Reaktor Play Day

Months could be lost just playing with the packaged instruments that are in NI Reaktor, let alone getting under the hood and building your own instruments.

My personal favourite so far is Metaphysical Function which has 12 noise/tone generators, a sample playback module, and a brilliant effects chain to run everything through for sound mangling. Automation can then be recorded to most controls to turn it into an undulating, pulsing monstrosity!

The Dead

A sound installation, Voices of Memory, by the esteemed composer Christina Kubisch is currently at the Irish National War Memorial Gardens. Sound installations being relatively rare in Dublin, I hopped on a bike and made my way for a listen on a drizzly afternoon.

Walking the bare path along the riverside, you see a lone caber on the bank, and begin to hear the rote murmur of names being read aloud. The sound of water fills the background as it rushes through the sluice on the Liffey north bank. Water fowl croak intermittently.  

"Richard James, Richard James, Richard James...."

For a moment I'm disheartened and think the installation is malfunctioning and is stuck on the one name. But, as it chants the next name after several repetitions of Richard James, I realise that that many men with the same name were killed on the battlefield. The installation sign informs that 49'000 Irishmen were killed in World War One. Another loop of a name repeats. Each recitation has been recorded individually though, by an individual, for an individual.

The names are read alphabetically, with the sound of hydrophonic river recordings dividing the letters. Being situated beside the river, flow and time become important themes to the piece. The names flow by, sometimes slow and monotonous, but sometimes eddying and running into one another creating a wash of sound. These names have been fished out from time, to live momentarily in the ears of listeners as they pass by, sometimes with the river and sometimes against it. I left feeling that a rainy day was perhaps the best weather to find this piece in.

As I turned to leave, I noticed the heron standing on the far bank.

Voices of Memory is running until 30th September, 2016 at the Irish National War Memorial Gardens.

May 2016 i

The study, which used an MRI scanner to monitor brain activity, adds to a growing body of evidence that natural environments are good for humans, affecting mental and physical health and even levels of aggression.
Most architects receive little training in sound, and so are reliant on advice from an acoustic consultant. For this reason, a good relationship between architect and acoustician is vital. A big change in design methods is happening now, where acoustic engineers play architects examples of how their building will sound.
  • Be One
This four-track album imagines the sound of British summertime as heard by one of the most important members of the animal kingdom – the bee.
It emanates from a sense of lack of belonging, and a belief that all other people have a consistent level of confidence in their own competence, which, judging by the huge numbers of people who will admit to being sufferers, is not the case.
  • BBC News article on Impostor Syndrome which also mentions the Dunning-Kruger effect which appeared in This American Life's episode 'In Defence of Ignorance' (Thanks Philip Watson)
  • The theme of Impostor Syndrome is experiencing some morphic resonance at the moment as Tonebenders also feature it in their podcast

Art Ambience


Another Toop inspired subject; I made a trip to the National Gallery of Ireland to try approaching the contents there in an aural inspired way. I decided to see only a handful of paintings, and give each at least the same amount of time as I would a piece of music, or sound, and also to try and listen to the painting. To hear the sounds and atmosphere presented, rather than just approaching the scene visually.

Chris Watson was commissioned by the British National Gallery to compose sound for a Constable painting. In the Radio 4 Nature show, he discusses his approach to 'hearing' the sounds in the painting. This blurring of borders between forms really does allow for greater appreciation of the artist's intent.

Film: Silence

Directed by Pat Collins;

Written by Pat Collins, Eoghan Mac Giolla Bhríde and Sharon Whooley;

Featuring Eoghan Mac Giolla Bhríde

Some Spoilers Follow

Silence, the first feature film by documentary maker Pat Collins, is by no means an easy film. Held together by sparse plot, momentary dialogue and little characterisation, it provides minimal traditional traction for the audience.

What it is does provide is a stunning love letter to the flora and fauna of West Ireland, and a sobering meditation on the connection a people have with their homeland.

Beginning with a sojourn in Berlin (with some location work by Chris Watson), we meet Eoghan, an Irish émigré working as a sound recordist. The nature of a sound recordist is quickly defined in this first act. Eoghan stands below bridges and on street corners, headphones on and mics aimed, listening intently to the minutiae of the surrounding environment that escape the everyday listener. The oppressive din of the U-Bahn and traffic dominates these moments, completely obscuring the majority of one conversation, reminiscent of The Social Network's club scene.

Eoghan receives a commission to record the natural ambiances of West Ireland, completely away from any man-made noise. This creates a dilemma for Eoghan as he hasn't been home for more than a decade, yet, as anyone who lives in a city knows, he seems fatigued by the constant hum of urban life.

The film morphs between drama, documentary and nature film, using archive film and photos to punctuate scenes. Through all these lenses (and the anamorphic one fitted to the camera), Ireland is examined as an entity, the land cultivating a deep bond with it's inhabitants; history is carried on the wind, to be heard and inhaled.

The representation of a sound recordist at work is encouragingly accurate, perhaps falling a bit more into the realm of meditative activity than an activity focused on creating an end product. Eoghan sports Rycote blimps, Sennheiser HD IIs and a Sound Devices 722 protected in a Portabrace. The niche nature of sound recording is revealed in an exchange between Eoghan and a bar man, who's face broadcasts failure to understand the value of recording 'silence'.

In the films most philosophical conversation, writer Michael Harding states: "Whenever you sing a song, the first note comes out of silence, and the last note when you finish the song, falls away down into silence again". This underlines the ebb and flow of the film, with singular, small, intermittent bouts of human interaction and noise rising out of nothing, before we are treated to a rest of ambiance as heard through Eoghan's mics.

Ten years in production have resulted in a film that feels lean and well sculpted. Extraneous themes and influences have been relegated to the fringes of the film, but hover there always, making their presence known throughout. These influences, as expected, include the work of John Cage, Susan Sontag, David Toop and Ludwig Wittgenstein. The film contains several themes, too numerous and broad to discuss here. But these themes are weaved together tightly around the prodigal son plot, never weighing down the film.

I can imagine certain audiences being frustrated with the pace, ambiguity of the characters, lack of genre definition and specificity of subject matter, but truly I left the cinema in silence, feeling the film resonate with me for many days on numerous levels. I know already that it is a film that will stand to multiple viewings, as different elements can be pondered and unraveled in their entirety.

Essential viewing for any sound lover.