Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Recording sounds for Thrown

(clay covered mic photo courtesy of Leighton Edmondson)

“You’ll have to make it up as you go along. The recording technique is really a large part of the composition.” Doug Henderson giving me some advice as to how to record some of the sound material for Thrown.

This is what my friend composer Doug Henderson told me when I asked for advice on recording the sounds of clay and a pottery studio for potential use in my score for Thrown - a collaborative work with choreography by Rachel Cohen and video by Leighton Edmondson which will be performed during my March residency. I asked Doug how he had recorded some of the material for his sound installation Icebreaker (2004) thinking that some of his tricks might work for Thrown which explores the tactile relationship of the body to the earth/clay. I knew, for instance, that for Icebreaker Doug managed to freeze a microphone in a block of ice and recorded the sound of the ice as it melted. Pretty inspiring technique! But what Doug helped me realize is that recording is just like composing. It is a personal journey without any rules. Technique comes out of improvisation – out of being attentive to the moment be it in a dance rehearsal or time in a pottery studio. Is there a “proper” way to record what it sounds like to be squished inside a pile of wet clay? Well… wrap a cheap microphone in plastic wrap, shove it in the clay and start squishing…What do you hear? Think? Feel?

This past Monday in a pottery studio while Leighton directed a variety of shots for the video that will be a part of Thrown, I was able to record several relatively quiet and subtle sounds with inexpensive equipment. A Radio Shack mic (see the photo above which I've entitled "The Aftermath"), my tube mp cranked as high as it would go and my Ozone audio interface with its input signal level down as much as possible. Trying to record these sounds at a “hot” level was a challenge – and what I ended up with is going to end up being compressed in a variety of ways in an effort to create a tactile listening experience (i.e. in order to make them sounds LOUDER!!!). I dangled the mic into the sink around a pottery wheel in motion to get the sound of the wheel, the pedal, and water from a sponge being squeezed over the clay. The resulting recording from the mic being inside a pile of clay is about 50 percent useless noise and 50 percent quiet very cool little squishes and pops. I will post some of these recordings soon. The pottery studio session will give me material to play in live performance (via the laptop) with Leighton’s video and Rachel Cohen’s choreography. Stay tuned, I have a lot of editing and compressing to do...

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