Site Description: The composition takes place at Carlton Gardens, located on the fringes of Melbourne’s central business district. The piece guides the listener on a journey through different areas of the site. The museum foyer, outside the museum entrance, the playground, the basketball court and the grassy area behind the museum. Each area has its own unique sonic characteristics. It is a beautiful sunny day in Melbourne and there are many people out and about enjoying social activities.
Aims and Intentions: The aim is to highlight to the listener certain aspects of the sonic environment that may not be obvious otherwise. Carlton gardens is a large area with a varying sonic palette. The piece intends to highlight these variations in the different areas of the gardens and draw focus to specific types of sounds and sonic effects by exaggerating their existence.
Compositional Approach, Real <-> Abstract: The piece sits in the middle of the real – abstract scale as it uses real world sounds, that through processing, dissolve into abstract almost dreamlike versions of themselves. They may become unrecognisable to some for a moment before transforming and revealing the next area of the gardens.
Compositional Approach, Aural Perspective: The piece sets the listener in a fixed position in different areas of the gardens. There is movement between areas, but rather than the lister being taken on a walking journey, I attempt to give the listener a sense of being submerged into each scene through creative transitions. This is to provoke a trance like state within the listener and help draw focus to different sounds and sonic elements that appear and disappear throughout the experience.
Design Process: Throughout the editing stage I used various techniques to capture and exaggerate different qualities of the sonic environment. By using EQ I was able to focus in on certain key frequencies of each sound source which enabled me to derive musicality and tone. Similar to the soundscape composition titled Pendlerdrøm (Truax, 1997) where Truax was able to draw musical qualities from the sound recording of a Copenhagen train commute, I wanted to draw out these qualities from the background and foreground sounds of Carlton Gardens and use them to transition between each scene. Delay was used to exaggerate the echo effect from the basketball sound wave bouncing off the museum external wall, and reverb was used to create a sense of a large space when the trombone player blew into his instrument. Automation of volume and processed effect parameters were used to smoothly transition between each scene as well as fades in and out of track regions.
After recording the recording process, I had an idea of the direction I wanted to take the piece, but it wasn’t until the editing stage where I was able to experiment with different transitional techniques and effects when the piece really began to take shape. Through a process of trial and error, I was able to find what I thought to be the best methods to transition smoothly between scenes as well as bring into focus the various sonic elements.
The Sounds Captured: Several scenes were captured during the recording process, which consist of many different sounds from an urban environment.These sounds can be categorised into Sounds generated by human activityand sounds not generated by human activity(Kang, 2010). They can be broken down further into the following categories;
- Motorised transport,
Specific recorded sounds include roadway traffic, noise, hum, vacuum cleaner, laughing, conversation, yelling, footsteps, skateboarding, kids playing, basketballs bouncing, singing, trombone, birds and wind.
Compositional Approach, The Spatialisation of Sounds: The final work is presented in stereo format and is best enjoyed using quality headphones. The recording itself was made with a stereo microphone so the separation of left and right really adds to the immersive experience of the soundscape composition.
Compositional Approach, Creative Editing and Recording Techniques: The creativity in the composition comes with the movement between scenes within the piece. I wanted to give the lister a sense of being submerged into each scene, so I strived to find creative ways to transition between them. By processing the audio using EQ, reverb, delay and pitch shift, I was able to enhance particular sonic elements already present in the soundscape to give the listener a new and surreal and somewhat abstract experience of Carlton Gardens. The recording itself was done with a Zoom H6 recorder set to record in the XY polar position. This way I was able to capture natural reflections and echo effects in stereo which would give the listener a sense of space. This sense of space is something I believe to be important when recording an environment, as the sense of space is what defines the aural architecture(Blesser and Salter, 2007) of the environment therein.
Personal Listener Experience: When listening back to the composition I do feel drawn to certain sonic elements. But from my perspective I know the elements I am seeking to express so I have a certain ‘composers bias.’ I found that the creative process of discovering ways in which I could transform the sonic environment in an interesting way was what I found most fulfilling throughout this experience.
Intended Listener Experience: The intended listener experience is conditional on the imagination of the listener. The piece intends to give the listener an opportunity to explore sonic elements they may not normally hear. By diverting the listeners attention to distinct sonic characteristics and highlighting different elements of the surroundings within each area of the gardens, a new sonic environment is established that has the ability to provoke feelings, visions, thoughts and ideas from the listener that are not present, or they are not conscious of, in their normal experience of the gardens. By focusing on these transformed elements and immersing themselves in the abstract realm, the listener is encouraged to reflect upon, in their own way, any reactive feelings, visions, thoughts or ideas that they experience upon listening. Every human can only expect to experience any situation from their own perspective. This sonic journey I hope will allow a listener to take a seemingly familiar environment and experience it in an unfamiliar way.
Listener Experience: I believe my composition does convey my initial aim and intention, but it also goes deeper. On the surface there are certain aspects of the sonic environment that are brought into focus, but the focus is zoomed to the quantum level where the elasticity of this new and abstract existence allows these focused sounds to be bent out of shape, pulled apart and rearranged in a seamless manner.
Site Insights: The process of creating this composition has allowed me to listen to every soundscape in a new way. I find myself separating and categorising sounds that I hear and for this reason I have become more spatially aware. With Carlton gardens in particular, I am now aware of the extreme aural differences in each section of the gardens. This is something that I had never considered before this experience.
Design Changes: My composition did change quite a lot throughout the design process. There were certain ‘close up’ recordings made that I decided were not necessary. The piece itself took several days to complete, and each time I worked on it I would discover new ways to transition between scenes using different effects. I would try something new that I thought sounded better than what I currently had, so I would change it. Then the next day I would find an even better way of processing a sound so I would make another change. An artist’s work is never done, only abandoned.
Effectiveness: I believe my soundscape composition does effectively convey my intention, but only to the trained ear. But that is ok. A listener with no knowledge of sonic effects or experience in soundscape ‘critical listening’ may hear the piece differently to someone with this knowledge and experience. This is because they may never have thought about identifying sonic elements within a soundscape before, or even know what a sonic element is. They have never listened to a soundscape and mentally drawn a sonic mind map. A person like this might find beauty in what they are hearing for the tones and timbres or for reasons they can’t explain. I feel it is easy to lose site of the beauty bestowed within an experience when approaching it analytically. If a listener enjoys my piece for reasons that sit outside my aims and intentions, I am completely happy with that.
BLESSER, B. & SALTER, L.-R. 2007. Spaces speak, are you listening? : experiencing aural architecture, Cambridge, Mass. ; London, MIT.
KANG, J. 2010. From understanding to designing soundscapes. Frontiers of Architecture and Civil Engineering in China, 4, 403-417.
TRUAX, B. 1997. Pendlerdrøm. [Online] Cambridge Street Records. Available at: http://www.sfu.ca/sonic-studio-webdav/excerpts/excerpts.html [Accessed 17 Oct. 2019].