Curation notes for Main Derives

July 2, 2009 at 3:13 pm (Main Derives)

The posts below (& on page two) document my soundwalks (sonic derives) and my reflections upon them. All the materials for my final piece were collected on these journeys. My experience of the soundscape through soundwalking and reflection through writing certainly influenced how I have approached composing with my material, as well as helping me to identify the sort of experience I want give the audience / listener with my final piece.

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June 18, 2009 at 8:34 pm (Main Derives)


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3 & 4. How do these observations feed in to how the soundscape may effect our perception of the urban environment & how can this inform my compositional process and aesthetic decisions?

May 6, 2009 at 3:21 pm (Artists Statement & Reflection, Main Derives)

Sound + Space

Sound and space are always engaged in conversation. The activity of sound characterizes space; it can inject rhythm, texture and mood in to it, imbuing it with a sense of identity. Likewise, the physical form of space helps to define the character of sound; its size, shape and material effects its acoustic qualities, which in turn alters how we perceive the sonorities that occur within it.

“You enter a space and close your eyes and you can know simply through your hearing whether it is a large or small space, whether it is made of plasterboard or of concrete… The history of architecture… cancels materiality and the way it is expressed in space through the ear.” (Bernard Tschumi cited in Rebelo, 2003: 35)

“…the brain compares the signals from our to ears to detect where a sound source is located, not just on the horizontal plane around us, but also vertically, to give us an accurate three-dimensional impression of the soundscape around us.” (Davies, 2007:105)


Sound always exists in a spatial context, whether we are experiencing it within our memory, imagination, or the present moment. When I listen to a field recording my mind takes me back to that specific location and moment in time. Likewise, whenever I listen to a new dance music 12”, my mind is always transported to a club space I’ve experienced.

– Use real IR reverbs, as well as synthetic spaces (real vs imagined)

– Use reverb spaces to link journeys (this is a solid reason)

– Use surround sound, more realistic depiction of space

… + Time

Sound can bring temporality into our perception of space. Imagine a deserted residential street at night; the warm orange glow of the streetlights remain constant, the sky is clear, without a cloud in sight, nothing within the scene is changing. Time appears to be static, completely still.  However, in the background the sonorous city swells with activity; a police siren violently cuts through the indescript drone of distant motorway traffic, whilst the crystalline glissando of an airplane drifts gently overhead. Our sense of time is restored.


In each passing moment our experience of the soundscape is completely unique; both in the sense that our exact location defines what we hear at any particular moment, and also that each synchronized occurrence of sound at any particular moment, when listened too intently, is different from the last.

– Each listeners experience should be different from the last (MaxMSP – structure – linking)

– Solidity of space vs fluidity of sound

– Our experience of sound is endless, “there are no earlids” (Marshall McLuhan)

Chance + Accident

If one were to listen to the soundscape as an endless musical composition, then undertaking a sonic derive (or soundwalk) would be way of actively engaging with it and, in a sense, creating it through our individual experience. Though certain locations may have regularly or predictable types of sound activity, the dialogue between different sounds is largely determined by chance. This leads to one of the most important parts and exciting parts of creating a piece of work: discovering the Accident. The sounds occur without intention, without trying to work together, creating interesting and unexpected moments.


Perhaps this leads to the question ‘to what extent should we control and shape the acoustic environment’? Going too far may remove these moments of chance, creating a dull, predictable sonic experience of spaces where sound has no freedom. As with most things the solution is balance.

–    Utopian vs distopian soundscape

–    Real vs imagined soundscape

–    How much control is too much control? Leave room for ‘the
Accident’ within process

Nature + Dynamics

Green spaces, waterways and other natural habits for wildlife are important for a City since they retain a balance between natural and man-made sounds. They are also relatively quiet in comparison to commercial public spaces. By straying from more popular locations and journeying further along the River, one can move from being in a lo-fi sound environment to a hi-fi one:

“Abbreviation for high fidelity, that is, a favorable signal-to-noise ratio… a hi-fi environment is one in which sounds may be heard clearly without crowding or masking.” (Schafer, 1977: 272)

Clarity is something to aspire too. Perhaps the density of sounds within urban environments has made us tune out, as a means of survival! (Chris Watson)

Recognition of a sounds source is important. Nature is often perceived as more beautiful and calming than mechanical (man-made) sounds:

“‘People can completely change their perception of a sound once they have identified it,’…. ‘In the laboratory, many listeners prefer distant motorway noise to rushing water, until they are told what the sounds are.'”(Davies, 2007)

–    Treat natures sounds with respect (Hildegard Westerkamp)

–    Dynamics of journeys (nature / man-made, quiet / loud, etc)

–    Giving individual sounds context within composition for source recognition


Carlyle A. (2007) “Autumn Leaves: Sound and the Environment in Artistic Practise” Double Entendre, Paris

Hill A. (2007) “Why we love sounds of the City jungle” The Observer: [accessed 1.5.09]

Schafer R M. (1977) “The Soundscape: Our Sonic Environment & the Tuning of the World” Destiny Books, Vermont

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2. ii) What observations were made during preparing and working on recorded material?

April 27, 2009 at 9:55 pm (Artists Statement & Reflection, Main Derives)

As I began working with my sound material I became interested in how audition would allow me to revisit a previous space and moment in time I had experienced within my minds eye. Often the sound would trigger quite clear and detailed images, akin to the experience of recalling a vivid dream upon awakening. One slight problem is that I am now finding it somewhat difficult to separate my minds eye from that space and position myself as a listener who hasn’t experienced those spaces. That’s why the group critique was so useful the other day!


I watched a Horizons documentary on memory the other day. I was interested to find out that we use exactly the same part of our brain when remembering as we do imagining. Whilst making evolutionary sense (i.e. better equipped for survival through learning), what fascinated me were the implications. If memory and imagination is initiated by the same part of the brain, does this mean we actively construct memories rather than simply recalling things ‘as they were’? Apparently so – if I recall correctly. When we experience something the nerves in our brains connect, effectively recording experience, but of course these connections die out with time, if not re-stimulated or revisited. Our memory is essentially fragmented; we remember the key things that happened, and piece together the rest. Old details disappear, and perhaps new ones are created.


I want to look in to how sound exactly relates to memory, and in turn how these relate to space and our identity. Sound can make us revisit certain points in times in our lives, certain places, acting as a catalyst to relive those moments. Past experiences and feelings can leap forth from the depths of our mind and be experienced once more, sometimes regardless of whether we want to remember them or not. I’m fascinated by how spaces we’ve experienced in our conscious lives translate within our subconscious, in our dreams, our imagination. Dreamt of spaces carry with them a rich, individual symbolism. Within my dreams I experience familiar spaces, slightly mutated, but still recognizable. Often these are places I’ve lived and worked in, imbued with identity through my experience of them. Other times dreamt of spaces appear to be constructed from fragments of places experienced; vaguely familiar territory but entirely free-form, a stream of consciousness that seamlessly weaves together and ‘works’ for us in the most imaginative way, despite irrationality and randomness.

Researching and learning about the above (from a theoretical/scientific point of view) in as much detail as my mind desires, is perhaps beyond the scope of this project. So, I will gather what I can and rely on my own observations as I remember and imagine.


As I’ve typed these reflections, I’ve been listening to a random selection of my recordings. It’s interesting that whilst certain sounds will trigger particular spaces quite clearly, most of the voices of people I’ve recorded stimulate grey, nondescript faces. They appear ghost-like, a trace that’s fading from my memory, whilst the space remains, or rather, whilst I can still piece it together…. To my disappointment I’m yet to dream of any spaces experienced during my journeys. I wish my subconscious would be a bit more helpful with my research!

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2. i) What observations were made about the soundscape during my soundwalks?

April 27, 2009 at 12:08 pm (Artists Statement & Reflection, Main Derives)

I started to note recurring sounds within the soundscape:

Planes and helicopters,
Motorbikes, buses and cars,
Signals; traffic lights, police sirens and vans reversing,
Construction work,
Constant drones from various generators and fans
Chime of church bells,
Along the Thames Path;
Waves on the shore, water gushing through locks,
Creaking boats,
Various avian calls;
Seagulls, pigeons, ducks and geese,
Runners and cyclists,
In parks;
Parents and children playing,
Football matches,
Low hum of the City in the background….

The different dynamics of the journeys, in terms of decibel levels, differed dramatically at times. At certain points along the Thames path, particularly on the Albert Bridge North (ABN) journey, it was incredibly quiet and a solitary experience too. Coming off Great West Road and following the path to Barnes Bridge, I think I only encountered one person.


It was only the sound of airplanes that were apparent in the foreground, the distant City revealing itself occasionally, where there was more open space (e.g. park – Riverside Recreation Ground). In fact, planes were quite a dominant feature of the soundscape. That said, their presence is easier to notice in quieter spaces, whilst in louder environments they may be masked by other sounds, and so glide gently in and out of our periphery without us necessarily noticing.

The majority of main roads I encountered were busy, since I usually undertook my journeys between 12-8pm. Embarking on my ABN journey, I followed the main road West and came across Cremorne Gardens, a little park along the Thames Path. I stood on the peer, perhaps only 100m or so away from the main road, and only slightly sheltered by short building. The difference in perceived level of traffic was surprising, and I could clearly hear the sounds of seagulls in the water below, as well as the flutter of pigeons lined up on the railings. Even the delicate tinkling of shells and stones on the shore as the waves drew back and forth could be heard.

The frequency of police sirens on some journeys was far greater than others. On my Vauxhall Bridge South (VBS) journey – through Camberwell, Peckham, Nunhead, and finally New Cross – I recorded a great deal. Police sirens are incredibly loud and a very distinct and dominant feature of London. I actually think they’re too loud and don’t seem particularly directional (i.e. you can’t always tell which direction they’re coming from until they get close).

I recorded a fair amount of footsteps; sometimes my own, sometimes other peoples. Sometimes I would follow a person’s footsteps, letting that sound lead me to the next. (I hope I didn’t freak anybody out… though I don’t think they actually noticed!) Footsteps are interesting when they accumulate, like in enclosed places of transit (underpasses, stations), where many feet meet to create a denser rhythmic texture within the space.


A single pair of feet crunching and squelching through a wet pebble shore has a very different feel. A single pair of feet in a relatively quiet environment is a good way of hearing the acoustics of a space and how it changes when those feet make their way through different spaces; a narrow alleyway, a tunnel leading to the tube, a stairwell leading back over ground….

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1. What was the experience of soundwalking through London like?

April 27, 2009 at 9:58 am (Artists Statement & Reflection, Main Derives)

After embarking on several journeys, I found it much easier to slip into a focused state of listening. Ears ‘open’, I found that my sensitivity towards my surroundings was amplified. This could also be attributed to the fact that I had no other objective on the journeys than to simply experience the environments I passed through and absorb them.


The journeys themselves were interesting for me, in that I travelled through locations I had not yet set foot in. Just as my experience of physical space was a process of discovery, my aural experience was too. I would follow distant sounds, trying to uncover their whereabouts by navigating spaces with my ears. On occasions I’d decide to investigate spaces that might have interesting acoustics. Other times I would be drawn simply by the architecture of the space, or even just the feeling it seemed to emanate. Sometimes these decisions would yield interesting results, other times the interest would reveal itself indirectly; each decision made would effect the location and point in time I would find myself in next, so every decision, in a sense, was an important one.


The chance occurrences of seemingly separate sounds during my journeys were stimulating. During my trails along the Thames Path, I remember getting this overwhelming sense of simply being; the things that were happening at that particular moment in time, at that specific location, as experienced by me, appeared so clearly before me. There was nothing within my perception that made me aware of anything other than the very moment I was experiencing.


Every moment in time felt like it was being solidified by the sound I was listening to, it felt like it was grounding my experience. Time seemed to dissolve; memory & imagination, slowly drifting into the background of the present, lived experience. Part of me had become lost within that fleeting moment of clarity, but another was found; constructions of Self gave way to a more lucid being, a being ready to absorb experience of the Now. It felt almost like slipping from a passive dream-state into a lucid one; the veil concealing consciousness is lifted, the present revealed in all it’s vivid detail.


This reminds me of something Hildegard Westerkamp said about soundwalking during her lecture at Goldsmiths. When on a soundwalk, after a while, one can begin to feel that the environment and oneself are not separate, but rather the environment is an extension of oneself. I think she was hinting at the kind of interconnectedness one can experience when immersed within a sound environment and ones sense are open. This perhaps is another way of describing my soundwalking experience; the feeling of losing ones self and being absorbed in an environment, an experience.


Today, at the Southbank, I tried listening to the sounds that surrounded me intensely, closing my eyes. If one stays absolutely still and simply listens for a while, I believe one can start to feel absorbed within the sonic environment that surrounds them. This in turn reveals an awakened state of perception whereby experience of the environment becomes richer, more detailed; visual perception and aural perception retain a balance once more and experience feels more whole.

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April 25, 2009 at 7:10 pm (Artists Statement & Reflection, Main Derives)

To give myself a bit more direction when working on my compositions, I’ve been trying to define what I’ve learned from undertaking my journeys and what exactly it is I want to say about the Soundscape & its relation to urban space. I have decided to stop working on my pieces for the time being, instead asking myself a series of written questions to answer and reflect upon. The four initial questions I’ve come up with are:

1) What was the experience of soundwalking through London like?

2) i. What observations were made about the soundscape during my journeys?

2) ii. What observations were made during preparing and working on recorded material?

3) How do the above observations feed in to how the soundscape may effect our perception; both of urban space and in a wider sense of processing experience.

4) In what ways can these ideas inform my compositional process and aesthetic descisions?

Hopefully answering these will give me a better idea of where to take things when composing, or at the least, they’ll give me a more solid foundation from which to build upon. I have, at times, felt somewhat lost during composing. I kept asking myself ‘What does this sound reveal about the soundscape?’, but I guess before asking myself that it makes sense to go back a step and ask ‘What have I learnt about the soundscape so far?’


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Terminology; Sonic Derive or Soundwalk ?

April 25, 2009 at 6:00 pm (Main Derives)

“A soundwalk is any excursion whose main purpose is listening to the environment. It is exposing our ears to every sound around us no matter where we are. We may be at home, we may be walking across a downtown street, through a park, along the beach; we may be sitting in a doctor’s office, in a hotel lobby, in a bank; we may be shopping in a supermarket, a department store, or a Chinese grocery store; we may be standing at the airport, the train station, the bus-stop. Wherever we go we will give our ears priority. They have been neglected by us for a long time and, as a result, we have done little to develop an acoustic environment of good quality.”


by Hildegard Westerkamp

originally published in Sound Heritage, Volume III Number 4
Victoria B.C., 1974, revised 2001

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10 Journeys // useful numbers ?

March 31, 2009 at 12:12 pm (Artists Statement & Reflection, Main Derives)

I decided to reduce the amount of journeys to 10 due to time constraints.

Now that all my derives are complete and all my sound material is prepared,

I will spend the remaining 12 weeks composing.



I’ve been doing a few calculations which may feed in to how I work with my sound material:



Approximate journey distances (km = miles) // time (hrs/min) // avr. speed (S – mph):

50mm = 1 km (map ratio)

TBS – 600mm = 12 km = 7.5 miles
// 4hr 57m = 4.95 hr
S = 7.5 / 4.95 = 1.52 mph

TBN – 250mm = 5 km = 3.1 miles
// 3hr27m = 3.45 hr
S = 3.1 / 3.45 = 0.9 mph

LBS – 250mm = 5 km = 3.1 miles
// 3hr15m = 3.25 hr
S = 3.1 / 3.25 = 0.95 mph

LBN – 330mm = 5.6 km = 3.5 miles
// 1hr54m = 1.9 hr
S = 3.5 / 1.9 hr = 1.84 mph

GJBS – 230mm = 4.6 km = 2.9 miles
// 1hr34m = 1.56 hr
S = 2.9 / 1.56 = 1.86 mph

GJBN – 320mm = 5.6 km = 3.5 miles
// 3hr14m = 3.23 hr
S = 3.5 / 3.23 = 1.08 mph

VBS – 470mm = 9.4 km = 5.8 miles
// 4hr27m = 4.45 hr
S = 5.8 / 4.45 = 1.3 mph

VBN – 320mm = 6.4 km = 4 miles
// 2hr20m = 2.33 hr
S = 4 / 2.33 = 1.72 mph

ABS – 280mm = 5.6 km = 3.5 miles
// 3hr29m = 3.48 hr
S = 3.5 / 3.48 = 1.01 mph

ABN – 510mm = 10.2 km = 6.3 miles (1 dp)
// 4hr5m = 4.08 hr (2dp)
S = 6.3 / 4.08 = 1.54 mph

Total distance = 69.4 km = 43.1 miles
Total time = 32hr 42 m = 32.7
Total average speed = 1.32 mph (2 dp) or 1.372 mph (using rounded S)


I could, for example, use the distance of a journey as time signature (e.g. 3.5 miles = 3/5 sig),

scale the journeys time length as total time for a composition (e.g. 1hr54 = 1m54sec),

use the average speed to set the beats per minute / tempo (1.84mph = 184 bpm)


Chronological order of journeys:

 LBN    – 09.01.10
LBS    – 09.01.11
GJBS – 09.01.14
GJBN – 09.01.28
VBN    – 09.01.29
TBN    – 09.02.04
VBS    – 09.02.19
ABS    – 09.02.20
ABN    – 09.02.21
TBS     – 09.03.11


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Derive from Tower Bridge (South)

March 16, 2009 at 1:17 pm (Main Derives)


Date: 09.03.11

Start location / time: Tower Bridge @ 14.28


End location / time: North Greenwich Tube @ 19:25

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