Crimson Coast Dance

March 12, 2021: CREATING SOUNDSCAPES FOR PERFORMANCE AND ART INSTALLATION by Geneviève Johnson

I am taking an exciting audio creation course this semester as part of my Digital Media studies at VIU. It was a little intimidating at first because I am not a musician but it turns out that sound scores can be much other things than music.

The world of sounds is wide and fun to play with.

Finding your voice, through sounds, from who and where you are; from past and present to build surprising new sounding voices for the future…

Sound score for performance does not have to be music or only music.


Words and sounds from field recording as well as from the moving body can become an extremely active, supporting and emotive environment for movement creation, performance and art installation.

In this blog, I am going through the steps I took to create a first soundscape draft for a poem in motion I will present in next week’s blog. A “farewell to my broken body” as I call it since I am going for total hip replacement surgery that day (March 19).

Audio Equipment

When we think audio equipment we think expensive… Think again. 

Start with what you have: sometimes the more inventive you are with basic things the more interesting your sounds will be.

As recording device, simply use your phone‘s voice memo app to record voice and sounds. If you want to buy something, get a hand held recorder (I use Zoom Handy Recorder H1N about $125 www.zoomcorp.com ).

For editing software, I use Audacity, as recommended by my audio professor at VIU Robin Davies. It is simple and free.

The trick is to keep exploring… Listen to what you hear when you apply effects and keep what feels good to you. Play with the sounds until you like them.

A good pair of headphones is very helpful to hear the beautiful details of sounds.

Voice: Spoken Words

My soundscape will be built around poems I wrote from my injured hip perspective and the narrowing world I experience from it. For this week excerpt exploration I chose (and recorded) this one:

find support
branch or root
to plant
push
reconnect neurons
cells and atoms
recompose the momentum
forget the heartbreak

to jump
disarticulated
in a step

hesitant

When recording voices, the best way to cut most of the background noise is to be in a small insulated place. When we hear this, we think “very expensive studio”.

But no: your WALK-IN CLOSET will do! With a closed door and surrounded by insulating clothes, there is your makeshift studio.

(a small room with curtains, carpet and lots of pillows and fabric to absorb residual sounds would work too) 

  • Put your recording device on a pillow to eliminate vibration
  • Once you start it, don’t touch it anymore until you are done to avoid manipulating sounds
  • Talk about 6 inches away from it and slightly on one side of it so you don’t hear popping letters
  • Don’t move too much to avoid rubbing and clothes noises

You can hear the recorded poem on this video (audio files cannot be uploaded in this blog). I kept a bilingual recorded version of this poem to acknowledge my French heritage.

Sound Recording: Surrounding Sounds

Think about sounds you want to work with:
What sounds are attracting you?

  • nature’s sounds,
  • industrial or electronic ambiences,
  • moving body in space (foot steps, breath, fabric moving on the body…)
  • people and public places

Imagine them, then go search for them…

I love water sounds: babbling creek, rain drops in ponds… their fluidity is talking to my stiffening and restricted body… 

Think about where you can find these sounds and…

  • go for a walk
  • if walking is not accessible open your window,
  • stand in your yard,
  • drive where you can find sounds and record from where you are…

As you record, be careful with handling sounds and sounds that you don’t want in the recording like raindrops hitting the recorder and wind in the microphone…
Keep a soft touch. You can even wear gloves.

If recording sounds in the field is too much for you, you can use free sounds offered online. Make sure to credit the sources. 

www.soundbible.com and www.freesound.org

From this raw material,  you can then cut and paste (on your phone or computer) parts you like, discard ones you don’t want and built something new from there…

If you want to go further, you can imagine a place (real or invented) and create a sound ambience for it: layering different sounds you collected.

Music Excerpts: From Friends And Online Royalty Free

Always get permission or pay royalties… and give credit. Acknowledge the work and talent of others: creative and working connections can be built this way…

I love to work with my child Sofina’s music composition. For the present soundscape creation, I transformed and repeated a short section of Sofina’s creation from our Nested: Lean and Rise performance.

You can also get online royalty free music or from the public domain. For example: 

www.bensound.com

Process: Construction From Deconstruction

Once I have permission, I like to play with sections of these music. Transforming them until they morph into something that triggers my imagination.


Repeat, Reverse, Slowdown, Reverb, Micro cut, Paste, Accelerate…

Even the smallest sounds can be use. If you like a sound, keep it. It can be a sound or a micro section of a music

A single sound can  become a whole soundscape, even a music score for a whole performance.

Play with your sounds in the software you chose (I use Audacity – you can even use your movie making software and save the result in audio file .wav or .mp3)

In audio class this semester, we created a soundscape from just one sound. Tyler McIIwham, a classmate, worked from a sound I recorded from my Core Align (a fitness machine) and created a beautiful wave sound.

An Imaginary World to Spring From

This soundscape mixing water, voice, reconstructed sounds, deconstructed music…  breathes my morphing body in process…

From there, I can dive into dancing a farewell to my broken body next week.

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