Tag Archives: sound

night walk

We only live a couple of miles away from where I work; sometimes I drive, other times I bike, or occasionally carpool.  The other day my wife dropped me off, and then I walked home when I got off 12 and a half hours later.  I took the opportunity to record some of my favorite night-time sounds that are just everywhere in the south.  The hot days in Arkansas give way to warm, breezy, nights full of cicadas, crickets, frogs, fireflies, and the rustling of oak trees.  These sounds are always unique, and to me, always enjoyable.  This is the result of that recording session:



This is a contact mic recording I made of a flagpole outside the courthouse in Searcy, AR.  I love how this picked up the bird sounds.

exercise in hearing

I just read an excellent article on acoustic ecology, which focused on the work of composer and educator R. Murray Schafer.  It focuses on the growing lack of sonic culture, the loss of unique sounds due to continued industrialization of our surroundings, and the difference between hi-fi (sounds evident in a pre-industrial setting, where sound overlap less frequents) and lo-fi sound environments (where sounds are “masked” and there is a predominance of anonymous sound).  The article describes a neat little exercise that Schafer frequently used at the beginning of lectures and workshops:

Schafer’s starting point was to note the incredible dominance of the visual modality in society–”eye culture”  [ . . . ] –and to reveal that children’s ability to listen was, in his experience, deteriorating. [ . . . ] Schafer both demonstrated and addressed the issue–which he termed “sonological competence” –through the practical exercises he developed in working with music students, such as: list any five environmental sounds (not music) that you remember hearing today; and list five sounds (not music) you like and five you do not. [ . . . ] many students do not recall “consciously” having heard any sounds during the day, and many do not complete the sound list even after fifteen minutes.

I gave his exercise a try, and it really didn’t take me very long (except for the sounds I don’t like).  This is what I came up with:

Sounds I heard today:

  • turtle dove
  • wind in trees
  • trip-trap of dog nails on pavement
  • baby fussing and cooing
  • quiet crackle of oil-lamp burning

Favorite sounds:

  • espresso grinder and machine
  • birds singing in the early morning
  • creaking of trees in the wind
  • the bells at St. Spiridon’s church in Seattle
  • rain falling on just about anything

Least favorite sounds:

  • squeak of the glove compartment door while driving
  • people eating
  • highway traffic (city and country traffic can sometimes be interesting)
  • guns
  • the breaking of glass

What are yours?

“go stick your mic on something and call it art”

I just bought some supplies from Radio Shack (and I’m glad such a place still exists, just two blocks from where we live) to build a contact microphone.  A contact microphone is made from piezo disk, which translates vibration (or the compression of the piezo element) into sound. These disks, which are just flat, round pieces of metal with a ceramic patch in the center, are typically used as buzzers or as the speakers in those annoying greeting cards that play a song when you open them.  Attach a mic cable and jack to them and you have a microphone.

The sound you get from one of these is pretty unique, since it must actually be in contact with an object to pick up sound.  It relies on the sound waves traveling through solid objects, rather than through the air, as with a normal microphone.  If you tape it to a guitar body and use it as a pickup, you get a slightly muffled yet intimate guitar sound, complete with every little accidental tap on the sound board or scrape of guitar against jeans.  It is very similar to the sound you would get if you put your ear directly to the guitar itself.  You can tape it to your neck to pick up your voice, a table, or whatever.  I’ll try and post some recordings soon.

I built one of these a few years ago when I was living in Seattle at a “Furious Contact Mic Workship.” It was an almost life changing event, and I had a lot of fun with that microphone until it broke (piezo discs are very delicate).  So I’m finally building a new pair (two, so I can do stereo recordings).  If you want to know how to make make one, here’s the instructions.

hickory dickory dock

This is an old plastic toy clock that we found at a garage sale recently.  It has a pull cord that winds up a music box.