Today I returned to the field for the first time in several months. My soundscape mission took me to south-central New Hampshire. I drove out on Route 101 about 45 minutes from where I live. I am still using most of the same equipment that I employed the last time. I feel a lot more comfortable about using the tools that are available to me to go out and record audio in the field. Today was a relatively warm and overcast day, a little balmy but thankfully, it did not rain. Most of my work up until now has been in flatter areas and today I hiked up about 2000 feet to Temple Mountain, which is nearby.
A lot has happened since I last went out to the field back in December 2015. Since then, I have started assembling, editing, and piecing together many audio files to create longer composite works. I have also been writing a lot about the project and exploring some options to collaborate with some of my musician and producer friends around the country. This spring I decided to take a little break from going out to the field, and I spent a lot of time actually reflecting on what lessons I’ve learned so far in trying to understand more about the craft of sound art, acoustic ecology, and sound studies in general. I have spent a lot of time reading, listening to different pieces, and just getting a sense for the rich history of this field and some of the research and creative implications of this type of work. In addition to that, I have spent some time just exploring different areas of research as it relates to audio and music technology.
Many different composers talk about deep listening and the merits of being acquainted with the environment where you record sound. This is an important concept and one that I am starting to respect more. One of the reasons why I decided to do this project was so that I would have an excuse to get outside of my comfort zone, go out into the region to New England, and learn more about the beautiful area. New England is rich with history and beauty. There are mountains, beaches, trails of all types, and of course, there are major metropolitan areas. Besides, I have learned a lot about how to set some reasonable goals and not try to bite off too much.
So far, I have decided just to enjoy the journey, and I have learned a lot about deep listening and how to hone in on a more introspective and reflective type of philosophy. I wrote about this in the last couple of months. You can find that update elsewhere on this website. One of the most important things that I’ve learned is that if we’re able to get out of the way of our own agenda when we go out to the field, the results can be very special. I suppose what I’m trying to say is that getting out into the field shouldn’t have much of an agenda other than a core set of goals for the day and perhaps setting a reasonable approximation of the area you wish to cover in the types of sound you are looking for.
Today, I went out with a fresh perspective and a positive sense of expectancy. I spent about four hours out in the field. I hiked up about 2000 feet to the top of Temple Mountain. That was the second place I stopped. The first location is a lovely body of water called Cunningham Pond. This is a little off the beaten path, and as you can see from the slideshow below, I pretty much had the place to myself. In fact, there were very few people around and after just a few minutes, I was the only one there. I used my H6 with the two microphone capsules that I typically take with me to capture audio. The mid-side capsule is robust and quite sensitive. The X-Y is faithful and very reliable.
A few of the recordings you here have some bird chirping sounds and a lovely peripheral wind in the background. Interestingly, you can also hear airplanes going by because the Manchester Regional Airport is not too far away and the other thing that I found about some of those sounds was that Highway 101 is a beautiful road for motorcycles to travel on. Therefore, you most certainly will hear vehicles going in the background along with some of the interesting airplane noises. Take a listen to the birds chirping. I encourage you to listen to those and explore the differences between the various sounds. I took several pictures with my iPhone, and I have uploaded those in the slideshow here on the website. In general, the wind was cooperative, and I was able to get some decent audio.
As always, I have employed very little processing to these recordings. I’ve found some decent excerpts, trimmed the beginning and the end, added some gentle fades, and used a little bit of compression to level out the overall volume of the tracks. I am also finding that when I use these audio files in new pieces, I explore different ways to process the sounds. Sometimes I feel like experimenting, so I use many different sound effects in my digital audio workstation. I also conduct tests with pitch shifting and changing the speed of each file. Other techniques I have explored include reversing the data, using delays and filters, and trying out various types of equalization settings to shape the sounds in different ways. However, most importantly I always go back to these original recordings because my goal is to make them available for people to listen to and to hear how they have evolved over time.
I have written extensively about what getting out to the field means to me. I would not describe myself as a scientist or even a traditional acoustic ecologist. I am not an acoustician either. What I am, as far as I can tell, is a musician and audio engineer and an educator with a sincere interest in learning more about the world. This is something that I have tried to take with me over the course of the past several months. Likewise, having this philosophy of curiosity is really helping me to open up and to renew my own interest in composing music and sound.
Temple Mountain is certainly not the highest peak in all of New England, but it is quite challenging and involved navigating some tricky terrain in the woods. You will see some pictures that I took on my journey up to the top. I am beginning to think that this type of trip would be much more fun in the fall with the foliage changing and would allow greater visibility to look over the landscape. I did find that I was able to get a few good pictures, and I made a short recording with my smaller portable unit atop the summit. Going up the mountain, I decided not to bring the more expensive recording equipment with me, rather settling for a smaller and more transportable item that I was able to use with some confidence up at the peak.
Today’s excursion was not only a new experience for me with the New England Soundscape Project; it was also an attractive opportunity to get some physical exertion incorporated into my scholarship. I have some more excursions planned throughout the summer and look forward to seeing where this project takes me over the course of months. Tomorrow, if the weather holds up, I intend to head to Madison Connecticut. It is good to be back and stay tuned for more updates shortly.