The City Rings

Month: February, 2012

Barcelona (sonic) postcard time !


We, at Sons de Barcelona believe in open source software, and alternatives to copyright. This is why all the sounds recorded during our workshops go to Freesound where they are free to download and use under a Creative Commons license. And this is why we always use Audacity to edit and sequence sounds.


So, when we started the session dedicated to composing the sonic postcards, we had the pleasant surprise to find out this school’s computers run Ubuntu, which is a good Linux distribution (Linux is a free open-source operating system). Good start!


As you may remember, past week we dedicated it to record sounds that pupils found were characteristic of their school; with the intention of using those sounds to create a composition that was to be sent to Belgium, as a way of saying “hi there! this is how our school sounds”.



The main difference between this exercise and the Soundscapes one, is that, while we did the Soundscapes all together, the postcards we do them in groups of two or three pupils each. The intention is for them to gain autonomy with the software and the composition decision making. Another difference with the Soundscapes exercise is that this time we ask them for a “natural-sounding composition”, so they cannot use effects, heavy copy pasting, or any strategy that makes the final result seem more musical than descriptive, so to say (although they do not always do what we say…).


So, children start by loading their sounds into Audacity and listen to them, to come up with a first selection of those who are well recorded. Then they go on overlapping them, doing sudden and progressive transitions, handling volumes and panning, deleting bad takes, etc. as to end up getting a piece of approximately one minute in duration.



This is an exercise that requires quite a lot of concentration and attentive listening. It is noteworthy they had to resolve it in not much more than one hour, a difficult task even for experienced sound artists, indeed. We invite you here to listen to a selection of their results, and, as usual, visit our freesound page to hear the rest of them. Thanks for reading, enjoy.



Recording the school


A recording of a large pot full of meatballs on the cooking is not what we had in mind when we asked the pupils to think of, and record, sounds that were representative of their school. But it certainly works!


So, yes, we had a field-recording session, where pupils were to get sonic material for their last exercise: the sonic postcards, but that is next week….


Now, since the process of recording requires, I would say, an immersive approach, as well as a trial and error one; we usually leave the whole session for the pupils to go around and explore their school, recorder in hand, and that is all there is to it. With the exception of a small introduction dedicated to refresh their knowledge on how the recorders function, and what are the adequate procedures to record sound.


For example, they know that if a sound is too loud, or the sensitivity of the recorders is too high, or they are too near the sound source, or a combination of those; the recorded sound wave may clip and distort. So they had to adjust the sensitivity, input level and proximity to the sound in order for this not to happen.


They also know it is important to pay attention to background noise, when recording a concrete sound, if they want to get a clear take. And that they have to listen to their recordings after taking them, as to repeat them if they did not come up well.


Of course we were around :) so we could resolve their doubts with both the equipment and the procedures (and their entangling headphone cables)




Overall it was a fun session, running around with strange machinery, like ghost hunters, listening to amplified sounds, and learning to record sound. Now, please, listen to some of their results (note this is a school were music and singing is part of the everyday sonic environment) You can listen to the rest clicking here. Enjoy.



Sonic Postcards From Ghent


Dear reader,
As you might remember last week we focussed on recording : with wide open ears we searched our environment for interesting sounds. Just like a beachcomber scans the shoreline for washed-up treasures, we scanned our school,streets,houses,… for fascinating acoustic treasures.
In this fourth session , the Sonic Postcard session, we worked in pairs and each duo
made a composition with the sounds they recorded during the last week.

Maybe there’s a bit different approach here then in Barcelona, mainly because :

– we lend the recorders for one week , so the pupils can record sounds wherever/whenever they want :
at night in grandmother’s attic, in the garden at 6am, in the bus on the way to school,….

– while me made the first ‘soundscape’ alltogether , this Sonic Postcards are also made in duos,
but here we don’t have the restriction to make a ‘natural sounding composition ‘, at the contrary :
pupils try to organize and manipulate their sounds in such a way that it becomes very personal and that we get to know more about how they experience their city/environment.
So it’s not only about registrating reality, but also about manipulating reality to tell the story we’d like to tell. Some pupils are inspired by the tranquility of their environment , while others want to express the ‘hustle and bustle’ of their city.

Before the kids started composing, we did a demo of the multitracksoftware and showed the kids how to edit their sounds ( cut, copy,paste ) and how they could organize/mix their sounds ( concept of multitrack/ volume & panning envelopes ). Luckily the kids seemed to remember most of these skills from the Soundscape session.
Then each duo had a small brainstorm on what kind of energy/feeling they wanted to express with their composition and which sounds would be good for that purpose.
After that every duo started to work on their 1minute composition.
You can hear the results here, enjoy !


One, Two,Three : Recording !


Today pupils were too curious to know what happened to their mySounds and how they were used in the Spanish compositions. So we started listening to the different compositions and discussing/comparing them, and tried to describe the compositions with keywords : heroic, nervous, energetic were the words that were used most here. Pupils seemed to like the use of contrast and the progression of the Spanish compositions: silent <> loud / dark,raw <> soft, light … You did a great job there in Barcelona !
Then time for some action : today we got ourselves familiar with the process of recording : we learned about the portable recorders and about the whole ritual that comes with recording sounds.
Our first recordings weren’t really that good : sometimes sounds were recorded too loud, sometimes too silent.
We also learned that it’s really necessary to check for unwanted/disturbing sounds : sometimes we’re so focussed on the sound we’d like to record , that we don’t hear any other disturbing sounds around such as radios playing , people talking, cars passing by…
Hmm, recording seems to be a process that needs some concentration, but after a while recordings got better and better. You can listen to some of our Sonic Snaps here, next week we’ll have more and start composing !
Good luck !