Outside-In

Outside-In: Cato Langnes

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It’s three months since i began the Outside-In project, responding to the lockdown by compiling submitted field recordings that could act as vivid reminders of, and virtual windows onto, the outside world during a time when we weren’t able to experience it first-hand. Thankfully, much has changed and improved from that initial state of lockdown, so with today’s recording, i’m bringing the project to a close. The final recording comes from Norwegian sound engineer Cato Langnes, who works at Notam, Norway’s centre for technology, art and music.

Cato has been by far the most enthusiastic participant in Outside-In; during the last couple of months he has sent me a large number of recordings made both before and during the lockdown, the longest of which was almost an hour long. Any of them would have been a fine addition to the series, but the one that i like most he recorded a few weeks ago in the woods beside Lake Øyungen, around 15km north of Oslo. The recording was made on 15 May using a RØDE NT-SF 1 ambisonic microphone and a Sound Devices MixPre-6 recorder.
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Outside-In: Luís Salgueiro

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This week’s addition to the Outside-In field recording project comes from Portuguese composer Luís Salgueiro. Here’s his introduction to the recording:

In February, I found myself working a week in Stuttgart. This came on the tail end of an intense period of work and travel — and it was, in fact, the last one since, as by that time Baden-Württemberg already registered cases of COVID-19 and the country would soon go into lockdown.

This was recorded early in the morning, as the sun rose over the Oberer Schloßgarten, between the Staatsoper and the Landtag. You hear one early-morning jogger and a smattering of distant chatter, but the soundscape is mostly dominated by the birds and other animals that nest and frolic around the Eckensee. The city had not yet awoken; this window records a slice of the gradual reintroduction of the human. And it is from this situation that the curious dramaturgy of the recording (which is unedited in its temporal unfolding) emerges: these two layers coexist not in the other’s negative space — nor is the human here drowning out the animal — but their utterances seem to cluster together in time.

This soundscape was recorded on a Zoom H2n with a Primo ECM172 omni microphone.

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Outside-In: Monty Adkins

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Today’s addition to the Outside-In field recording compilation comes from Huddersfield-based composer Monty Adkins. Here’s Monty’s introduction

The recording was made in February 2019 during a residency in Reims. The short soundscape charts the route from my apartment to the studio space in which I was working.

Proceeding from the apartment through the beautiful old heavy wooden door that sealed the courtyard from the street beyond, up the Rue des Capucins and onto the Rue Hincmar, the soundscape slowly moves from relatively deserted streets to the busier central part of the city. Traversing the Rue Chazny brings the listener to the Rue Libergier and the stunning approach to the imposing 13th-century Gothic Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Reims. The cafe cries, speeding moped over the cobbled streets and other quotidian sounds now seem distinctly otherworldly to me after almost three months of lockdown. The soundscape then charts the walk from the Cathédrale up Rue du Trésor before finishing at the Rue Carnot.

Listening back at this recording now I am struck by its simplicity, a normality I am sure we are all yearning for.

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Outside-In: Ed Nixon

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Today’s contribution to the Outside-In compilation comes from Ed Nixon in Canada. His recording takes its starting point from the recent killing of George Floyd – specifically the now notorious length of time it took for that atrocity to happen. Ed writes:

I suppose I wanted to know what eight minutes and forty-six seconds feels like; and to memorialise, even in a small and personal way, the recent murder in Minneapolis and its consequences.

I call this park The Ravine, and it’s a site I use for inspiration when I’m working on my photography, or video, or music. For example, as a result of this project, there is now a short, 8’46” video in the works; I’ll likely use this recording as its soundtrack. But things change.

The recording was made beside Small’s Creek, Merrill Bridge Park, Toronto, and was done on an old Zoom H4n, using the stereo cross-field mics on the top. Not ideal for a small run of water that is seldom wider than 18″. But it I’ve made it sound larger than that through distance and wide-ish stereo pattern, all the better.

The recording was made in the afternoon of Thursday 3 June, 2020, around 1pm.

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Outside-In: Davíð Brynjar Franzson

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The latest field recording in my Outside-In project comes from Icelandic composer Davíð Brynjar Franzson. His recording was made a few days ago in Abu Dhabi, in the United Arab Emirates, and in contrast to the previous recordings i’ve featured, it’s something rather different, primarily because i think it’s fair to say it contains precisely no natural sounds; everything in it is human-made. Here’s Davíð’s introduction to it:

I tried a few things, including hanging my Zoom out my window on the 45th floor. All you can hear is the hum of the air conditioners on the smaller buildings across the street until prayer cuts through it. The singing is actually the evening prayer; the government instructed people to pray from home for all of Ramadan and Eid but they still do the prayer singing to guide people.

This is after curfew so there are very few cars around, but apart from that, the ongoing hum of a thousand air conditioners (which is kind of the natural background when it’s 40 degrees outside) forming into what is basically a wall of noise, with this heavily reverb-sounding prayer coming through, feels good to me. It is a very static soundscape, but it has a certain simplicity to it that I really like.

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Outside-In: Chris Legg

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The latest recording in the Outside-In project comes from long-term 5:4 friend and patron Chris Legg. His field recording was made in woodland not far from Halifax in Yorkshire, in the north of England. Chris says of the recording:

It was recorded during lockdown (but the sounds are not lockdown-specific!), using an Android phone running the Advanced Audio Recorder app, in Beestones Wood, a ten-minute walk from my house. The nearby cliffs (the eponymous stones?) provide a pleasing resonance. Birdsong and other woodland sounds mingle with the drone and white noise of the paper recycling plant in the valley bottom.

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Outside-In: Þóranna Björnsdóttir

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The latest contribution to the Outside-In field recording compilation is from Icelandic composer and sound-artist Þóranna Björnsdóttir. Þóranna has written the following introduction to her recording:

In November 2017, I embarked on a journey to South Africa to participate in the 5th Annual Sonic Mmabolela workshop/residency. Conceived and directed by Francisco López, Sonic Mmabolela is a two-week programme for professional and semi-professional sound artists and composers with previous experience in the area of sound experimentation and sound recordings. It takes place at Mmabolela Reserve, in the Limpopo province of South Africa, right at the border with Botswana. It involves field work, studio work and theoretical/discussion presentations. The residency has a special focus on creative approaches to working with environmental sound recordings, as well as to the role of listening, through an extensive exploration of natural sound environments. It does not have a technical character but is instead conceived and directed towards (i) the questioning of canonical conceptions of so-called ‘field recordings’, and (ii) the development and realisation of projects of sonic creation by the participant artists/composers with the recordings gathered, and through the experience of dedicated listening in natural environments.

The stay at Limpopo and the field listening were a transformational experience for me. The impact of the sounds coming from the diverse fauna in the area stimulated all my senses, creating senses of well being, stress, fear and awe – connecting and transcending various mental associations and emotions.

At dawn on the 18 November 2017, while waiting to collect recording gear from another location, I attached my small Roland R-09HR to a windmill pumping water which was standing at the location where I was waiting. I became fascinated by the metal-scraping rusty music and rhythm this windmill was making, and the ambience it created in combination with the sounds of the fauna around. We are in the midst of a membrane between night and day. I sense, and wonder, about my being. I hear the birds sing, the wind howl, flies buzzing, insects swarming, noise, persistent, squall, dense, rhythmic, drilling. I glide vertical, swinging horizontal, deep, mighty. My perception without restrictions. Impressive surroundings surrounding my awareness, seizing intuition, strengthening hope.

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Outside-In: Kenneth Kirschner

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The next field recording in the Outside-In compilation comes from US composer Kenneth Kirschner. It’s another nocturnal recording, made on Block Island in the state of Rhode Island, off the east coast of the USA.

There’s a lovely sense of calm permeating this recording. The first 90 seconds or so are slightly more intense due to the more obvious presence of muted wind, but the soundscape soon calms and clarifies. In the foreground are assorted cricket and insect calls, all singing out at their own tempo and creating a network of ever-changing cross-rhythms. For me, this is one of the quintessential night-time sounds, and the collection that Kirschner has captured on this occasion are a mesmerising chorus. What i find equally fascinating, though, is the surrounding ambiance: never static, always conveying the vivid impression of life, activity and movement all around, while remaining completely nebulous. Possibly there’s the noise of boats in there somewhere, but these sounds are all the more enjoyable for their being impossible to resolve. It all makes for a highly effective mixture of certainty and uncertainty. Read more

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Outside-In: Ian Wilson

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The latest contribution to the Outside-In project, exploring diverse field recordings, comes from composer Ian Wilson. Unlike the previously-featured recordings, this one is nocturnal. Ian says this about it:

The recording was made on 20th April in the heart of the south Serbian countryside, just outside the village of Međureč, not far from the city of Jagodina but far enough to feel in the middle of nowhere. We’re in lockdown here from 6pm to 5am and I made the recording just after 10pm in the garden of the place we’re staying in – no human noise apart from (weirdly) some gunshots in the distance, which is unusual. A poacher, we think. I used an old Zoom H2 for the recording, which was made in what is part-garden, part-allotment surrounding the house, and this particular bird likes to sit in one of the trees at the bottom and sing all night.

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Outside-In: Simon Cummings

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The latest addition to the Outside-In compilation of field recordings is one of my own. i’m sure i’m not alone in noticing how much more prominent birdsong has become during the lockdown, which is really wonderful. i’ve been fascinated by birdsong for many, many years, and lots of my field recordings focus on birds in some way.

This recording was made almost ten years ago, on 23 May 2010, during a gorgeously hot, sunny day spent exploring the National Nature Reserve at Bridgwater Bay in south-west England, which looks out across the River Severn towards Wales. The shoreline itself was characterised by just two birds, skylarks on the beach and reed warblers in the marshes and reed beds, but moving just slightly further away from the beach yielded an amazing increase in bird numbers. The tip of the reserve is on the Steart Peninsula, and i was curious to see how far its small, single-track road could go before reaching the water. It turned out that the road abruptly stopped next to a house appropriately named At the Very End of the Road. Read more

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Outside-In: Jonathan Coleclough

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i’ve today added a new recording to the Outside-In compilation, this time by sound artist Jonathan Coleclough. If you’re not familiar with Coleclough’s work, i can’t recommend it highly enough; there are a couple of freebies available on Bandcamp, and beyond these i would cite two of his early works, Cake and Windlass, as being among his finest creations. Before turning to Coleclough’s Outside-In contribution, if you have a recording you would like to be considered for this project, please see the Call for Recordings information at the bottom of the article.

Coleclough’s recording was made beside a stream called Holy Brook. He says this about the recording:

This recording was made on 28 March 2020, at about 2pm on a windy afternoon. The location is a small bridge over the Holy Brook, Coley Park, Reading, UK. Latitude 51.442113, Longitude -0.987193; Ordnance Survey map grid reference SU 70489 71944.

The recording was made using in-ear stereo microphones (Roland CS-10EM) under fluffy wind-muffs, so you get a good stereo image listening on headphones.

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Outside-In: JLIAT

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Being in a state of lockdown, as we currently are in the UK and in many other countries, i’ve recently found myself returning to the library of field recordings that i’ve made over the years, using them as a kind of ‘escape’ into the environment during a time when it’s currently not possible to do this. It got me thinking about a possible project for 5:4, in which field recordings of places where composers and sound artists have been in previous years could be compiled and shared. These recordings would provide an immediate, vivid and potentially valuable connection to the outside world, something of a liberation from the current predicament we’re all living through, enabling us to enter into and explore the landscape vicariously through sound.

A couple of weeks ago, i began to contact various musical and artistic friends and colleagues to ask if they had any field recordings of their own that they would like to contribute. The responses are gradually coming in, so today i’m launching the project, which i’m calling Outside-In, and presenting the first of these field recordings. i’ll be introducing each additional recording as they’re added in due course. If you would like to offer a recording of your own to this project, please see the Call for Recordings at the end of the article. The cover image for the project is a photo i took on 22 March, the day before the UK lockdown was introduced. It shows the view from one of my favourite places, not far from where i live: the top of Cleeve Hill – the highest point of the Cotswolds – looking out across Gloucester, Cheltenham and Tewkesbury. Each recording in Outside-In will be accompanied by a Google Maps image of the location where it was made.

The first was recorded by sound artist JLIAT (who was featured recently during my Lent Series), in a coastal village called Burnham Norton. He says this about the recording:

Wind blowing in the marshes of North Norfolk… probably winter 2003.

Recorded on Sony Walkman MZ-R900. Brown Leg Geese? Overwinter in Norfolk from Siberia, feeding on the beet tops and roosting on the marshes.

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