This week I tried to clarify the vision of my project. I read a bunch, conducted two interviews and scheduled two more (find this documentation in my running research threads), and prototyped a technique to put soundscapes into conversation with one another. Through multichannel mic experiments I did last week for my Alt Docs class, I began to see how simple editing of these sources can add theatrical characteristics to sonic environments.
This is similar to sound artists like David Dunn (The Sound of Light In Trees) and Chris Watson (El Tren Fantasma, Weather Report), wherein sonic collage stays closely tethered to realism but punches up the natural attributes of a soundscape. It conflates the elements of an environment into a singular and more dynamic character that we more easily perceive as telling a story, particularly when we place these characters into conversation with their urban counterparts. Architecturally these sorts of conversations play out visually; in the case of Central Park we see skyscapers looming at the perimeter. Through listening, sound walks and acoustic ecology can give us a sense of place that allows us to consider many urban issues from a new vantage point (density, gentrification, demographics, environmental damage, biodiversity, etc).
This week I used two NYC soundscapes - a generic street scene and a moment from Central Park - and began by transferring that audio data to MIDI. Some of my reading this week talked about sound as memory, and in that way it also translates directly to data. The translation of sound to MIDI data is often an interesting and flawed process, but through the Ableton algorithm's sometimes curious decisions it begins to take a literal translation into the realm of the abstract. This data then allows me to further abstract the material, and in the end I think I reached a place that reads as a conversation, albeit an abstract one.
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A bit more of the research included here that influenced this week.
Anne Guthrie's piece from the Urban Omnibus (publication of the Architectural League of New York) is a wonderful survey of many of the things I'm working with in this project. She touches on R. Murray Schafer and his insights into Soundscapes and listening as a way to understand and ultimately improve our acoustic worlds through sensitivity training. This type of training involves soundwalks, and ear cleaning's as he called them.
"The essence of Schafer’s theory is this: humans did not become enveloped by a blanket of industrial noise because they liked the sound, but because they ignored it. Keeping noise levels under control is good for health, but it doesn’t discriminate pleasant sounds from harsh ones. Humans need a varied soundscape to give them a sense of place, to enrich their auditory systems, and to enhance social interactions. Once they are more aware of these sounds, they are more inclined to push for a decrease in other, less pleasing ones...They may encourage new public works of sound sculpture or sound design to enrich the environment and preserve fading activities in order to prevent sounds from disappearing. Even if this kind of sonic activism doesn’t catch on citywide, it can at least improve our personal experiences of navigating the streets of New York."