The Touch of Sound
To listen is therefore to touch a stethoscope to the skin of a landscape, to hear what stirs below.
David George Haskell
When we listen to the world around us we find ourselves inside its soundscape and can no longer pretend that we are separate from it all. It opens the possibility for us to understand more deeply that our place is among all other living beings, that our existence is intricately interwoven with everything around us, that we are the environment as much as the insect that just buzzed around our ears, or the tree sounding in the wind. Many indigenous people – as I have witnessed with the Nlaka’mux (ɪŋkləˈkæpmə) Salish First Nations of the Southern Interior of British Columbia, Canada – carry this knowledge deeply inside them and know it to be their sacred responsibility to live in a reciprocal relationship to land, water and all living beings. The world is in dire need of such teachings. Listening – more than looking – can lead us in this direction and challenge our illusions of separateness.
A Touch of Sound hopes to encourage such mindful listening. You will hear straight field recordings, eco-acoustic and soundscape compositions, soundwalk pieces, as well as instrumental and vocal soundmakings, mostly based on sounds and soundscapes from various regions of the world, far away from urban life. It is a bit of an improv around CDs and pieces, field recordings and soundscape compositions sent to me by colleagues and friends over the years. I found that each recordist and composer reveals and highlights subtle sonic movements inside our soundscapes in most unique ways. My main question during the selection process was simple: do the pieces open us to the wonder and significance of acoustic events in our soundscapes and do they make us more curious about the sound environment than we were before? In turn I wonder, will my selections inspire your ears and lead you more deeply inside the soundscape, inside your listening?
The Touch of Sound
Stormy Day: Churning Waves and Foam (April 2017)
Big Atlantic waves are breaking on the Western-most shores of São Miguel, the largest of the Azores Islands; thumping onto the dark volcanic rock at Ferreria, sending spray meters into the air and surging through channels and inlets.
Sonic Ecosystem at Dusk
This is an unaltered field recording, made in Ulu Temburong National Park, Brunei, Borneo – Dipterocarp primary forest habitat at 6.15 pm, Geo-location: 4°33’2.09″N 115° 9’37.95″E.
The dramatic shift of biophonies (2 species of cicadas and various insects plus birds and amphibians in the distance in this case) happen when the light fades out at dusk and many species share the same reverberant acoustic environment, sometimes also with geophonies (in this case thunder). The listener will hear the following species: Cicada – Pomponia imperatorial, Cicada – Pomponia merula, Insects in the family of Tettigoniidae and Grylloidea, Distant Birds and amphibians not recognized.
Irides literally means rainbows. In Greco-Roman mythology, rainbows were thought to be bridges made by the goddess Iris and connected heaven and earth. Irides are multicoloured arcs caused by diffraction and dispersion of light by water droplets in the air. Similarly, in this composition, momentary sunny spells and droplets of rain give rise to spectra, bands of colours, arcs that form double, triple and multiple sonic rainbows that permeate the scenery of the piece.
The work was premiered at the Sound of Memory symposium at Goldsmiths Great Hall, London, on 24 April 2017.
Ormiston Gorge Full Moon 3 a.m., Featuring Pied Butcherbird
The story is that I awoke in the early hours on the campground near the entrance to Ormiston Gorge, in the western McDonnell ranges in the centre of Australia. I heard a butcherbird singing down by the gorge and got up to record it. It was singing in an old gum tree growing on the edge of the waterhole at the entrance to the gorge, and sung for about an hour. It was a male singing solo, rather than a pair duetting, as is often heard during the day. It felt the bird was singing slowly, as though only half awake.
Meanwhile crickets called from the reed beds, a dotterel did song flights up and down the water, grebes can be heard occasionally, a hooded robin calls out on the plains (they are a pre-dawn caller), an insectivorous bat chips and a barn owl are heard from overhead, rock wallabies dislodge stones, and desert tree frogs call from a rock overhang. So you can hear the whole ecosystem. And that acoustic! I love it when you can hear the landscape itself.
Music For Natural History (2016)
Excerpts: Elk Concerto and Shoreline Operetta
In the late 1970s the Royal British Columbia Museum in Victoria, Canada created a Natural History Gallery with exhibits of taxidermied birds and mammals, human-made trees, painted landscapes and an accompanying soundtrack of environmental sounds. This was rather advanced for its day with some unusual special effects, all in order to draw the visitor into a sensual experience of the Pacific West coast environment.
Music for Natural History was created as a sonic re-imagination of these exhibits. After cataloguing the flora, fauna and habitats presented in the forest and coastal dioramas, the composers developed representative sound scores for an ensemble of vocalists, instrumentalists and sound artists to carefully replicate the sounds of the birds, mammals, trees, wind, and ocean surf, effectively replacing the museum’s looped field recordings with an acoustic human embodiment of the wilderness. The preparations included soundwalks, workshops in listening and sonic mimicry.
With the museum’s prerecorded audio loops silenced, the audience was led through a slow sound-focused journey into the coastal forest exhibit, through its rainforest stream and onto the expansive Pacific shore spaces, where they encountered the performers sounding their voices and acoustic instruments into the dioramas, giving voice to the still and silent replicates of the absent wilderness environment.
Music for Natural History is part of a growing global movement of art projects that hope to foster renewed connections with the biosphere. The project gives performers and audiences an entry to forgotten ways of listening and sounding, and blurs boundaries between sonic mimicry, soundscape composition, classical music, and dada-ist sound poetry within the already paradoxical setting of the Museum’s exhibitions. …Music for Natural History might also be interpreted as a visceral longing for remembering what we no longer hear, and what we no longer sing.
A Soundwalk (2017)
For Hildegard Westerkamp
This composition started as a personal experiment to impose the structure of a soundwalk* to a fixed media composition. Consequently it became a composition through and about soundwalking. The last months of 2016 I had the opportunity to guide four soundwalks and this experience of silent listening together with a group of people, while walking and exploring the soundings of different places was a mind and soul opening experience.
** Burhan Kose recorded the Santorini soundwalk in October 2016, during the Kinisi festival (www.kinisifestival.com/blog/2016/10/…erina-tzedaki). I would like to thank the organizers of the festival Alyssa Moxley and Ramona Stout for the invitation, and Burhan Kose for recording the soundwalk.
The Sound of the Light in Trees, excerpt (2006)
All of the sounds heard in this recording occur within the interior of one species of conifer tree, the common two-needle piñion of the southwestern United States, Pinus edulis. What I mean by “the interior” are the layers of phloem and cambium between the outer bark and inner xylem of the tree. Within this narrow realm of cellulose, air, and fluid occurs an almost unknown acoustical world and an extraordinary array of living sound makers. While the majority of these sounds are made by one species of small insect (about the size of a grain of rice) known as the piñion Engraver Beetle, Ips confusus, there are possibly others such as bark beetles of the Dendroctonus genus, other species of the Ips genus, and the larvae of several species of miscellaneous invertebrates, most notably those of the many different species of Longhorn Beetles known collectively as Round Headed Wood Borers (Cerambycidae).
My intention in the composing of this collage was to convince the listener of the surprising complexity of sound occurring within one species of tree as emblematic of the interior sound worlds of trees in general. It is also intended to demonstrate the rich acoustical behavior of a single species of small insect and to suggest how sound is a much more important aspect of how it organizes its world, and interacts with its surrounding ecosystem, than previously suspected. The composition was organized around the idea that it would be possible to hear all of these sounds within one large tree if enough sensors could be simultaneously placed throughout its myriad branching structures.
I first began to focus my attention on these trees and their principal invaders (Ips beetles) as the demise of the piñions where I live in northern New Mexico became quite evident. In recent years there has been a major outbreak and it is estimated that a majority of these trees will die within another few years. Ips confusus are similar to the thousands of different known species of beetles that attack damaged or stressed trees throughout the world. Usually they maintain an equilibrium with the various kinds of conifer trees found in the western states but in recent years, whether due to local drought conditions, global climate change or other factors, bark beetles have outstripped the capacity of the trees to defend themselves and we are witnessing an extraordinary level of infestation.
Fragments Of Extinction, Excerpt (2003)
Fragments of Extinction is an ongoing research project that documents the sonic environments of the primary equatorial rainforests remaining on the planet. It was conceived as a vehicle for raising public awareness of the bio-acoustic value of our environmental heritage and the serious global issues pertaining to the loss of tropical forests and species extinction. This project aims to communicate the organic equilibrium and intrinsic beauty of the rapidly changing primary soundscape.
This version of Fragments of Extinction is created from the sounds and soundscapes recorded in the Brazilian Amazon in 2002 around the Jauperì River, a tributary of the Rio Negro that flows through an as yet undisturbed equatorial rainforest area. It is here, along the equator, that night and day are equal throughout the year and natural rhythms are impressively regular and in balance. Three distinct, major ecosystems (forest, flooded forest, and riverbank forest) were sampled throughout the 24-hour cycle over fifteen days at the onset of the region’s rainy season.
The unique harmonic morphology of the first cicada in the piece is the sound gesture from which all compositional processes are inspired and derived. Metaphorically, as in the harmonic series partials are separated, equidistant, not competing in frequency and concur with the creation of the whole system of one note, in primary tropical forests species that co-evolved in high-biodiversity habitats, vocalize respecting a strict frequency-niche partitioning. The piece is built around this analogy between the harmonic series and a natural soundscape of insects in which horizontal and vertical behaviors are similar.
Compositionally, pitch/time shifted segments of habitats cross-fade with unaltered instances of the same recordings so that sometimes the entire spectrum (higher part: original recordings – lower part: pitch shifted ones) becomes full of precisely positioned acoustic “frequential” niches, never superimposing one upon another. The pitched sounds found in the recordings (mostly crickets) are taken as keynotes to tune the granular synthesis and the horizon harmonics. These horizons serve as backgrounds on which the soundscape figures can be brought to a perspective, as in the background/figure perceptual relationship occurring in a Renaissance painting (e.g. Piero della Francesca).
Sound Map of the Danube, Excerpt:
Popina, Bulgaria, Dichisena and Rasova, Romania
Between the winter of 2001 and the summer of 2004, I made five field recording trips, moving slowly down the Danube from the sources in the Black Forest through Germany, Austria, Slovakia, Hungary, Croatia, Serbia, Bulgaria and Romania to the great delta on the Black Sea, recording the river’s sounds, aquatic insects, and the various inhabitants of its banks.
I recorded from the banks, finding a great variety of water sounds as the gradient and bank materials changed, often feeling that I was hearing the process of geological change in real time. Towards the end of the final field trip … I realised that the river has agency; it composes itself, shaping its sounds by the way it sculpts its banks.
In this excerpt we hear a big coal barge passing in Popina, Bulgaria with the river sounding in the foreground. This is followed by the slow moving and silent river in Dichiseni, Romania, with two young girls, talking, laughing quietly, then some boys playing, splashing in the water. Best of all, a horse was grazing behind me, and interjects a couple of times. It was a super quiet spot – the kids were distant and I wasn’t at all sure I could get enough signal to work. Rasova, Romania was special. The river had carved almost a tube shape in the silty bank which amplified the river’s plops creating rather special sounds with a hollow resonance – and there it occurred to me that the “river is endlessly creative, having itself carved that tube/bank.”
Beneath the Forest Floor (1992)
Beneath the Forest Floor is composed from sounds recorded in old–growth forests on British Columbia’s Pacific west coast in Canada. It moves us through the visible forest, into its shadow world, its’ spirit; into that which effects our body, heart and mind when we experience forest.
Most of the sounds for this composition were recorded in one specific location, the Carmanah Valley on Vancouver Island. This old-growth rainforest contains some of the tallest known Sitka spruce in the world and cedar trees that are well over one thousand years old. Its’ stillness is enormous, punctuated only occasionally by the sounds of small songbirds, ravens and jays, squirrels, flies and mosquitoes. Although the Carmanah Creek is a constant acoustic presence it never disturbs the peace. Its’ sound moves in and out of the forest silence as the trail meanders in and out of clearings near the creek. A few days in the Carmanah creates deep inner peace – transmitted, surely, by the trees, which have been standing in the same place for hundreds of years.
Beneath the Forest Floor is attempting to provide a space in time for the experience of such peace. Better still, it hopes to encourage listeners to visit a place like the Carmanah, half of which has already been destroyed by clear-cut logging. Aside from experiencing its huge stillness a visit will also transmit a very real knowledge of what is lost if these forests disappear: not only the trees but also an inner space that they transmit to us: a sense of balance and focus, of new energy and life. The inner forest, the forest in us.
Beneath the Forest Floor was commissioned by CBC Radio. It was Recommended for Broadcast by the 4th International Rostrum of Electroacoustic Music in 1992 and received an Honorouble Mention in the Prix Italia 1994. Excerpts of Beneath the Forest Floor appear in Elephant (2003), a film by Gus van Sant.
The Touch of Sound: Bios of Composers
Peter Cusack is a field recordist, musician and sound artist with a long interest in the sound environment. He initiated the “Favourite Sounds Project” to discover what people find positive about their everyday sound environment and ‘Sounds from Dangerous Places’ (sonic journalism) that investigates sites of major environmental damage such as the Caspian Sea oil fields and the Chernobyl exclusion zone.
He produced ‘Vermilion Sounds’ – the environmental sound program – for ResonanceFM Radio, is a research fellow at the University of the arts, London and was DAAD artist-in-residence in Berlin 2011/12, intiating ‘Berlin Sonic Places’ that examines relationships between soundscape and urban development. Musical collaborators include David Toop, Steve Beresford, Terry Day, Clive Bell, Tomomi Adachi, Martyna Poznanska, Max Eastley, Nic Collins, Viv Corringham. He is based in Berlin and London.
David Dunn is a composer, artist, and audio engineer. As a composer, he primarily engages in site-specific interactions or research-oriented activities. Much of his work is focused upon the development of listening strategies and technologies for environmental sound monitoring in both aesthetic and scientific contexts. Dunn is internationally known for his articulation of frameworks that combine the arts and sciences towards practical environmental activism and problem solving. Currently he is Professor for Sound Art and Design at the University of California, Santa Cruz. His compositions and soundscape recordings have appeared in over 500 international forums, concerts, broadcasts, and exhibitions.
Annea Lockwood is known for her explorations of the rich world of natural acoustic sounds and environments, in works ranging from sound art and environmental installations, through text-sound and performance art to concert music. Recent works include In Our Name, for baritone Thomas Buckner, cello and sound files, based on poems by prisoners in Guantánamo, and Wild Energy, a collaboration with Bob Bielecki – a multi-channel site-specific installation focused on geophysical, atmospheric and mammalian infra and ultra sound sources, commissioned by the Caramoor Festival of the Arts.
Her music has been presented in many venues and festivals, most recently the 2016 Tectonics/BBC Festival, Glasgow, the Henry Moore Institute, Leeds and the Tactile Paths festival, Berlin. In addition to this new Black Truffle release, her work has been issued on CD and online on the Lovely Music, New World, Ambitus, 3Leaves, EM, XI, and other labels.
David Monacchi (1970) is an eco-acoustics researcher, composer and interdisciplinary artist. He has been developing the project Fragments of Extinction for 15 years, conducting field research in the world’s remaining areas of undisturbed primary equatorial forest. The recipient of multiple awards throughout Europe and North America, Monacchi is pioneering a new science dissemination and compositional approach based on 3D soundscape recordings of ecosystems to foster discourse on the biodiversity crisis through educational and sound-art installations. His Eco-acoustic Theatre invention has received the international patent in 2014 and is now being built in museums and public spaces. An Erato-Farnesina fellow at Simon Fraser University – Vancouver (CA) in 1998 and a Fulbright fellow at UC Berkeley (USA) in 2007, Monacchi has taught at the University of Macerata (IT) since 2000, and is now professor of Electroacoustics at the Conservatorio “G. Rossini” of Pesaro (IT). The documentary film “Dusk Chorus based on Fragments of Extinction” is now receiving the highest awards in environmental and science film festivals throughout the world. A TEDx speaker in 2017, Monacchi is the recipient of the Artistic Research Residency 2018 at IRCAM (Paris).
Aki Pasoulas is an electroacoustic composer, Lecturer, Director of Music Programmes, Dir. of Education and Dir. of MAAST (Music and Audio Arts Sound Theatre) at the University of Kent, UK. He also taught at universities in London including City, Middlesex, and the University of the Arts, and he holds a PhD on timescale perception in electroacoustic music. His research interests include acousmatic music, time perception in relation to music, psychoacoustics and sound perception, spatial sound, acoustic communication, and soundscape ecology especially in relation to listening psychology. He has written for instruments, found objects, voice, recorded and electronic sound, composed music for the theatre and for short animation films, and organised and performed with many ensembles. His scholarly and music works are published through EMI/KPM, ICMA, Cambridge and Oxford University Press and his compositions are performed worldwide. (http://www.aki-pasoulas.co.uk)
Tina M Pearson is a Canadian composer, performer and facilitator. Her projects investigate symbiotic connections between environments, creators and witnesses, and often play with eco-mimicry and attention states. Recent projects include Root, Blood, Fractal, Breath for the Contact ensemble at Alan Gardens Conservatory (Toronto, 2017), the dance film and performance weighting (2017), and the installations Absorb (MediaNet, Victoria 2016)) and This Is For You (ohrenhoch, Berlin 2016); the networked telematic performance PwRHm with Helicopter (Florence Multimedia Festival, 2016), and Songs From Glass Island (Vancouver Contemporary Art Gallery, 2016). Pearson was editor of Musicworks magazine and instructor in Sound Studies at OCAD University in Toronto. She is director of LaSaM Music and member of the global telematic collective, Avatar Orchestra Metaverse. https://tina-pearson.com/
Andrew Skeoch is a naturalist and one of Australia’s best-known nature sound recordists. Together with his partner, photographer Sarah Koschak, he established the independent label Listening Earth in 1993 to publish authentic, natural soundscape recordings. This work has now taken him around the world, documenting the sounds of iconic landscapes and threatened ecosystems. To date, they have published over 80 albums, and Listening Earth has grown to include the work of pre-eminent colleagues. Andrew has also contributed sounds to films such as ‘Pirates of the Carribean’, Disney’s 2016 remake of ‘The Jungle Book’ and Peter Gabriel’s soundtrack to ‘Rabbit Proof Fence’. As a musician, Andrew has researched and taught harmonic vocal techniques, forming and directing an 8-voice choir to explore this innovative repertoire. He has also recorded an album of his own compositions performed on solo lute. More recently, he has been learning West African percussion traditions – for the sheer fun of it.
He regularly lectures at university, and speaks for local naturalist groups. He was a keynote speaker at Griffith University’s ‘Sonic Environments’ conference in 2016. One of his three presentations at the Woodford Folk Festival was recorded by ABC Radio for the Big Ideas program, and he has just recently presented a TEDx talk in Canberra.
“I feel that we need to listen to the natural world afresh, and hear ourselves as part of it.”
Born in Rethymno, Crete (1964). Studied (1984-93) in Athens, music, electroacoustic music and computer music with I. Ioannides, Stefanos Vasilleiades, Dimitris Kamarotos and Thanassis Rikakis. From 1993-2000 worked as coordinator of the Computer Music Lab of the Program of Psychoacoustics of the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki (IPSA). She holds an MA degree in music composition (electroacoustic) from City University (2002) and in May 2012 she completed her PhD studies in electroacoustic music composition at De Montfort University with Simon Emmerson.
She is currently living in Greece (Rethimno, Crete) teaching at the Department of Music Technology and Acoustics of the Technological Educational Institute of Crete. She is interested in soundscape research and composition, electroacoustic music and spirituality. Her music has been performed in various places at different times. She is a founding member of HELMCA (www.essim.gr) and of Hellenic Society for Acoustic Ecology (www.akouse.gr).
Paul Walde is an artist, composer, and curator. Walde’s body of work suggests unexpected interconnections between landscape, identity, and technology. Recent exhibitions of his work include: NEoN Digital Arts Festival, Dundee, Scotland (2017); The View from Up Here at the Nordnorsk Kunstmuseum in Tromsø, Norway (2017); The Edge of the Earth, Ryerson Image Centre, Toronto, Ontario (2016). In 2013, he presented Requiem for a Glacier, a site-specific sound performance featuring a fifty-five-piece choir and orchestra live on the Farnham Glacier in the Purcell Mountains. Requiem for a Glacier was subsequently developed into a multichannel sound and video installation which has been the basis of numerous solo and group exhibitions across Canada. Walde is Associate Professor of Visual Arts at the University of Victoria. He is a founding member of Audio Lodge, a Canadian sound art collective and EMU Experimental Music Unit a Victoria-based sound ensemble. http://paulwalde.com/
Composer Hildegard Westerkamp focuses on listening, environmental sound and acoustic ecology. She worked with R. Murray Schafer at the World Soundscape Project, is a founding and board member of the World Forum for Acoustic Ecology and was long-time editor of its journal Soundscape. She has conducted soundscape workshops, given concerts and lectures, and has coordinated and led Soundwalks locally and internationally. Excerpts of her compositions appear in Gus van Sants’ films Elephant and Last Days and most recenly she collaborated on the soundtrack of Nettie Wild’s film Koneline. Her composition Beads of Time Sounding was a collaboration with composer and recorder player Terri Hron, who performed it in Vancouver in September of 2016. A number of Hildegard’s compositions were presented in a whole evening ‘Concert for Earth Day’ at Goldsmiths University in London, 22 April 2017. The world premiere of her newest composition Klavierklang for pianist Rachel Iwaasa will occur at the ISCM festival in Vancouver, November 2017. For more information see: http://www.sfu.ca/~westerka