While exploring northwest Iowa, I found 2 wind turbines and was able to get in between them to make a recording of them both at the same time. They are two different models and made two very different sounds. Off in the distance is road construction equipment.
-n 1. a noisy confused place or situation.
This is a recording of the beehives at The Prairie Flower, a massive natural prairie nursery in northwest Iowa. Owner and all around amazing human Dwight Rutter gave me permission to record on his property during my time as artist in residence at the Lakeside Lab.
Dederang, Vic Australia
Each morning I get up before the sun to hike out and record the sounds of the forest as it comes to life. Each morning the performance is different. I am so grateful for the opportunity to experience Australia’s Alpine National Park in this way. This is me on the morning of New Year’s Day. My hike around the mountain started at 4:30 am and the place I found to record did not disappoint. It was a great way to start what I feel is going to be a great new year.
Photo by Rick Braidwood
Bernie Krause writes in his book about this idea that each individual has their own set of totem sounds. These are sounds that a person is somehow deeply connected to for what might be unexplainable reasons.
Based on my ever growing interest in filed recording and assembling audio compositions from these recordings, my totem sounds are those that I discover or continue to return to with renewed fascination, intrigue and an unexplainable attraction.
I’ve always enjoyed building fires. It doesn’t mater if it’s in a backyard fire bowl for chilling after a cookout, a campfire to use for cooking or a spectacle to enjoy as the sun goes down. In Boy Scouts it was one of the things that I could do really well. A regular challenge was to start a fire with wet wood and a single match using only the dry tinder that you packed in. No liquid fire starting fuel allowed (A rule I abide by to this day). I built up some pretty good skills. Recently, I’ve been able to put these skills to good use again through a series of bonfires and campouts around Iowa. It started in Grinnell, IA during my artist residency at Grin City. Each week they have a potluck. Weather permitting and participants so inclined, this regularly transitions to a bonfire. The first one I was there for, I jumped in to help and was quickly handed fire duty. I really like it. I’ve always loved how it looked but it wasn’t until these Grin City bonfires along with a recent camping adventure with Mrs Formalplay that I realized just how much I also love the sound. There were so many textures, so many clicks and hisses, and a subtle roar that still wasn’t enough to mask the birds in the distance.
It’s that thing were you can’t help but stare into the fire. The colors, the light, the warmth and the sound. It all harkens back to something much older than any of our conscious memories. It connects to a world we are now entirely removed from. The energy. The power. The ability to change – positive and negative (and even positive from a negative like natural forest fires). When thinking of totem sounds, I feel a strong connection to fire from my youth as I developed into an adult, partially from the process of earning the Eagle Scout award. I am also filled with a sense of wonder at all of the things that have and still come from fire.
This is an excerpt from a longer performance that I gave at Relish in Grinnell, IA on May 29th, 2013. This performance was created as part of my artist residency at the Grin City Collective.
All sounds are created from field recordings that I’ve made in various locations, including several from the Grin City Collective farm.
Several pairs of modified headphones were provided for the audience to have a different listening experience of the performed compositions.
This excerpt features Kenji Yoshino, Gideon Chase, Ezra Masch & Noah Breur on archery w/ special guest Carolyn Grace Scherf on lard for soap making.
Yesterday I worked in the csa garden crew in the morning, raced around prepping the farm for a major storm which included helping to put a new wall on the turkey coop, and gave a sound performance at one the best restaurants in town. This may have been my best single day of the farm residency.
During my time as an artist in residence at the Grin City Collective, I was invited to perform at Relish in town. It’s a small restaurant inside of what used to be a large house with several rooms and an outdoor patio in front. On Wednesday nights they have musicians come in and perform. Mostly singer/songwriters from what I could find online. So I wasn’t sure what the response would be to what I was doing or what the turn out would even be for a night billed as a sound art presentation and performance. The audience was amazing and the turnout was really good. The two adjacent rooms of the house/restaurant were pretty well full and a couple folks were milling around in the bar area too.
As part of the evening, I brought along four pairs of headphones that I have with me on the farm and at the beginning, I simply left them on different tables in the hopes that people would pick them up without too much prodding. I never know if people will be willing to put them on. It’s something that comes from the workshops. Some people are hesitant but usually it’s just that they don’t want to be the first ones to maybe look silly or awkward. No issues with that here. Many people were interested in them and excited to put them on to experience a portion of the performance. I really appreciate the confidence and security that this represents. It’s also about a willingness to take risks and have new adventures which probably aligns with the fact that they went to a “sound art show” at a restaurant in town. With the headphones on, people began investigating the pieces that I was presenting but they also started to explore the space and each other in different ways. I love it when this happens. Moving beer classes to listen to the resonance on the wood, jingling pocket change near the pipes, and even playing wine glasses as harps all broke out later in the set once they knew it was ok to move around and make noise. I forgot to do my “please turn your cell phones on” bit at the beginning. I like it best when I can just start and then answer questions and provide more context later. I feel this sets up the best relationship between the listener and the sound. It’s more important that the audience listen and develop their own relationship with what I am making as apposed to me first telling them what they should be listening for. It also makes for better conversations afterward because they are going into the piece with their ears more open if I haven’t framed it before starting.
I played a set of 3 pieces that are part of a new series of works that I’ve been making. The material used is a combination of things that I’ve been playing with before coming to Grin City and things that I have been collecting and working with since being on the farm. As people started filling into the rooms to find seats (at 9 promptly… this is the Midwest after all) I just started making noise with the headphones being already laid out on some of the tables. I was pretty immersed in getting everything going but I’m pretty Joe Lacina was the first one to put them on. Then I quickly saw from my periphery that they were circulating around the room. I also noticed that everyone was working really hard to sit still and be quite so I knew that I needed to talk a little between sets. I wanted to break the tension and remove this reverence for the performer. It’s not about the guy sitting there turning knobs and moving sliders (my friend Anna joke-seriously told me it looks really boring and she is totally right). It’s about the development and projection of the sound and how it is sculpted within the space. In between sets the audience had really good questions and I had a chance to say my piece about noise, listening, design and audio ecology. They also asked if I wanted them to be quite so I tried to let them know that I just wanted them to be comfortable, whatever that means. I don’t have any expectation that the performance is treated as some sort of sacred thing that everyone must sit still and face forward. Although I was very pleased that the event was set up so that it could be a seated performance, it seemed like the audience really dug getting up and moving around to explore the features of the room.During the break, people were wearing the headphones around Relish and made their way outside. I finished just in time for a train to go by the nearby tracks. Immediately the headphones were scooped up as everyone headed outside to hear. The train line is about 1 block from the patio and from their the train sounded amazing. Listening to it with the headphones on in real space, not a recording, reaffirmed my fascination with trains. I’ve discovered that “foamer” is a term for someone who sits and waits for trains to come by so that they can, usually, photograph them. Turns out, I’m a listening foamer. Maybe I need a better term for that. Even though my friend Anna had heard all these tracks before, I still was able to use a few different chickens throughout the evening.
I’m really glad to have had this opportunity to perform as a way of turning my time here as an artist in residence into something that people could experience. The performance at Relish was a combination of things that I’ve used in the past and new things that come straight from Grin City. It was a piece of phonographic fiction created from a series of experiences that many cities, a few road trips and a couple weeks as an artist in residence on a farm in Iowa. It was a fun way for me to synthesize the things that I’ve been working on here at Grin City. All that mixed in with a great audience, new friends, one of the best restaurants in town and my wife secretly showing up for the entire show without me even knowing it until the break made for a pretty amazing night. For this I am really grateful.
Last spring, I traveled to San Francisco to experience the Audium in person. This trip was supported by a grant from the Center for Cultural Innovation in Los Angeles. What follows is a writing that I created after the performance as part of the final grant report.
Originally written on July 2nd, 2012
A large room with a suspended ceiling and a floating false floor houses this permanent audio-performance-as-sound-art-installation created from a composition performed through a series of 176 different speakers mounted throughout the space. There are square acoustic panels mounted in concentric circles at the ceiling. Speakers of different sizes, for frequency and response, are hung from the ceiling facing down, under the floor facing up and along the wall facing toward the center. The audience is seated in a series of 3 concentric circles facing the center. There are speakers mounted directly under many – if not all – of the chairs. Some of the walls are solid but some of the curved forms used to define the space are created from stretched white fabric. The area where the performer sits is a very Kubric-esque station opposite the entrance that contains a custom mixing area with a series of dials and switches. The entirely custom-built interface is marked with glow-in-the-dark labels so that they can be seen by the performer but won’t give off any projected light. This aligned with the initial announcement that requested people remove any watches with illuminated faces or anything else that might light up during the performance. As the sound began, the room was slowly taken to complete and absolute darkness. In fact, during the second movement, the gentlemen sitting next to me got a silent phone call and the light emanating form his blue jeans pocket was incredibly bright, emphasizing the darkness after 30 minutes of being without light.
A primary technical feature of the space is that it provides sound the ability to move through the space and be composed with other moving sounds. The tape performance consisted of a mix of musical instruments, synthesized sounds, field recordings and even some voice samples. These sounds create a dream-like state that flows through a series of emotions and compositional movements. It deals with issues of tension, beauty, memory, child hood innocence and scientific exploration. There are moments that are heavily rhythmic and draw the listener’s attention around the space and other times the sound comes to the listener during the experience.
The presentation throughout the space functions in a way that a normal projected listening experience cannot. The sound moves through the space in a way that directly reflects one’s listening ability in real space. Sounds come from all around us. We hear in 360° and we can’t turn it off. Our ears don’t blink – as the famous John Cage saying goes. This installation / performance explores this and presents a composition in a way that creates a different relationship to recorded and projected audio. The listening experience is quite amazing. Hearing a performed composition distributed through space in such a way draws the listener in and blurs the familiar lines of experiencing recorded sound, usually limited to 2 channels of stereo or at most maybe, 5 channels of surround sound. Having sonic distribution at this granular level to compose against creates a great deal of questions and opportunities for composers. As a media artist, I am intrigued by the questions this raises about the methods by which an artist would perform in this type of space. How does one perform within such a dramatically complex and interwoven sonic environment? What are the interaction implications of a controller for 176 distributed, discrete audio channels? And how might this controller work in reverse if instead of distributing sound out to many channels, we consider ways that our binaural listening system might be hacked and modified to perform this space surrounding a listener? While considering the role of the listener within this rich, dynamic performance environment that the Audium presents, these are some of the questions that the experience of this multi-speaker audio installation and performance has raised for me.
All content ©2014 Alex Braidwood unless otherwise stated.
- mysterious hum
- sonic fiction