The Tonal Textures of Trees

Last Sunday morning it was wet but not enough to stop me going for a walk through the woods. It is a mixed, managed wood with the deciduous trees being higher up on the hill and the coniferous lining the main footpath.

I took the high path for my walk and whilst the soft ground underfoot was in keeping with the soft texture of the sounds around me, one of the most enjoyable (apart from the birds) was the changing sound of the wind as I moved from the deciduous area to the coniferous. You may think it is quite subtle or that it is just the wind rising, but in fact it is the change to the coniferous foliage that has caused the change in the sound. This takes place around the 3:44 mark in what is a 5+ minute recording.

Look at the photos and then play the sound clip and close your eyes to be taken there! Enjoy 🙂

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That Old Freezer – why I like it?

So, back to the canvas, or at least, the place from which that “Metallic Canvas” came – the old burnt out freezer that provided me with so much colour and texture for my camera and sound for my recorder. I said that I would try and explain my interest in metal and my weird liking for the sounds it can make and these are the clues.

Over this last week I have shown something of the ways in which I have used metal in my work but perhaps I have not explained why I use and like it.

Synesthesia – This is not how I would describe my visual, aural or linguistic experience of the world. However, from the moment I started tapestry weaving at college many years ago, I was excited by the touch and texture of the materials I handled.

Old Freezer

It took many years of weaving to reach a level of expertise with which I was happy and confident. A part of this development was my deepening understanding of how my body, my fingers, interacted with the structure of warp and weft. For many years I used strong bold colours and blends in my tapestries and this too helped me to gain a clearer understanding of how colour interacts in different ways in different circumstances. Tapestry weaving is unique in its absorption and reflection of light – hence its generosity with colour.

These things are key to my approach to photography, sound recording, StillWalks and my “Interventions”. I have carried out workshops in the past where I have asked people to close their eyes and listen to the sound of an instrument or an everyday kitchen object and think about what colour the sound might be or what it would feel like if they could touch the sound as it travels through the air around them. Music, too, is often described in terms of colour, texture and form. This is not synesthesia, I do not see numbers as colours or whatever the crossover of senses might be for an individual experiencing synesthesia.

I find the relationship of one sense to another exciting and I am thinking more and more these days in terms of how everything in this world is interconnected in one way or another. The texture and colour of an old burnt out freezer relates precisely to what has happened (or been done) to it. The sounds it makes in this state are unique to its condition and the circumstances of the space that it occupies.

Sounds are very important to me and whilst it may just be a matter of personal taste in the end, the fact that I like those (some would say harsh) sounds that metal can make, is relevant to StillWalks. I specifically do not like the soft, ethereal music that is so often used on meditation disks and it is this fact that led me to explore field recording and its use in StillWalks. The sounds in StillWalks are unique to the time and place of the walk, and the photography, and therefore, what you hear in each walk is entirely the result of the conditions at the time.

I find it fascinating how little these conditions need to change in order to create a different sound – it may be wind strength and direction or simply atmospheric pressure, time of day or year or how many people, birds and other creatures are around . . . and those thing too, only exist as they do because of the conditions and circumstances at any given time and place.

Everything is interconnected and it is this that I try to impart to project participants when out in the field. How we interact with our surroundings has an influence on everything that is a part of those surroundings and as a species that is in the privileged position of being able to make conscious choices about what we do and how we act in relation to everything (and everyone) around us, we have a responsibility to consider the effect we have on all those things to which we are connected directly or indirectly.

Oh dear, now I’m getting preachy – sorry about that folks 🙂 Comments welcome!

Suffice it to say that it is the colours and textures both visually and aurally that attracts me to metal. This says nothing of the symbolism that it can have in different forms and conditions, but that is something that perhaps should be left to the audience to interpret.

 

Maritime Quarter, Swansea – Different Scales

I have managed, in the last photo of this series, to bring the scale of the Meridian Tower down to that of the Helwick Lightship sitting in Swansea’s marina.

The sounds of the marina can be a fascinating orchestra of rigging when the wind is up. On this day there was just the lapping of water under the floating booms, passing voices and high heeled shoes. They would not have been there if the marina wind orchestra had been playing!

Swansea Marina sound sample

You can listen to this on SoundCloud below (if you’re on the blog) or click here.

Meridian Tower

Meridian Tower

Rigging in the Marina

Rigging in the Marina

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Helwick Lightship

Helwick Lightship and Meridian Tower

Helwick Lightship and Meridian Tower

Different Scales

French Garden Walk and House Tours

New StillWalks – I have just completed a new StillWalk, for Summer, of my parents garden in France, “Garden Walk, France”. It is a beautiful garden and the sounds of the birds and bees, the church bells and the peace take me straight back there.

There is also a StillWalk house tour produced to help sell the house. Anyone interested should check it out and if you know of anyone who may be interested, please pass this on.

French House

French House

Busy Bees

Busy Bees

The Shard and Other London Fragments

Looking at a recent post about London on a blog I follow, I was reminded by a photo showing the Shard in the distance, of a visit to London I made when that structure was still being built.

Half the tube stations were out of action in preparation for the 2012 Olympics but the StillWalk I produced from the photos and sound recording I did on the day does not reflect my frustration with this. Watch the video below.

StillWalks – London Tate Walk from Alastair Duncan on Vimeo.

My StillWalks often use the natural environment as the location, but not always. StillWalks are primarily about relaxation and stress relief but they are also about seeing and hearing all that is around us and I am as interested in the sounds of the city as those of the countryside.

Here is one of the images from that walk.

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Football in the Park

They say smell is one of the best memory triggers. Sound, I would say, is another.

Whilst walking through our local park on Saturday morning, the local school football team had a match on. I don’t know who they were playing but the scene took me back to my own early years when I too played football on the school team. My memory tells me I didn’t do much else for a while – either football or riding my bicycle. Happy memories 🙂

Football in the Park

StillWalks Production Kit and a Skylark’s Spectral Display

Last week’s production day on Ryer’s Down on the Gower in South Wales was a challenge. The weather suggests that the StillWalk to be produced will be “A Misty Gower Walk”. Fortunately, rain covers were not needed for the cameras but I was glad to have the waterproof case for the recorder.

I had all the sound and photography kit with me and alternated between them throughout the walk. This still meant that, for a relatively short walk, I was out recording and taking photos for 6.5 hours.

Kitted up and loaded down

Kitted up and loaded down

The kit includes:

  • Canon 550D x 2 (Canon)
  • Canon 18-55mm lens with stabilization
  • Canon 70-300mm lens with stabilization
  • Monopod (Manfrotto)
  • Fostex FR-2LE field recorder with Portabrace cover (Fostex, Portabrace)
  • Rode NTG-3 shotgun microphone (RODE)
  • Rode Blimp windshield and suspension grip
  • Edirol R-09 compact digital recorder (as back up) (Edirol R-09)
  • AKG K271 MkII headphones (AKG)

All this plus a small collapsible stool (essential piece of kit), food, water, spare batteries, filters, etc. all in a great Lowepro kit bag, meant I was pretty weighed down. The trick is to be patient, take your time and not try to fit too much into the day. The recce walks are essential to ensure this can be achieved.

The mist never lifted as I had hoped it would, and the day was not as peaceful as on the previous recce visit when the Skylarks sang for us and traffic was non existent. Instead, normal farm life was ever present with the sound of tractors and other farm equipment in the distance. The Larks, however, sang through it all and their sound was as beautiful as ever.

Virtual Walks – I hope, with StillWalks, to provide realistic virtual walks. We don’t always want to wait until a beautiful Spring day to go for a walk and sometimes the sights and sounds around us are not what we would wish. However, these things don’t stop us, and wherever or whenever we decide to go for a walk, there are always a multitude of fascinating things to see and hear. Producing StillWalks helps me to recognize and focus on these things and enjoy the surroundings wherever I may be. I hope that they do this for you as well.

Technical Problems – During the Ryer’s Down production day I came up with a problem on the Fostex recorder and had to temporarily revert to the Edirol. I can only guess that the problem was electrical interference of some sort. The problem is illustrated in the sound clip and image below. I tried switching my phone to airplane mode and then off altogether but to no avail. I checked all my settings in case I had inadvertently knocked something but found everything as it should be.

interference1

interference1

Fortunately, I was able to use the Edirol instead – it’s not as good but very useful as a back up recorder. The problem, however, was temporary as, when I tried the Fostex again about 15 minutes later and another 100 yards further on, there was no problem at all and I was able to continue using it for the rest of the day.

Spectral Display – When viewing the sound files afterwards I find the spectral display a valuable element in Adobe Audition when it comes to identifying various aspects of the sounds I record. The image above shows the pattern created by the sound of what I guessed was electrical interference – the bright, gentle curve of the sound at the higher frequency is inaudible to the human ear but the broader curve downwards into the lower frequencies and then up again is easily seen and heard.

Skylark Song – The image below shows the pattern revealed through spectral display in Audition by a Skylark – and, of course, you must listen to the 10 second clip to which the image relates – enjoy 🙂

Ryers Down Lark

Ryers Down Lark Spectral Display

More to come in the future about both the production and post-production element of StillWalks.