Aims and Plan
This week I aim to take more audio recordings and compose some more sound pieces from them. I would also like to conduct some research based on one of my experiments, ‘Birds and Boiling Rice’, in order to analyse it and provide meaning to the sound piece. I would also like to try some different experimentation in terms of looking at the structure of the soundwaves of my pieces, which could be interesting. I’m hoping my development and research this week will solidify the kind of idea behind my project and help me focus on meaning and purpose.
Research: from Experiment (week 2): ‘Birds and Boiling Rice’
I am going to conduct research inspired by my piece ‘Birds and Boiling Rice’ (above). I became interested specifically in the bird calls that feature in the sound piece and decided to attempt to identify them. I listened to an audio guide on bird calls and song called ‘british bird sounds’ and managed to identify three different bird calls from the audio: Carrion Crow, Jackdaw and Magpie. After identifying these calls, I wanted to use this information to provide some meaning behind the piece, so decided to research these birds and their more spiritual and historical meaning in culture.
Carrion Crow (Corvus Corone) is a common bird in the UK, besides North-West Scotland, Northern Ireland and The Isle of Man, and is seen year-round. The Crow is completely black, and its call is described as a hoarse, cawing sound. It nests mostly in solitary and feeds off of dead animals, invertebrates and grain. The Carrion Crow is also famous for its intelligence.
The Carrion Crow holds a lot of symbolism through religion and culture in history. Due to their intelligence, crows are often seen to be wise creatures with foresight. As a spirit animal, the crow represents transformation, and is seen as a symbol of required change. Spiritually, the crow is a sign that you have received a clear message on what actions you must take in life, and it is time for this change. In Christianity, crows are considered to be a death omen, however in Celtic history, the crow is seen as a magical creature and a good omen, the Celtic Goddess Morrighan taking the form of a crow through transformation. The word Carrion means the decaying flesh of dead animals, which is what these crows feed on, hence their name. Due to their diet of eating the dead, they are seen in ancient mythology as mediators between life and death, alongside embodying death, lost souls, or being the reincarnation of damned souls.
The Jackdaw (Corvus Monedula) is part of the crow family, being the smallest of them. They are black capped, common and seen year-round, besides North-West Scotland. The Jackdaw nests in holes in trees, buildings and cliffs, often seen flying in flocks, especially near the seaside. It mates for life but is also a well-known thief of other bird’s eggs and nestlings; ‘jack’ meaning a rogue or a thief and ‘daw’ being an imitation of the bird’s call.
Looking at the Jackdaw’s symbolism, there are many interpretations of its sighting; it is seen to represent intellect, sociability and curiosity, but also ingenuity, foolishness, vanity and greed. The Jackdaw is a sacred creature in Welsh Traditions, as it likes to nest in holes of buildings, often churches, and is therefore seen as a holy bird, or a guardian of the church. The meaning of the jackdaw has also been interpreted as a sign of a chance to correct your path and avoid making an irreversible mistake. Alternatively, it can represent the need to remember something important, or the feeling of homesickness. As a spirit animal, the Jackdaw shows empathy, friendliness and problem-solving capabilities.
The Magpie (Pica Pica) is another member of the crow family and is widespread and common besides North Scotland. They are very sociable birds, often seen gathered, chattering in groups. They are omnivorous, have a signature long tail and black and white feathers. The magpie is also notorious for collecting things, specifically shiny objects, additionally associated with a lot of myth and legend through history, from tales and fables to nursery rhymes.
The Magpie has as much as, if not more symbolism than the Carrion Crow; they represent a lot of positivity including protection, good luck, change, confidence, bravery and playfulness – however, they are also a sign of mischief. Not unlike the Carrion Crow, they are a sign that is a time for change and transformation. In Celtic culture, Magpies are the prophet of news, and the omen varies depending on the number of Magpies you see. Due to their nature of collecting things, they also have a tendency to be associated with theft and deception, alongside witchcraft and illusion due to their striking black and white appearance.
There is a well-known nursery rhyme in British folklore that focuses on Magpies and their symbolism, the first recording of such in John Brand’s Observations of Popular Antiquities (1777): ‘One for Sorrow, Two for Myrth, Three for a Funeral, Four for a Birth’. This nursery rhyme has evolved through history, being extended in 1846 by Michael Aislabie Denham, in A Collection of Proverbs and Popular Sayings relating to the seasons, the weather and agricultural pursuits: ‘One for Sorrow, Two for Joy, Three for a Funeral, Four for a Birth, Five for Heaven, Six for Hell, Seven for the Devil, his own self.’. The modern version of the Magpie nursery Rhyme was popularised when used as a theme tune for the children’s TV show ‘Magpie’ between 1968-1980, the version being: ‘One for Sorrow, Two for Joy, Three for a Girl, Four for a Boy, Five for Silver, Six for Gold, Seven for a secret never to be told.’. Each of these nursery rhymes relate back to the Celtic interpretation that the omen of a Magpie depends on the amount of them you see, which is interesting and individual to the Magpie.
Research: Artist Research and Reading
La Monte Young:
La Monte Young is an American musician, artist and composer, producing post-war avant-garde music. Young’s work is influenced by Indian music and Japanese Gagaku music, alongside the Fluxus Movement. As a child, Young learned the Guitar and Saxaphone while growing up in Idaho, beginning his musical passion. He went on to study at Los Angeles City College and at UCLA in the early 1950s, then studying Composition at Berkley in the later 1950s. In 1959, Young enrolled on a summer course with Stockhausen, in Darmstadt, which exposed him to the work of John Cage, the biggest inspiration to the Fluxus Movement. Come 1960, Young moved to New York and became friends with George Maciunas and together they played a central role in the music and Fluxus art scene. Young’s work is described as American Minimalist, focusing on acute refinement and revamping aesthetic through providing a broad field of possibility for sound art. His work defines sound through frequency, amplitude, duration and overtone, the methods he uses being extended duration, harmonics and psychoacoustics, presented through amplified volume. Young’s 1957 work Trio for Strings is described as a pivotal milestone in western music, where he began to work with sound as an event, focusing on the moment and experience of hearing itself.
One of the ways Young worked with Sound was through Psychoacoustics. Psychoacoustics is the scientific study of the perception of sound by humans, alongside the corresponding psychological response. The two main areas of study in Psychoacoustics are Perception and Cognition. The human limits of sound perception range from 20Hz to 20,000Hz, and humans can perceive sound directionally, the perception altered by angle, distance and velocity of the sound. Another thing to be considered in terms of perception when looking into Psychoacoustics is a phenomenon called Audio Masking, which defines an incapability to differentiate between multiple sounds being perceived simultaneously. In terms of Cognition, we look at the ability for the human brain to decode and analyse music, alongside the psychological responses that sound elicits, impacted by any aspects including that of the way sound is presented, like through listening equipment.
The Fluxus Movement
The Fluxus Movement was an avant-garde art movement that consisted of a loosely organised international group of artists between roughly 1959-1978. La Monte Young is said to have worked in the style of Fluxus, and as a part of the movement. The Fluxus Movement is said to be founded by George Maciunus, and influenced heavily by Dadaists and Futurists, alongside the work and ideas of John Cage. The main influence of Fluxus was in New York City and focused on the goal to destroy the boundaries between art and life, alongside the action and relationship between of life and music. The Fluxus Movement also focused on events, particularly that involving audience participation in the creation of art and music.
Experiment 1: Town v1
Town: Version 1 is an audio piece composed from three recording taken while walking around Aberystwyth town centre. The three recordings compiled to just under seven minutes of audio, which I then edited by cutting out the sections of wind, lack of sound, or unwanted noises. I wanted the Town recordings to focus on the voices of people, therefore the audio in this piece is composed of those noises. I arranged the noises from the three recordings in succession, so there is no other additional sound overlapping.
Experiment 2: Town v2
Town: Version 2 is an audio piece composed of the same material used in Version 1. I edited this piece differently and arranged the three recordings to overlap one another and play simultaneously rather than in succession. This means that multiple noises can be heard at once, and perceiving those noises is a more overwhelming experience than the isolated sounds in Town v1.
Town Recordings: Soundwaves
Experiment 1: Town v1
After cutting the unwanted sounds and audio blips from the recordings, this is how I arranged the composition during editing for Town Version 1. As you can see, the recordings play in succession and follow on from one another to create the consistent piece.
Once developed into a composed audio, this is the appearance of the soundwave from Town Version 1. I think that the soundwave appearance from the piece is interesting, as it is an alternate, visual way of experiencing the piece.
Experiment 2: Town v2
For Version 2, the three edited recordings were rearranged so that they would play simultaneously and overlap one another, as shown during editing above. As seen, there is only a brief period of time in the early middle of the piece where isolated sounds exist, and the rest is combined noises from the various recordings.
This is the soundwave from the composed piece of Town Version 2, and it differs in shape and extremity to Town Version 1 due to the different composure. Again, it is an interesting way to review the piece, being able to see the sound fluctuations and experience it differently.
Development and Reflection
I took a lot of recordings this week, and I am pleased by the two Town composed pieces that I managed to produce. I have audio recordings that I also took, but have not edited and composed, including more of bird song and some of the sea, which I may involve into next week’s work. Looking into the shape and structure of soundwaves is interesting, and I want to produce something based off of this visual interpretation of my composed pieces. In terms of researching meaning behind bird song in relation to my experiment ‘Birds and Boiling Rice’, the exercise proved effective as I could provide context and alternate meanings to the recorded piece, and I think it has inspired a want to create experimentation from meaning and develop more in terms of interpretation and reanalysing my experiments to reform them into something new. Involving research, history, cultural interpretation and symbolism as context was something I found really interesting and want to continue moving forwards. Next week I will look at providing this sort of context to the Town pieces, alongside producing auto writing and auto drawing in response to develop from, perhaps also involving the soundwaves into a more physical and visual piece.
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a very well composed post Mason. Its fabulous that you identified the bird song from your recording, that information really does bring another layer to the piece, and then the many layers within the research. You might be interested in Phil Smiths work and writing on Mythogeography, he layers meaning, associations, connections from present, past and future, he is always looking for unexpected signs and symbols that can lead us out and beyond the ordinary, the everyday. An ordinary thing becomes extraordinary when the true and false, wished for and unwished for meanings and associations are revealed. It’s like excavation, mining. I really like the idea that you take random samples of sound and try to excavate and mine them for meaning. That Monte Young piece with the butterflies is just charming, and beautiful and so simple, thank you for reminding me of it.