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Sounding out atmospheres

Connecting imaginative listening and reflective writing to improve collaborating

Published onNov 15, 2021
Sounding out atmospheres

For many years I have been composing music, designing soundscapes, teaching sound studies at university, interviewing composers for radio programmes and collaborating with other artists, including film makers, curators and performing musicians. For me, sonic creation is never an isolated artistic form. Sound can blend with and complement other aesthetic forms, such as film, sound installations, spoken word and environmental events.

My particular interest today is in using sound, whether environmental or musical, as material. Sound can create a particular atmosphere, in an instant, draw attention to subtle developments in a narrative, make barely perceptible movements ‘hearable’, and alter the mood of the listener.

Several activities help me build my own awareness of sound as material for artistic use. These include analysing sound (e.g. what ‘colour’ or timbre it possesses, how it evolves in time) and soundwalking (walking in natural, social or built environments, listening, stopping to focus on specific sounds, taking a note in my sound diary, and noticing how the sounds interact with other sensuous impressions, like seeing, smelling, or touching).

Since joining the RinA community I have begun to reflect more deeply on my creative and collaborative practices. This is helping me to become more aware of things like the subtle movements between collaborators, my responses to critique, and personal questions around identity, voice and will. It has also opened windows on possible new audiences and event spaces.

The phenomenological approach has been vital. It has prompted me to go back to basics and ask fundamental questions, such as what is a sound, what happens when I use a sound, and how might a listener hear this sound? It has also made me more aware of how conversation works, which is such a crucial part of collaborating on artistic projects. And it has given me an opportunity to practise speaking about sound and my intentions as a composer to non-specialist listeners.

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