Howzat: An Appeal for Nature (2014)
Acoustic ecology recognizes sound as a complex sounding system evolving in time and space. The way we experience sound affects our behavior and relationship to the environment we inhabit. As a complex ‘entity’, the soundscape presents the listener with significant temporal and spatial variation. Each individual soundscape reveals a unique set of temporal variations that relate both to biological and human rhythms of activities, while spatial variation mainly reflects land-uses in the landscape. The conservation of the soundscape is an integral part of urban and rural infrastructure. Monitoring and decoding sonic activities help us to understand how sound imparts and informs our existence.
As a sound artist I was invited to take part in an event called ‘Arts for Nature’ to celebrate the ecological diversity of Atherton Wildlife and Nature Meadow, Lancashire, UK. My contribution was to perform a piece called Howzat: An Appeal for Nature (2014) an algorithmic sound composition that transformed sound recordings gathered from around the surrounding area. My intention was to raise awareness of the rich diversity of inhabitants, beit human or non-human, residing in this unique soundscape. The sounds were recorded at different locations around the area. Capturing the sounds of fleeting moments as they inadvertently passed me by such as, muffled conversations, barking dogs, cyclist children playing, a cricket match and the noise of low flying aircraft humming across the sky. Each sound was carefully selected and edited later in the studio into shorter fragments to reveal its materiality. The ability to listen to the sound fragments in isolation freed them from any contextual constraint and thus blurred the source cause relationship. A process of reduced listening revealed perceptual qualities that in turn altered the meaning beyond the original context. A process of spectral filtering allowed me to focus on the rich harmonic and inharmonic properties of the sound material. Seeking out hidden musical properties within the sound material, such as pitched tones, resonant peaks and textures. Often unwanted noise or artifacts inherent in the recording process gave sounds a unique character.
The performance took place on-site at Atherton Cricket Club at 15.30 on Monday 25th August 2014. Positioned on the back of a large container truck with a PA system I performed for a duration of 15’00. During the performance, I transformed the sound stems (listen below) in real time using a custom built max/MSP algorithm (Figure 1). The ability to directly shape the sound material on-site helped match the sound material with surrounding acoustic space. The algorithm process provided a way to alter the inherent structure of the music codependent to a specific environment. Therefore, questioning and extending the traditional method of electronic music of fixed media to reveal unexpected and surprising results.
Below you can listen to the sound stems (.mp3) used during the performance.