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Thank you for notifying us. The page you are attempting to access contains content that is not intended for underage readers. The window was all wrong. They were standing inside an old streetcar that was festooned with twisted dark weeds growing through the floorboards. Collected dust hung like shredded wool from streamers of cobwebs.
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There should have been nothing beyond the glass of the strange window but green grass and the rest of the abandoned streetcars. Instead, they were looking at an older Los Angeles, and it was a living city, with people going about their lives. Fear of the unknown made them hesitant, but curiosity urged them on.
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Of course, the situation is usually much more fluid than this simple 'this or that' dichotomy; we usually transition rather seamlessly between attentional strategies to shift focus between any number of aspects of the sonic experience. Perceptual qualities are only the most obvious layer of sounds, but are also often the most easily ignored. In terms of a communicational experience of sound, these 'other' qualities tend to play a more prominent role. This article, however, in considering the qualitative aesthetic aspects, will focus on the perceptual qualities of the sounds themselves.
The four primary qualities or characteristics I listen for in making engaging field recordings are: perspective , texture , density , and motion. In evaluating the degree of aesthetic interest, these are the aspects I find myself listening to or for. Combinations of various sorts are not only possible but quite common, and the categories often exhibit a high degree of interdependence. Perspective is often understood as referring to the idea of a vantage point, either in the visual sense or — through metaphor — in the conceptual sense.
Definitions from the Oxford dictionaries online include, "A particular attitude toward or way of regarding something; a point of view" and "An apparent spatial distribution in perceived sound". While texture can be understood in a number of ways, here I'm referring to perceived aspects of surface quality. Again, Oxford online defines it as, "The feel, appearance, or consistency of a surface or a substance" and, "The quality created by the combination of the different elements in a work of music or literature".
In relation to sound s , then, texture can be thought of as resulting from the intersection of the following parameters:.
Often glossed simply as 'sound quality,' timbre is a notoriously slippery term to define. Most contemporary definitions deal more with what it is not than what it is i. In general, it can be linked, as well, with ideas of sonic morphology. We often will describe timbral qualities with terminology borrowed from other senses: we say something sounds 'hollow' or 'metallic' or 'thin' or 'bright. In musical performance, articulation refers to the manner of playing notes, for example smoothly bowing, crisply striking, or plucking the strings of a violin are all different types of articulation.
This can be generalized more broadly as the manner in which the resonating body is energized; how is energy transferred from one object into another. This in turn affects timbre-related aspects such as spectrum, morphology, and envelope, as well as peak amplitude and to a lesser degree pitch.
We will often describe a sound's articulation as sharp or dull, crisp or muted, or by analogy to musical instruments, i. In musical terminology we might say staccato or legato, etc. In a single complexly changing sustained sound or aggregates of multiple sounds, the overall net effect of numerous individual changes in texture can be characterized as, for example, rough or smooth, and the surface of these changes — how they progress over time — as linear, angular or curved.
Density of sound can be thought of as a function of multitude and proximity in time, in location, in any other perceivable parameter. In music this equates to pulse, rhythm, subdivision, and tempo. In music, this would relate to harmony, voicing, and orchestration.
In "The Tuning of the World" Murray Schafer introduces the terms hi-fi and lo-fi as describing soundscapes in which individual sounds can be heard with clarity hi-fi or those in which individual elements are lost amongst the multitudes of sounds lo-fi. One obvious aspect here is the relative density of these two types of soundscapes.
According to Oxford online, motion is "The action or process of moving or being moved". In stereo recordings this motion or perceived motion is two-dimensional: left-to-right horizontal panorama and front-to-back horizontal proximity. Surround sound multi-channel recordings expand the front-to-back dimension to envelope the listener. Motion can be implied, however, where none in actuality exists, for example through rapid alternation of individual stationary sound sources.
Such auditory illusions have visual corollaries. There are four primary categories of motion in the soundscape or audio recordings. Animated — implied motion resulting from interaction of a number of individually motionless sound sources. There are numerous levels on which a field recording may be judged aesthetically; I've focused here on the 4 primary parameters that I evaluate when listening to or making recordings. My experience is not so much that more or less of any one of these categories is necessarily better or worse; rather, to the extent that you pay attention to them and work with them to get the result you are after, your recordings will be more interesting and aesthetically engaging to listen to.
The following listening examples are all drawn from my blog Sights Sounds Words — not because I think my recordings are necessarily better than others; rather simply because they're the ones with which I'm familiar from both the 'making' and 'listening' sides of the experience. They are presented in no particular order, along with short explanatory notes linking them to the discussion above.
Perspective — a foreground mixture of near-field and slightly more distant frogs, with far-distant insects in the background; widely distributed and fairly symmetrical. Texture — somewhat granular, consisting of a number of relatively short sounds that are smoothly articulated. Density — reasonably low density; each sound is clearly audible, even the distant and quiet insects; temporal density fluctuates over the course of the recording, while textural density remains very low throughout. Comments — recorded right at the edge and about " off the ground of a small frog pond that is about feet across from front to back and about feet wide; surrounded by trees and low bushes; near the village of Payangan, Bali.
Texture — smooth distant hum with percussive foreground foot-falls of pedestrians and rough surface of passing bicycles and scooters. Density — medium temporal and textural density; despite the urban context and presence of background traffic noise, the overall effect is relatively hi-fi, with each fore- and mid-ground sound source clearly audible.
Motion — predominantly objects in motion, dominated by side-to-side panoramic movement; no discernable front-to-back motion other than one car which backs away from the listener's position; a few individual background elements are stationary. Perspective — mixture of near-field and more distant layers; symmetrical and evenly distributed wide panorama. Texture — smooth with spikes and bumps; dense background wall forms a smooth backdrop against which the foreground elements stand out. Density — the strongest and most obvious initial impression is of extremely high density, both temporal and textural, which is fairly uniform and consistent throughout the recording; upon closer listening, despite the extreme density and resulting overall lo-fi impression, there is still a clearly discernable set of foreground sounds which distinguish themselves from the background wall of sound.
Motion — a combination of static, animated, and side-to-side motion; background elements fuse into a static sound field, with occasional animated elements; foreground elements exhibit both panoramic and animated motion. Texture — a somewhat angular layer over a more solid and thick layer; fluid timbres contrasted with metal and machine. Density — both layers have a fairly high temporal density; the distant layer is texturally dense while the close-up layer is texturally sparse.
Motion — close-up layer is quite active with continual and at times extreme motion enhanced by mic proximity , while distant layer is static. Comments — recorded with the mic suspended about " above the water surface at the edge of the river on a stone pier, allowing the water to flow up to, under, and behind the mic; exploits the interplay of perspective, density, and motion resulting in a paradoxical situation where the active, highly mobile, close-up layer often recedes to the perceptual background while the static-motion distant layer comes to the foreground, largely due to the repetition and consistency of the water versus the continually evolving bell and city sounds.
Perspective — mixture of mid-field and distant elements; wide panorama that is symmetrically arrayed.
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Texture — smooth and even, punctuated with shorter, sharper, and rougher elements; the mechanical timbres are offset with a number of human and animal sounds; shorter and dynamic sounds are contrasted with sustaining and slowly evolving ones. Density — medium temporal density, with a textural density that varies from medium to high as the calls-to-prayer begin to predominate.
Comments — perched on the 3rd-floor balcony of my hotel room, overlooking a low, primarily residential hillside, with small lanes traversed by motorcycles, cars, bicycles, and pushcart food vendors; the evening call to prayer starts as a sparse background element then soon develops into a thickly dense and evolving focal point. Perspective — mid-field proximity; evenly distributed and symmetrical wide panorama. Density — depending on how you consider it, either very low or very high density, both temporally and texturally: the numerous individual elements perceptually fuse into a single aggregate; considered individually there are a high number of individual elements all overlapping, while considered as a single aggregate there's not much change over time and only one layer.
Comments — a great example of a soundfield that on the surface seems very singular and undifferentiated yet on closer listening reveals numerous individual events with a surprisingly dynamic internal structure.