“OK. When did you know it was love?”
I had great fun making some music for Amy Morvell’s new duet called Turtle Dove. All the sounds take their lead from some beautiful soundbites of people talking about love, that Amy had collected during her research. So rather writing music for contemporary dance on the theme of love, the musical tracks are inspired by the places and characters we hear in the text, and that is what makes it so varied!
Huge thank you to The Point for hosting a preview of my immersive sound exhibition The Choreography of Sound. The exhibition gave me an opportunity to test some of the recordings I have made while researching the project, and get some audience feedback on what has been successful so far.
They Live Next Door is a touching, tender and gritty show that knits unique stories with intricate choreography and nostalgic live melodies. Set in a home, on a street not too far from your own, it explores the light and the dark of familiar relationships. The duet is an emotional rollercoaster that sensitively uncovers the complexities of preconceptions around masculinity. At times conforming and other times shaking off stereotypes, multiple relationships between the two men unravel, weaving memories,expectations and domestic rituals. They Live Next Door sets out to ask how social stereotypes affect our identity and our relationships with each other.
Following an 8 year career writing and designing sound for contemporary dance, the Choreography of Sound is my first attempt at taking away the dancers and exploring just the movement of sound. After all, sound is a wave; and exists only within movement. So what happens when I start to shape how that sound moves in a space?
In Brighton the sound of seagulls, traffic and people blend into a mixture of noise that most people have unconsciously trained their minds to filter out. Modern life has added a fairly invasive mix of mobile notification sounds, buzzing home appliances, music piped into every shop, self service check out machines, and phone waiting music to name a few.
But this level of noise pollution isn’t just annoying, there is actually evidence that long-term environmental noise can have a negative influence on your health. As part of Root Experience‘s research into hidden disabilities I have been asking people about their experience of noise and trying to discover how noise affects people with hidden disabilities and if hidden disabilities effect how we hear sound.
What seems to be a shared experience is that many people with hidden disabilities have a hyper sensitivity to sound. Hearing is a sense that we cannot easily control- there is no equivalent to shutting our eyes for example, and the invasiveness of sound can disturb someone’s attempt to maintain a calm environment.
We also discussed as a group whether we chose to play music which represented how we already felt or music which might help us change our mood. Do we play sad music when we are sad, or happy music to feel happy? “Sometimes I like to indulge in how I feel” one participant admitted. Most people agreed that we are more likely to use music for a positive influence, whether it is to feel calm or to lift our spirits, rather than bring us down.
After a bit of experimentation we found that the most calming sound was a slow deep tone. Whilst the sound of the dawn chorus can be uplifting at times, its high pitch and rapid sounds can be overloading to the senses. Equally most people found busy environments with lots of sounds all at once stressful, whereas the single sound of running water can be relaxing.
The best way to start to notice the sounds around you more clearly is to record them. Anyone interested should check out my article on recording found sounds.
We have had some really inspiring and creative sounds come out of our sessions. The hubub exhibition in July 2017 showcased some of these and we would love to hear your thoughts on how sound and hidden disabilities might effect each other.
(originally Published on http://www.rootexperience.org)
Room tones are the sound of silence.
I‘ve borrowed the term ‘roomtone’ from the film industry, where regular practice is to record the stillness of a room or location after each shoot. That way, when various takes of are edited together, they can be glued into one continuous scene by a consistent audio background.
Every environment has a its own distinctive audio fingerprint of almost imperceivable sounds. They include everything from the quiet humming of electrical equipment, extractor fans and appliances, to the weather outside or distant traffic noise.
If room tones were missing in a film, the silence would be so unnatural that the audience would think that the sound had stopped working. And yet I am constantly surprised at how many Theatre and Dance soundtracks don’t include a constant ambient track. For me, the moment I hear silence breaks the illusion of the theatrical world, and I remember that I am sat watching a show.
My soundtracks are peppered with recorded silence, room tones and ambient tracks. In The Deluge by Lila Dance, I created a track called endless rain. It’s over an hour of constantly evolving rain which loops automatically so that the audience will always be immersed by the sound. The soundtrack is run on Qlab which allows the tracks to not only overlap, but also automatically cue volume shifts in the rain. The Deluge is an immersive physical theatre show, and the sound plays a huge part in helping the audience feel like they are living in the fictional world.
Another example is Stopgap Dance Company’s The Enormous Room, which features a track predictably titled ‘The Enormous Room Tone’. It runs throughout the show, and ensures that when a music track ends there is never ‘true’ silence. The whole show is situated in a living room, and the track reflects that by including a ticking clock, gentle hums of the kitchen next door, and the faint sound of traffic outside the house.
For me, these sounds at the edge of our perception fill theatrical worlds with life and character, and have become a fundamental part of my work. But perhaps my ears have become too tuned into this kind of thing.
So let me know if you’ve ever noticed silence, or felt completely engulfed by a soundtrack in the comments below.
2016 was an explosive year for me, and one that questioned some of the biggest issues currently surrounding our sense of identities. I started the year with Joli Vyann’s jaw dropping dance-circus show Imbalance. Watching two dancers performing breath-taking moves while holding a mobile phone really puts into perspective how mad our lives can be. It is currently being performed at Sadler’s Wells, so you should definitely check it out. Then I had the great pleasure of working with the super talented Tim Casson on Night at the Theatre, which playing off the stereotypes of what a theatre can be and do, and was a shed load of fun.
Talking of which, in April had two brilliantly fun photoshoots with Commotion Dance and KJ L Mortimer. KJ and I found some really interesting images exploring contemporary dance against Chichester’s unique identity as a small city with a unique mix of urban and rural architecture. Next I brushed up on my balkan tangos and man waltzes for Ieva Kuniskis‘s They Live Next Door, which asks how social stereotypes affect our identity and our relationships with each other, and tours this year (2017). It follows two male performers negotiating the complex matrix of male relationships showing that you can feel immense frustration, anger, and incredible love all in the same moment.’
Then there was The Enormous Room that spoke of loss and nostalgia with some mesmerising dance from Stopgap Dance. When our relationships are such a huge part of our identity, what happens when that part of you dies, and what impact does that have on your other relationships.
At the end of the summer I remade The Deluge for rural touring with Lila Dance, which continues to tour into 2017. It is about a whole community finding a sense of identity through their shared experience of a natural disaster. When a flood washes everything away, what remains precious to you?
I was then very fortunate to travel to Dubai to make Where is Christmas with Commotion Dance, which is a magical and heart warming dance show for children, proving that the identity of christmas can be made with a few cardboard boxes and just the children’s imagination.
Finally, I worked with Floods of Ink on People are People, an absolutely fascinating theatre show about gender identity- probably the most complicated identity issue of today. Still filled with taboo, stereotypes and misrepresentations our ideas of gender need a serious update, which makes People are People a hugely important show.
Anyone familiar with my soundtracks will know that I am a huge fan of using field recordings to add a layer of everyday realism to live performances. This can be anything from a recording of an empty room to enhance claustrophobia (as in The Enormous Room), helicopters flying overhead in (Weightless), traffic lights beeping (A Readiness), or the endless rain and thunder of (The Deluge).
Most of the time I use portable recorders to capture the sounds of objects or places, and below are three options which list some equipment that i recommend for field recordings.
1. Microphones for iPhone
If you don’t fancy learning how to use a new piece of kit, there are some excellent microphones that turn your phone into a mobile studio. They are small, super portable (so you can always keep one with you) and very affordable. The downside is that its fiddly to get them off the mobile and onto a computer to edit, and you will inevitably run out of storage on your phone.
In my opinion, the best mic for iPhone is the Rode IXYL, which is mae up of two condenser microphones in an XY position (90 degrees from each other) which allows you to accurately capture a wide sound, or two people in conversation. Rode make excellent microphones, including the VideoMicro which I plug into my camera to improve audio when filming dance shows.
I also recommend looking at the cheaper Blue Mikey, and the 30pin connection Tascam iM2X.
2. Portable Recorder
If I want a quick, but still high quality recording of a place or environment then I like to use the nifty little Zoom H1. It’s quite cheap at around £75 (UK) and you can simply point it in the direction of the sound you want to capture. Just make sure you use a wind shield if you are outside, the foam ones are ok, but no where near as good as a proper windjammer from Rycote. Check out this recording of a choir at Charing Cross Station. As soon as I heard how great the choir sounded on top of the train announcements, I whipped the zoom out of my bag and recorded it.
3. Portable recorder + Professional Microphone
When I need a really professional recording that I can set up anywhere, I use my Tascam DR-40. It has XLR inputs which means I can connect professional microphones to it and get maximum control over what I record. I also use this to record film audio, because using a separate microphone on a boom pole lets me get much closer to specific sounds, or record individual sounds on separate tracks.
Let me know if you have any questions I might b able to help with in the comments below, or if you have a great piece of kit you recommend.