Binaural Sound Walks Birmingham, UK
Bethan Davis Bruges - Supermarket
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277 Plays
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19 Plays
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Here’s a little sample of my album bath/bruges available now on bandcamp.

My bandcamp’s all set up, all I’m waiting for now is the album art from a friend. Once I’ve got that, my album’s all ready to release. Hopefully it won’t be too long now!

Bethan Davis Bath - Busker in the Crowd
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169 Plays

// Starting Again//

Now that I’ve graduated from University and my devised project is finished, I’m going to start using this Tumblr for all the current projects I’ll be working on!

Right now, I’ve got a few things in the works:

  • My first release on Bandcamp - December 1st 2012
  • Listening through and creating an album from recordings I’ve taken in Marrakech and the Sahara
  • Building some of my own stereo contact mics
  • Trying out my homemade contact mics
  • Potentially working on a few pieces with KittyLikesIntestines
  • Starting a new project based in Birmingham, UK
Final Devised Project

Here is the link to my final devised project. It takes a little while for the audio to play because it has to source from another website. Also, the text scrolls if you scroll over it but these are not an issue in the version I will be presenting.

If the buttons don’t seem to be going to the right place or something just seems a little odd, just refresh the page and it should all work fine!

// Contextual Reflection//

Part One: Final Project Description

When I began my project, I had considered integrating spectrogram images with the binaural recordings I would be collecting. My aim was to contextualise the recordings for the audience to create a more interactive experience.  I had hoped that this would give an increased level of understanding into the recordings I had taken. This would enhance the listener’s attention causing or encouraging the listener to focus on subtle sounds that may have been previously overlooked, bringing them to the fore. Having researched this further and applying this to my project, I decided that by showing my audience the spectrograms, it might actually divert their attention away from the audio, causing them to focus more on the visual than the aural.
A small area of research I did early on in my project.

Instead, I decided that I wanted to build an interactive map where the audience could explore the areas, from which the recordings had been collected, both aurally and visually. I wanted to create a comparison between Bath and Bruges, the two cities that I had used to source my recordings. They are both very similar in a number of ways; both are small cities that have many quiet streets leading onto busier roads. They also both have many canals, are tourist attractions, popular with buskers, feature big open areas and also have an abbey and bell tower respectively.

Once I had this basic idea of a comparison between two cities, I walked around Bruges, considering which areas were the most similar to Bath and began my soundwalk in each location. I wanted to capture the environment I was in so whilst I was recording, I paid attention to the sense of space, defining characteristics and unique qualities of the areas. I did not follow a predetermined or set walk, instead, I made my directional decisions based on whatever I heard that interested me. For example as I was recording, a busker began playing his strohn violin in the distance, so I decided to explore how I could take the listener on a journey to the source of the sound, letting the sound guide the direction of my walk. Instead of letting sounds pass me by, I wanted to explore and investigate them. I wanted to feature sounds that are often taken for granted and overlooked as the main focus of my walks, thus directing the listener to become aware of these.


The final front page of my project

I chose to include only the most interesting sections from each recording. I created a fade in/out for each and ensured that all levels were balanced. I consciously chose to leave the sounds as pure, with as little editing as possible, wanting my recordings to remain as real as possible for the listener.

Apart from a few minor edits, all recordings were clean and unedited - this was an aesthetic choice as I wanted my recordings to be as real as possible.

I then started to build a ‘draggable’ map of both Bruges and Bath, in adobe flash CS4 and created buttons corresponding to the areas I from which my recordings were sourced. When the audience clicks a certain pinpoint on the map, they are taken to a page with images, recordings and information about the area.

Making a large map of Bath from lots of smaller screenshots taken from Google Maps

A draggable map for both Bath and Bruges

A visual representation of the area and a brief description accompany each recording.

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Part Two: Contextual Reflection

There are two main aspects to my devised project. The first is the binaural soundwalks and the second the interactive map-based exploration of two cities.

Both of these fields are recognised and well established areas of study, with many reference works and studies, to which I can compare my own. After reading Hildegard Westerkamp’s article ‘Soundwalking’ I found that many of the methods used by artists in this discipline were methods, which I myself had used. For example, trying to move around without making any sound yourself; listening and focusing on sounds around you and separating them so that you can decide on a specific focus for your soundwalk.

I chose to use binaural microphones because I wanted to increase the level of immersion of my recordings, making the listener focus on the sounds and to bring an element of realism to the experience, a feeling that they are really there, experiencing the walk for themselves.

The website Green Field Recordings features an abundance of work from field recording artists worldwide. The focus of many of the recordings here, as well as my own, is on the ‘ordinary’ or background environment in which the recordings were collected. I wanted to, as these artists have been able to, provide my listeners with recordings that they could relate to, by presenting them with aural environments similar to those they experience on a day-to-day basis. Chris Lynn’s ‘Dance in Slow Motion Along the Pacific Rim’ and Le Son Des Bruits’ ‘Asian Fade….’ are both very similar to my work in this sense. The artists have placed the listener in areas inhabited by people and so the aural scenery is created and dependent upon their presence, much like my own recordings. The idea for these recordings and my own is the exploration and presentation of certain characteristic of an area. By soundwalking, it is possible to show the listener the world around them and key elements within it, subtle background sounds that would not usually draw their attention. As Westerkamp states, sounds “may pass unnoticed by numbed ears”.

After I had decided that an interactive map was the way in which I wanted to present my recordings, I researched similar projects and came across a BBC project called ‘Save Our Sounds (SOS)’. This project is based on a very similar premise to my own. It features a map that has interactive buttons relating to different areas of the world. When the button is clicked, audio from that area of the world is played. Although the world map on their site does not appear to be working, the fact that ‘amateurs’ are collecting samples means that the samples taken may not be of the highest quality. This contrasts with the very high quality of my recordings, enabling the listener to connect with the recordings and not just ‘skim over’ them like they would with the world map. Also, the sheer scale of SOS gives the listener almost too much choice. Unlike my project, they are not directed and there is no real aim or focus. In comparison, this project by Locus Sonus is run by “a research group specialized in audio art”, this suggests that the recordings taken are of a high quality. The ‘Sound Around You’ project of Manchester University has a similar basic idea to my own. Sounds are taken in locations to demonstrate certain characteristics of each one, essentially comparing areas aurally, with added visuals.

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Part Three: Project Summary

Overall I feel that the final outcome of my project successfully captures the immersive environment that I wanted to achieve for the listener. The recordings provided the main focus for my project and the rest of the design was built around them. I felt that Adobe Flash was the most practical format to present my work due to its ease of use for the audience and my prior knowledge and skills working with it.

I feel that my project showcases my recordings very well, in an aesthetically pleasing manner. I was aware of the aesthetic style I wished to create in this project and how it could affect or influence the audience’s experience. I ensured that it worked well by particularly focusing on the urban characteristics and feel of my recordings.

This project potentially has many practical applications. It provides a strong platform, which can be expanded to include audio from around the world. It could be used as a valuable teaching resource, a ‘treasury’ of ready-made sounds, for people who are curious about the world around them or just as a way to showcase high quality soundwalks.

I was pleased with how well the sets of recordings relate to each other. Each recording presents the unique sound qualities of each city, whilst at the same time demonstrating a huge amount of similarity between the two, to such an extent that the cities become almost interchangeable. For example, the recording of the Bath supermarket could be played in place of the Bruges supermarket recording. The fact that each has its own idiosyncrasies, such as tone of the checkout beeps or languages spoken, ensures that they remain diverse enough to be seen separately.

I feel that all of the key elements; quality of the recordings, the way they worked together, the usability of my flash project, the overall look and feel of the design, and the degree to which the audience are able to become immersed in the recordings, were addressed with a high level of focus and attention to detail. I was in direct control of all of these aspects and was conscious to constantly work with these goals in mind. This ensured that every part of the preparation and execution of this project went as I had planned. I encountered difficulty when I began coding my flash project. I knew that I wanted to incorporate an interactive map but found it extremely difficult to find a solution that worked both technically and aesthetically.

My final project differs greatly from my original proposal. I decided to move away from showing the audible qualities of a space visually, to aurally showing the similarities, differences and qualities of the areas. I am pleased with the direction that my project has taken. I travelled to Bruges specifically to collect these recordings. Having previously visited the city, I was familiar with the similarities and differences between the two cities of Bath and Bruges and had many ideas on how I could present them.

I feel that my project exceeded my expectations. I was confident that my recordings would be of a high quality and would work well on their own but I felt that they would be enhanced by the addition of the visual images and information describing the locations.

I believe that the flash aspect of my project provides a user-friendly format, providing a memorable experience for the audience and playing a vital role in successfully aggregating all aspects of my project.

// Original Project Proposal (for reference)//

This is my original project proposal, I am uploading this to show how far my final project has come and how different it is now, since I began.

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I will be creating a series of soundscapes/field recordings/sound walks. The concept for this project will be a journey, so for example, for my first track, I will use sounds from around the house; the fridge whirring, the doors opening and closing. Then I will create a track compiled of a short walk, footsteps and cars driving past. From there, I will develop my idea and create tracks compiling recordings of the use of public transport, crowds of people and countryside. I hope this will evoke the feeling of movement, without being too obvious about it. The concept of a journey will help keep my tracks interesting and they will naturally develop over time as I get closer to, and move away from certain sound sources.

I am hoping to do all of my recording binaurally, as I feel this will give the listener a greater sense of immersion and is something I’ve never really explored before and would like to learn more about. I have already begun my research into this area and have decided that I will be using Roland CS-10EM binaural microphone/headphones for my recordings, as they will be the best tool to suit my needs and funds. By using these, it will allow me to record as I hear and will give a more human feel to my recordings. For example, there is a well-known binaural recording of a head being shaved. This has been recorded binaurally meaning that the physical shape of the ear is taken into account during the recording. This results in a much more natural sounding recording because it is recorded through a microphone placed in the ear and so, when the audio is played back, it is heard how the ear would actually hear it naturally.

I would like to present my finished project as an installation. For this, the listener will sit in a chair in a dark room, wearing headphones with the visual representation of each track (the spectrographs) being projected in front of them. The reason the listener will be wearing headphones is because the binaural effect will not be noticeable otherwise. Also, the room will be dark to allow for the projections to be seen clearly. I will play each track through these headphones and project the spectrograph image of each track onto the wall in front of them while they listen. This is an idea that I wish to develop and once I finish my research into the other subjects such as sound art, field recordings and installations, I will research the best way to go about projecting my spectrographs.


I have been keeping a blog to document my research and the progress of my project, this can be found at www.binauralsoundwalks.tumblr.com. I have found this process of updating regularly with large amounts of research and also small thoughts to be very useful. It has allowed me to keep track of my work and also allow ideas to develop.

I had originally thought of using ‘sound showers’, these are highly directional speakers that allow sound to only be audible to someone underneath the ‘shower’. This would allow me to totally immerse the listener and thought that it was something new and interesting for them. After researching this method, I found it to be impossible to get hold of and decided against it. This is when I decided to do all of my recording binaurally.

I will do all of my research and then begin test recordings to see if the binaural recordings give the more human feel that I’m hoping they will.  The human feel I’m looking for is instead of my tracks just sounding like recordings, I want to listener to be able to feel like they are actually in that environment and feel immersed in it. I am updating my Tumblr constantly with research and ideas along the way and this helps me focus my workflow.

Most of the existing material that I have looked into has been quite current. I made this decision purely on the quality of the recordings available and also the fact that binaural recordings are still quite modern. This means that the majority of my research has been based on more recent albums and projects. I do not think that this will put me back at all because the ideas behind these recordings are the same as much older recordings. It is just the capture and playback of natural environments, taking them out of their original place and playing them somewhere where people would not expect to hear them. For example, if a person lived far from the coast, they could still experience what the sound environment would be like at the coast, by listening to a field recording of this specific environment.

In regards to existing materiel in the same field, I have found a Soundcloud group of field recordings, some of which are binaural. These vary from simple field recordings, to more complicated recordings of game arcades and busy towns and cities. This group has been very useful in showing me what works well binaurally and what doesn’t. For example, the game arcade recording to me, sounds boring and messy, not something that I would produce myself. Whereas the field recording of a simple country landscape works much better and is something I would be very interested in producing myself. The group can be found at http://soundcloud.com/groups/field-recordings.

There are countless soundscape and soundwalk CDs available from anywhere between the 1970s and earlier to modern day. I have been listening to many of these and found that they have helped give me a sense of what makes a good soundscape in terms of what to focus on and how to develop my tracks. Some albums I can mention are Bruno Moreigne’s ‘Bruits Sons Paroles Et Silences De La Forêt’ and Son Clair’s ‘London Soundmap’. These have been the closest examples to the kind of tracks that I want to create because most of them, particularly on Son Clair’s album have a natural, human feel. They contain sounds from everyday environments that most of us find ourselves and this is definitely something that I would like to recreate.

I have also found a website ‘http://www.earthrecordings.org/’, this website contains recordings under the headings ‘wind’, ‘fire’, ‘water’, ‘people’, ‘machines’ and ‘environment’. This mix showcases the variety of recordings that can be made from completely natural environments and most of these recordings are binaural which means they are helpful in both content and process. This site also gives an invaluable insight into the process behind field recordings out in the open including things to give consideration to such as being “highly selective in choosing natural environments to record.” This website will help me with both the thoughts and process behind recording in natural environments and also what a ‘good’ field recording sounds like. This means that I will always have something to compare my tracks to both in recording and the final outcome regarding the production of the tracks. The only problem with this site is that I am not sure what equipment they use to capture these recordings, they may use much more advanced equipment than I am able to get and so, their tracks will sound different and possible better than mine. This is something that I will have to take into consideration when I am comparing my work to these.

I also found a website which has a number of field recording artists listed and much of their work available to listen to. This website is ‘http://greenfieldrecordings.yolasite.com/’. There are field recordings from around the world here both recorded binaurally and in stereo. There is also an interesting ‘documentary’ on this website entitled ‘St Livres, Switzerland, Binaural Phonographic Documentary’, this track is nearly an hour long and consists of many natural sounds, most foundtains, combined to create an interesting binaural soundscape. Many of the tracks and albums are also available to download and the artists have added a précis about each track. This offers a glance into what the artists’ intentions were and their justifications behind their decisions.

Another album that I have been listening to recently are Joe Stevens’ ‘Windy Autumn Day’, the first track on this album ‘Distant Builder and Rattling Gate’ is similar to the style of field recording that I would like to create. It combines an element of ‘found’ sound, in the sense that Stevens probably went out, not expecting to find a builder working on something but decided to record it when he heard it. This kind of spontaneity is something that I am looking forward to come across when I begin my recordings.

I would also like to mention Colin Verot, I’m unsure of the album name but he has a number of tracks recorded around France. The vary from ‘Sitting on a bench at La Part Dieu, Lyon’ which is a quiet, peaceful, open sounding recording, to ‘In the Metro Going From Rambuteau To Jaures Through Belleville, Paris, France’, which is busier and louder and sounds more contained. He also uses the idea of spontaneity and ‘found’ sound in his work, which is obviously something that cannot be avoided when recording in these kinds of human environments.

Lastly, I have been listening to N Pavlov and his track ‘Departing Arrivals’. This track is just over 10 minutes and combines elements of travel both obviously with the source sounds he has used (buses and trains) to the physical journey the track takes. This concept is almost perfect for the series of recordings that I would like to create; the only problem is that the changes in environments are signified with odd reversed audio and distorted sounds. These unnatural, eerie sounds are something that I would not like to incorporate in my tracks and so, this track can only be used as a comparative piece to a certain extent.

www.binauralsoundwalks.tumblr.com

http://www.earthrecordings.org/

http://greenfieldrecordings.yolasite.com/

http://soundcloud.com/groups/field-recordings

A place to post my own field recordings/ soundwalks and other projects I'm working on

Click here to go to my bandcamp