality of the North American acoustic environment. Schryer, a faithful follower of the teachings of Ray Murray Schafer, develops his artistic activity by taking as his departure point the fundaments of Acoustic Ecology.
"My creative exercise is characterised by a process of listening, analysis and, finally, orchestration of the soundscapes." 10
'Autour' includes an impressionist portrait of the past, present and future of the city of Vancouver in 'Vancouver Soundscape Revisited', a composition in the form of an acousmatic work. A piece for radio which brings together six soundshots of the acoustic environment of Mexico City, 'El medio ambiente acústico de México'. The soundtrack of the documentary film 'Odyssée Sonore', based on the theories of acoustic ecology and the soundscape of the city of Quebec. And finally, a composition, 'Autour d'une Musique Portuaire', which combines instrumental performances and the soundscape of the port of Montreal.
Claude Schryer is a sound artist whose vehement interest lies in reconciling two postures: an inclination towards technology - leading to his ongoing research into electro-acoustics - and the respectful analysis of the acoustic environment. "... I also consider myself an ecologist... I like to submerge myself in the incessant metaphorical potential of electro-acoustics ... The two activities are not necessarily incompatible." 11. 'Autour' is a noteworthy example of this attitude.
The radio seems to be the most suitable medium for the transmission of a work produced in 1994, 'La Ciudad de Agua'. An imaginative, evocative sound composition which combines landscape and interpretative elements. Its authors, the intermedia artist Concha Jerez and composer José Iges.
The piece weaves its way through a dreamlike setting, Granada's famed Alhambra and its most emblematic distinctive sound: water. "We measured the monument and the surrounding gardens of the Generalife by means of their most characteristic sound, water, drawing out an itinerary which unveils to the listener the rich, suggestive qualities of this fluid as it courses around their spaces." 12 Indeed, walking is sometimes an intrinsic part of capturing and acquiring a better understanding of soundscape. We are released into a more or less voluntary itinerary where we observe manifold aural events and objects, clearly distinguish the succession of sonic spaces we cross and, in short, overturn the apparent uniformity of this acoustic reality.
This poetic walk around the monument, interrupted on eleven occasions, bares a delimited yet seductive catalogue of murmured motifs. And it is precisely the organisation of this source sounds that constitutes the main virtue of 'La Ciudad de Agua'. Concha Jerez and José Iges display a remarkable aptitude in bringing together the different sonorities of water, voices, comments, singing, laughter, poems, and the flashes and motors of cameras. Like an elegant mosaic. "... A twelve-sided polyhedron, a fundamental number in the Alhambra." 13 For their part, Pablo Beneito and Esperanza Abad contribute fleeting literary recreations to enrich the evocative power of the composition.
The murmur of Vancouver
The World Soundscape Project (WSP) is a group which was set up in the city of Vancouver by Ray Murray Schafer in the late sixties. Its main aim was - and still is - to obtain and concentrate as much knowledge as possible about the scientific, sociological and aesthetic aspects of our acoustic environment. 'The Vancouver Soundscape' was the first object of study of a specific acoustic environment, carried out in 1973 by this group. This recording was the starting point for a whole series of important activities promoted by the group, culminating in 1993 with the founding of the World Forum for Acoustic Ecology (WFAE). Curiously enough, it was three years later (in 1996) and under the auspices of this forum, that 'Soundscape Vancouver 1996' saw the light, a collection of compositions produced in the nineties to show the changes in the soundscape of the same city. Something like a review of the original work, produced twenty years on.
The recordings made in 1973, along with the later ones from 1996, were brought together in an essential double CD edition. Perhaps the main virtue of this release is the possibility of comparing the two series of recordings. Over the years, the city has obviously undergone a process of transformation which is evident when listening to these pieces. The transformation goes beyond the actual characteristics of the sound landscape to include the procedure used to document this acoustic reality. Obviously, the technological resources used to store, process and subsequently reproduce sound information in 1973 are a far cry from those existing twenty years later. The edition we are dealing with here comprises:
- fragments of recordings of 'The Vancouver Soundscape' made in 1973 by the World Soundscape Project, including sound references and distinctive features of the city, and natural and urban ambiences, as well as an illustrative dissertation on Acoustic Design by Ray Murray Schafer;
- a short document comparing recordings of the city's soundscapes made in 1973 and 1993;
- and finally, five soundscape compositions about Vancouver using new digital recordings made after 1990.
The commitment of the artists and composers of these sound documents goes beyond a desire to expound the aesthetic virtues of certain pieces. The appreciation of a soundscape, understood as any other process of communication, is constantly underlain by an invitation to reflect on the scope of the message being conveyed. In this sense, groups like the World Soundscape Project or the World Forum for Acoustic Ecology suggest the need to analyse the frequently complex mesh of relations which exist between the individual and the soundscape, or in more specialised terms, what is known as Soundscape Ecology. On the other hand, the concept of Soundscape Design belongs to the discipline which pursues the discovery and development of techniques used to correct, reform or renew the social, psychological and aesthetic nature of the acoustic environment, and therefore the soundscape. "In that it aims to include the individual, the community and cultural behaviour, Soundscape Design ... also influences other areas of knowledge such as sociology, anthropology, psychology and geography." 14.
Not everything is here, and what is here is not everything. The reader will wonder why one work is included and another not. If these disparate, personal sound trajectories have one thing in common, it is the fact that they are the works which were listened to on the first of August 1999 in the Catalan town of Camallera. The event in question was organised by the Côclea cultural association. Unfortunately, this compilation is by no means comprehensive, as many works and authors have necessarily been left out.
(1) Stepping into the Dark - Chris Watson (Touch TO:27) booklet CD
(2) Stepping into the Dark - Chris Watson (Touch TO:27) booklet CD
(3) Within Earreach: Sonic Journeys - Richard Lerman (ART 1009) booklet CD
(4) Resonance - O+A (CD O+A 002) booklet CD
(5) Within Our Reach - Chester Schultz (winDmuD 1) booklet CD
(6) Within Our Reach - Chester Schultz (winDmuD 1) booklet CD
(7) Transformations - Hildegard Westerkamp (Imed 96319) booklet CD
(8) Software for People - Pauline Oliveros (Smith Publications, 1984)
(9) Autour - Claude Schryer (Imed 9736) booklet CD
(10) Autour - Claude Schryer (Imed 9736) booklet CD
(11) Searching for the Sharawadji Effect - Claude Schryer (Muisicworks, No. 70)
(12) La ciudad de agua - José Iges / Concha Jerez (hyCD-24 - Ríos Invisibles) booklet CD
(13) La ciudad de agua - José Iges / Concha Jerez (hyCD-24 - Ríos Invisibles) booklet CD
(14) Soundscape Design - Barry Truax (Soundscape, Acoustic...C. Music Review, 1996)
Callaghan, Kate. (1998). Some thoughts on voice and modes of listening (online article)
Escobar, Diana. (1995). Sons i ressons (Edicions La Magrana)
James, Robin. (1992). Cassette Mythos (Autonomedia)
Oliveros, Pauline. (1984). Software for People (Smith Publications)
Russolo, Luigi. - El arte de los ruidos (C. Creación Experimental Taller de Ediciones)
Schafer, Ray Murray. (1969). The New Soundscape (Toronto)
Schryer, Claude. (1998). Searching for the Sharawadji Effect (Musicworks, No. 70)
Truax, Barry. (1996). Soundscape, Acoustic... (Contemporary Music Review)
Truax, Barry (1998). Handbook for Acoustic Ecology (S. Fraser Univ. / ARC publications)