Friday 10th June was the first test run of the Echo Location Sound Map. I was invited to the meeting of the board of directors of Bedford Creative Arts (BCA), to involve them in the process of how Echo location develops. (BCA commissioned Echo Location). I introduced the project by describing how the idea had developed, and went on to discuss how I plan to work in collaboration with BCA and local Bedford people during the creative process. I currently anticipate Echo Location to expand and develop to include a performance, an installation, and a number of soundwalks, plus developments to the functions of the online piece with digital artist Ed Holroyd… After the introduction, we prepared to go out into Bedford (in the rain!!) to record sounds from the local environment. I introduced everyone to a variety of sound recording devices…
We tried to follow a circular route, but from quite early on, it became apparent that people prefered to wander off and record / listen at their own pace, which was fine, and actually a better way to work. It was also very evident that differences between equipment really impacted on ones experience. Being able to monitor the sound on headphones, adjust levels and listen to the world through a microphone is extremely engaging as the sound feels ‘magnified’ and very immersive. If you have not listened to the world through a microphone before, it really can affect your perception of the sound environment. This means the Edirol R09 handheld recorder with built in mics, and the minidisc recorder with a mic attached were the most successful set-ups.
Some people recorded using audioboo directly on their mobile phones. The advantage of this method meant that the recordings were automatically geo-tagged. However, the sound cannot be monitored when recording, which is not as engaging as an activity. Surprisingly, the sound quality from the iphone was better than I had anticipated, and a number of audioboo ‘direct uploads’ are now on the map.
For future events, I would ideally like participants to use handheld recorders with built in mics and then work with the free software Audacity to select short sections of sounds to upload. This way, the experience will hopefully open up a new and refreshed way of listening to the world, and also allow us to go through the process of listening to the sounds back and decided what to upload. Following the event, I would encourage people to continue to interact with Echo Location by uploading sounds ‘on the fly’ using audioboo on their smartphone.
The board were very engaged with the task, and also debated many aspects of the project and this kind of approach to making work by involving other people in the process. It was an extremely stimulating afternoon, and has really helped me consider ways in which to develop the project and shape future participatory events. Mike (on the board) said it was like contributing to my sketch book as I shape and devise a new piece of work. I also took on board the aspects that were less successful (ie, feeling like the ‘group walk’ disbanded, and difficulties with some of the equipment).
We managed to populate the map with some interesting sounds! – most are uploaded by myself (@birdtwitchr), because we just had one computer, but they are all recorded by different people. Zoom into Bedford on the Sound Map and take a listen and play / compose with the soundscape that is emerging.
I’m really looking forward to the next Bedford, Echo Location event, which will be in July, to coincide with the Busking Festival. For this next event, I plan to start off by taking participants out for a ‘listening walk’ without any equipment, and see what difference it makes to purely focus on listening. Following that, I would ask people to choose an area from the map of Bedford, to go and make sound recordings from. I think this would be a more focussed task, and we would also then end up with more areas covered on the sound map of Bedford.
Some pictures from the day – thanks to everyone who took part.