Learning in Scarborough State Beach – Newport, RI

Today I traveled about two hours (115 miles or so) to Scarborough State Beach in Newport, RI. As with many weekends these days, I’m finding that there is little tourism at this time of year. Aside from a few scattered walkers and families, I had the place to myself. That said, today proved to be quite the challenge. There is no better teacher than jumping in and going for it.

I’m realizing that capturing audio on location requires a great deal of patience. Today, a couple of dogs kept barking in the distance. They clearly didn’t like each other and no matter how far away I tried to get, my microphones kept picking them up. Ambiance doesn’t bother me in the least. In this case, the sounds were distracting and hard to contain. Combined with the rough winds, it made for a challenging session. I walked around different parts of the shoreline and the howls kept coming. Moreover, at one point the wind completely subsided and I was able to get some gorgeous sounds of the waves cracking. At that exact moment, both dogs decided to “converse” as their owners walked up and down the shore.

After recording for nearly an hour, I only got about two minutes worth of useable sound. I’m realizing there will be “hits” and “misses” depending on the conditions at each site. I’ve decided not to get too discouraged about it. My hope is that this blog captures my own creative intentions, challenges, and blocks as it does the images and sounds of the places I visit. As the third site in this journey, I did feel a strong connection with Rhode Island. Indeed, it features a lovely area and a beautiful coast.

Just as composers feel a little apprehensive posting sketches and works-in-progress, I also feel a bit skittish posting audio that isn’t stellar. But, I’m realizing that’s an important part of the “honesty” this project inspires. As I’m discovering what the purpose of recording location audio serves, I hope to learn a lot about my own creative approaches with production and composition. The blemishes sometimes turn out to be the most wonderful additions to a project. Time will tell. I got close to the water, which felt good to walk in. The tide was changing and the waves and undercurrent whipped up throughout the 90 minutes or so I was on the beach. I was pleased that my MS capsule captures the resonance of the salt water as it settles into the sand before each new set of waves crash. The XY microphone captured that as well.

Yesterday I referred to my roles in this project as “sonic observer” and “sound gatherer”. Driving home, I was a bit frustrated today. I wondered if I had failed to really capture the sounds I wanted to. It’s a lot of trouble to drive out there and I didn’t sense the conditions were going to improve that much. An observer is an interesting perspective to take on. That person must carry on their normal duties without being obtrusive to others.

I’m realizing that field recording involves patience, not only because of the conditions, but because of the unknown persons at each location. I cannot ask them to stop what they are doing so I can capture the perfect few seconds worth of audio. My job, just as it is for any researcher, is to ensure that my work is both fruitful, but also not distracting or harmful to any person or environment. Considering that, I have to say the first three jaunts have been fruitful. I’m starting to think of interesting musical ideas I’d like to incorporate as I start to edit the sounds together. What I’ve posted on Soundcloud has minimal “production” and is really just a sampling of each location. I look forward to more adventures in the next couple of weeks.


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