Sound and vision blog

12 posts from April 2014

06 April 2014

Sound & Vision # 3: Marika Samek

Over the past couple of months Graphic Media Design students from the London College of Communication have been producing coursework inspired by sounds from the British Library collection. The students were given their pick of recordings from the http://sounds.bl.uk site, and asked to produce graphical works in whatever form inspired them, for a project we called (logically enough) 'Sound & Vision'. Some of the students' work is being featured on this blog over two weeks.

Our third student is Marika Samek. Her piece entitled Awaken was inspired by wildlife sound recordings of her native Poland.

 

When listening to the sound materials at the British Library Sound Archive I was strongly drawn to the nature and life sounds. Listening to those sounds, I found myself revisiting some of the places I have been to and remember from my childhood. The sound I selected for this project was recorded in 2001 by Ian Todd. I chose this specific sound as it represents the sound of woodland; the dominant sound is the call (song) of the thrush nightingale, we can also recognise the sound of other birds, wind and all sorts of tree movement in a beautiful forest, near my hometown. I have visited this area many times in my past.

Thrush nightingale at woodland edge next to the lake (2001)

 The idea for Awaken come not only from the sound but also from pictures of this beautiful place, and the emotions and memories they bring back from childhood. Awaken examines subjects of light, movement, shadow, rhythm, structure. The aim of this installation is to transform the organic, clear form of wood and translucent film applied on acrylic into a shimmering world of light, shadow, and brilliant colour. It is a metaphor for how Sound - something assumedly invisible - an integrate with other senses and create beautiful Vision in the form of a vibrant picture.

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I like the idea of Awaken being a unique art piece, as each viewer will experience it differently depending upon the time of day, ratio of natural to artificial light, precise angle of viewing, and even the number of people in the gallery. It is even possible for two people to stand next to one another and each have a completely different experience of the dynamic presence of light.

I titled my work Awaken, as that is the feeling I get every time I observe it. It is a dynamic piece, representing energy and movement yet it also bring happiness and peace from contemplation, making us feel alive and awake.

You can see more of my work at www.marikasamek.eu.

Marika Samek

04 April 2014

Sound & Vision # 2: Natasha Smith

Over the past couple of months Graphic Media Design students from the London College of Communication have been producing coursework inspired by sounds from the British Library collection. The students were given their pick of recordings from the http://sounds.bl.uk site, and asked to produce graphical works in whatever form inspired them, for a project we called (logically enough) 'Sound & Vision'. Some of the students' work is being featured on this blog over the next two weeks.

Our second student is Natasha Smith, a final year BA Graphic and Media Design student at the London College of Communication. She was inspired by our oral history recordings, in particular an interview with eminent biologist Max Perutz ( (1914-2002), who was recently honoured by appearing on a British stamp as part of series marking remarkable British lives.

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All images by Natasha Smith

From a young age I was taught the value of both the arts and sciences, and the importance of appreciating them both together and separately. The sound collection at the British Library isn't something I'd ever come across, and when I did, I immediately found the Oral Science section. In this section alone, the amount of interesting content seemed infinite. Initially I was less attracted to sound files because I thought that the lack of visual content might limit my understanding, but once I started listening I found that an accompanying visual wasn't paramount.

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 Perutz, Max (Part 1 of 19). National Life Stories Collection (2001)

Instead, the sound files stimulated my visual imagination, which I began to put to paper. I was especially drawn to the interviews with molecular biologist and Nobel Prize winner Max Perutz. His charming Austrian accent and the descriptive way in which he speaks really sparked my imagination. When he spoke about looking back at school “mostly as 8 years of unbearable boredom”, all of my previous assumptions of this world famous scientist flew out of the window!

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As a graphic designer, I am always looking for problems to solve, and it seemed to me, that I represented a potentially large part of the general public that was not aware of or compelled to explore this brilliant sound collection. To resolve this I can see my visuals becoming promotional print and digital material encouraging audience's to discover the sound files for themselves. I can also see the British Library holding creative workshops to encourage visitors to listen to and visualise sound for themselves.

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You can see more of my work at http://cargocollective.com/natashasmith.

Natasha Smith

 

03 April 2014

Sound & Vision # 1: Sanaz Movahedi

Over the past couple of months Graphic Media Design students from the London College of Communication have been producing coursework inspired by sounds from the British Library collection. The students were given their pick of recordings from the http://sounds.bl.uk site, and asked to produce graphical works in whatever form inspired them, for a project we called (logically enough) 'Sound & Vision'. Some of the students' work is being featured on this blog over the next two weeks.

First up is Sanaz Movahedi, currently in her 3rd year at London College of Communication. She took as her theme polar exploration and ice. You can follow Sanaz's progress on this particular project at http://savglaciers.tumblr.com/.

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All images by Sanaz Movahedi

I became drawn to sounds that had stories, field recordings or discussion about and around ice. At first, general visual research unfolded into films and photographs but wanting to keep it more relevant I looked at The British Library’s Flickr account, which has over 1 million visual images! Excited with all this visual research to hand I started to explore into imagery that was related to ice, such as ice floes, glaciers and the North Pole.

The Discovery of the North Pole by Commander Robert E Peary (1910)

Adrift on an Ice Floe in the Arctic Ocean by Sir Wilfred Grenfell (1911)

There are two specific recordings that pushed my ideas and research further. One was ‘The Discovery of the North Pole by Commander Robert E Peary’ and the other ‘Adrift on an Ice Floe in the Arctic Ocean by Sir Wilfred Grenfell’. These recordings date back to 1910/1911 of the men talking for a few minutes about their experiences. What drew me was the sense of nostalgia these thin black discs clearly held. A grandeur and romanticised past time of men being adventurous, courageous and fearless when the northern hemisphere was still generally unknown.

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One visual form that I sometimes use to experiment and explore is collage. Having collected a handful of beautiful illustrations/images from the British Library's Flickr collection, whilst listening to these recordings again, I started cutting and arranging them with my own resource of photographs. As a result, a collection of collages was created, hopefully showing the excitement and intrigue that these particular recordings truly have, especially to me.

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However, I decided to still push this project further through experimentations of creating more physical work. I started by making clay sculptures of glaciers and from that have gone further into carving candles that look the same. The next approach is hopefully to film them floating, wicks alight, to accompany the sound as a video piece. This is still in the experimentation phase, but it can all be followed on my own blog to see the progress.

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Sanaz Movahedi

 

01 April 2014

Sonic Horizons of the Mesolithic: Sounding out Early Prehistory in the Vale of Pickering

Last year we provided a range of wildlife and environmental sounds for a project investigating the soundscapes of the Early Mesolithic. Archaelogist Dr Ben Elliott recently sent us this report on the achievements of the project and what the team are planning on doing next.

My name is Dr. Ben Elliott and I am an archaeologist from the University of York. Over the past year I’ve been working alongside the sound artist Jon Hughes to explore some of the amazing animal and environmental sound recordings held within the British Library's sound archive; with the aim of producing something a little bit different.

I’m a member of a research team investigating human activity during the Early Holocene in the Vale of Pickering, North Yorkshire. During this time, groups of hunter-gatherers lived around a series of lakes and wetland environments within the Vale. Situated around one of these lakes – Lake Flixton - the sites of Star Carr and Flixton Island have provided vital evidence for the ways in which people in Britain adapted to the rapid periods of climate change which gripped Europe at the end of the last Ice Age, 11,500 years ago.

The present day Vale of Pickering looks, and sounds, very different to the landscape that these hunter-gatherer groups would have been familiar with. The lakes have become infilled with thick peat deposits, and in the more recent past these boggy wetlands have been drained to create vast tracts of agricultural land. For the past 60 years, archaeologists have been excavating sites buried and preserved within this peat, uncovering animal bones, worked wood, stone tools, and plant remains which have survived since the end of the last Ice Age. The site of Star Carr in particular is famed within the archaeological world for its incredible levels of preservation, and the rare and unusual artefacts that have been found there.

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Sonic Horizons at the Festival of Ideas, York (courtesy of Ian Martindale)

Jon and I have been working with the archaeological evidence to address a simple but rather overlooked question. What would life at a site like Star Carr have sounded like in the Early Mesolithic? The rich array of finds and environmental data recovered from the site certainly provides plenty of opportunities to explore this question. By experimentally replicating prehistoric tasks that are documented within the archaeological record of the site, we began to build up an archive of the sounds of everyday activities such as flint knapping, antlerworking, paddling watercraft, firesetting, bark rolling and heating water with hot stones. We also used field recordings from the British Library to build up a database of sounds which would have featured in the contemporary environment – the calls of the birds and animals whose bones have been excavated from around Lake Flixton and the wetlands and forests that are known to have existed around this time based on ancient preserved pollen and seeds.

These recordings were then used by Jon to create a 34 minute long sound fabric, which explores the lost soundscape of the Early Mesolithic Vale of Pickering. This is structured around 16 smaller “scenes”; short narratives directly based on the archaeology recovered from sites around Lake Flixton and featuring two recurring Mesolithic characters – Jack and Amber.  This piece was mixed ambisonically, allowing sounds to be positioned in 360o around the listener, and set at variable distances to help create an eerily immersive experience.

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Putting the soundscape back in the landscape: open day at Flixton Island

This sound fabric was performed as a series of outdoor installation events using a large set of outdoor speakers, arranged in a 30m diameter circle to deliver a full ambisonic experience to members of the public. These events helped to transform one section of a York public gardens into a Mesolithic wilderness, provided a stimulating and strangely soothing sonic backdrop for teaching young children about their Mesolithic past, and was even used to give local residents a sense of what their present-day surroundings at the site of Flixton Island might have sounded like during the Early Mesolithic.

Our work has broken new ground in exploring the everyday character of sound in early prehistory, and has allowed hundreds of people to experience a new take on what life might have been like during the British Early Mesolithic. We’re now looking for new ways to explore sound in prehistory, and are building up a network of potential collaborators to ask similar questions in a range of new archaeological landscapes. All of this has been made possible by the British Library's peerless collection of environmental and animal sound recordings and the help of Cheryl Tipp. Together, we are working to find a new home for old sound recordings; in Britain’s ancient past.

To find out more about the project, visit the Star Carr Tumblr site. You can listen to the Mesolithic soundscape here.

(images kindly provided by Ben Elliott)