Relationship of Animal and Man

I saw this news story on Yahoo News about a pitbull going through great lengths to save its owner from a train. I found it fascinating because I’ve heard many stories like this before. It’s a great lens through which to analyze the relationship between man and animal, or more specifically in this instance, man and dog.

 

Dream Sounds

May 3, 2012

For my Deep Listening exercise, I chose to address the idea of sound in dreams – sparked by Oliveros’ suggestion of “Dream Sharing” on page 4.  Instead of sharing with a partner, as instructed in the book, I kept a dream journal over the past few days to examine.  I expected to notice some sort of soundscape in my dream, whether it be insect sounds, bird sounds or even just the natural weather in the background of my mind’s creation – but so far as I can remember, the only sounds I could hear were the ones that were pertinent to my dream (which as dream logic is rather strange, caused these to be quite odd) or ones I actively noticed were missing, and seem to have inserted into my dream actively if I was dreaming lucidly. In cases where I was trying to remember a completed dream, I hardly had any memory of noticing sounds. Over the past few days, I’ve encountered indoors and outdoor environments in my dreams, but all were lacking in ambient noise – I found that I experienced much more focus in my dreams on color schemes and emotion than sound.  I’m not sure if this means that I am simply not attuned to listening for sounds in my dreams, if dream sounds don’t exist for me because I don’t notice many soundscapes in my waking life and thus do not produce them subconsciously, or if I am not remembering sounds I hear in my dreams after having awoken.  I am inclined to think that I am not noticing sounds in the real world, and thus when I create a dream world do not insert these elements of reality into fiction.  Uexhull writes about how a stimulus – in this case a sound – must be noticed by the subject in order for it to exist in their umwelt.  Essentially, only sounds that are noticed are deemed relevant and analyzed by the subject for a part of their perceived world.  And since the dream world is dependent at least in part on this real world, if there is a lack of noticed sound material for the subconscious to draw on, then the dream world will be sparsely populated with sounds. Especially after taking this class, I thought I was fairly in touch with the sound aspect of our world, however my own subconscious seems to indicate that I don’t notice nearly enough of the sounds that surround me in my every day life.

Dawn Chorus, May 1st

May 1, 2012

May 1st usually is a good day for hearing from the birds, as they migrate through, so it was appropriate that insomnia had me up in time to record this dawn chorus. What species can you identify? The chorus was over in a half hour. I like to think of this wave of song, continuously sweeping the planet (24/7), as we rotate into the dawn.

Wet your whistle

April 26, 2012

In thinking about our assignment to notate birdsong, I’ve become increasingly frustrated trying to do so graphically. And so, inspired by Marcus Coates’s Dawn Chorus, I decided to try mimicking the robins who sing outside my window every morning. After taking a recording, I slowed it down to human speed and did my best to imitate what I heard in two different ways and sped up the results back to their original pace.

1. Whistling. This seemed to work best, as the variability of the throat, in combination with lips and tongue, allowed the finest control over the subtle nuances contained therein. In addition, I whistled a second track in order to elicit the simultaneous effects possible only with a bird’s syrinx.

Whistle Robin

2. Soprano saxophone. This was a challenge. Despite the soprano saxophone’s high range, the limitations of my software allowed me neither to slow down the robin’s song nor speed up my recording to a sufficient pitch or speed, and so the results are about an octave lower than they should be. Nevertheless, one can hear the marked difference in timbre and articulation. As a relatively inexperienced saxophonist, I struggled in making smooth transitions between notes. In addition, because the saxophone has a single hollow body that does not constrict like a throat, I had to make due with embouchure adjustments and odd fingerings in order to get the nuances I desired. The results were not quite so satisfactory.

Soprano Saxophone Robin

Although both of these are renderings born of technological manipulation, the whistling version sounds more organic to my ears, while the soprano comes across as an electronic copy. This makes me wonder how the birds hear David Rothenberg’s fascinating attempts to jam with them. Does he come across as a lumbering blob of slow-motion riffs and delayed virtuosity, or is the speed secondary to the quality of the song? Perhaps those birds are singing because they are trying to teach him the proper way to join the conversation. -Tyran

My post on rendering animal sounds, for the sound studies blog, Sounding Out!

In a time of mass extinction, how are we to approach the rendering of animal sounds in our mediated environments? Do these sounds have agency? Does listening to and “capturing” animal sounds bring us closer to them, or only lure us, with an illusion of immersion and unity, away from realizing the dark nature of our ecology, and the urgent reforms needed, if we are actually to help animals (does our rendering and consumption of whale song—pace what Songs of the Humpback Whale has done for whale conservation—end up perpetuating the same extractive process that “renders” whale blubber)?

In coincidence strangely relevant to our class two weeks ago, I just happened to stumble upon a reference to artist Miru Kim’s installation I Like Pigs and Pigs Like Me, undoubtedly related to Joseph Beuys’ I Like America and America Likes Me.  I thought I’d share, although her exhibit doesn’t seem to have received nearly as much attention as Beuys’ did.  Also, this website gives a bit of a different perspective on Kim’s intentions with the installation than the first, but the contrast between these two accounts is interesting in its own right.  Essentially, Kim seems to focus more on finding her humanity by living with these pigs than Beuys did, instead of trying to become or access the animal by living with them.  Her focus on skin and nudity, not just in this piece, also lends a different flavor to her work.  However, it seems that she is still exploring the relationship between human and animal, albeit in a light we haven’t encountered thus far.

I wonder what role our awareness and subconscious plays in our listening to and hearing of specific sounds? I don’t mean listening actively for a sound, but rather bringing it to the forefront of your consciousness and considering it, and then letting it recede back into memory – only to notice it more so than ever before when next exposed to it.  I wonder this, because early yesterday afternoon I had a brief conversation with a friend about the ubiquitous Cornell chimes and their purpose (or frivolity, as she thought).  I mentioned that I do in fact use them to tell the time; for example, I know that if I hear them from our apartment I can be positive that I am running late for class. However this only happens rarely, and not due to my punctuality but rather the difficulty in hearing the chimes from a substantial distance away.  I often simply do not hear the chimes.  But that evening, I heard them strike every quarter-hour interval for several hours, although I had returned home and normally do not notice the chimes so regularly.  Each time, it occurred to me that I was hearing the bell tower, and I noted to myself how odd it was that I had just discussed how infrequently I hear it.  Even more bizarre, the chimes actually woke me up this morning – something that has never happened before.  They are not loud at all, but I have no doubt that they were what brought me out of sleep today. My first thought upon waking up was that I was noticing them yet again.  I have come to the conclusion that since I had been thinking about the sound of the bells prior to hearing them so many times, I was more attuned to them when I first was exposed to them again. This awakened my recent focus on the sound, and I consciously noticed it again.  Then, I allowed it to return to the back of my mind, but 15 minutes later the same cycle repeated, each time impressing upon my subconscious the prevalence of this sound.  Finally, when my sleeping mind heard the chimes this morning, it took notice of what had been a very common sound the day before and I awoke to become conscious of it yet again.   However, of course this is simply anecdotal evidence and my own musings – I would like to learn more about how we consciously and subconsciously filter through the many sounds we may hear at any given moment and select the most relevant or common ones to examine consciously.

Music and Nature

April 14, 2012

Just discovered this terrific website dedicated to music and nature.

Creativity in Birdsong

April 12, 2012

I’m glad I read the most recent blog posts before adding mine, because it was going to be nearly identical to Justin’s.  The songbirds are certainly out in force, and they’ve been waking me as well. However, I didn’t focus so much on the hi-fi vs. lo-fi soundscapes when listening to them; I did return to the interesting opposition birds have to hearing their songs repeated.  As I heard so many birds singing, I first wondered if sometimes there is a conflict if two “write” the same melody and feel antagonized when hearing the other’s song.  This type of event is common in human culture – people are known to argue over who invented something first, or said something originally.  But do birds feel the same way? Are they so creative that they never repeat themselves unintentionally?  Similarly, I wonder if I had begun to play some recordings of birdsong out of my open window how the birds would react.  It is unlikely that the birds would hear or notice, but the same hypothetical issue of ownership of song arises for me.  I suppose I am essentially wondering if birds are as opposed to “copy-cats” as we humans are, showing a type of jealousy, or at least allowing us to project that emotion upon them.  The limits of birds’ creativity and inventiveness has not yet been discovered, but I wonder where (if at all) it lies, and how the avian populations would respond to the necessary repetition of old songs.

Early Morning Bird Song

April 12, 2012

Today I was awakened by bird song around 5:00am.  At first I tried to block it out, but it proved unsuccessful.  So, for about two hours, in my “twilight state” of groggy awakening, I tried to listen and pick out some different birds.  Unfortunately, it was extremely difficult because there were many different bird songs in many different directions.  My only saving grace was that when I finally decided to move about, I looked out my window and could actually see the birds.  The most prominent bird that I saw (around 7:00am) was the American Robin.  There were about four.  But there was certainly other birds making other noises.  All of the noise directed me back to schafer and thinking about a hi-fi soundscape.  It was actually quite pleasing to note that in the two hours that had passed, I hadn’t noticed any mechanical noises (cars, tvs, refrigerator, and so on), and it made me wonder if this was a rare experience that used to be common in the hi-fi soundscape, but is seldom any more.  So, at first I was not so happy to be woke at 5:00, but as I stumbled about and listened to the song, I felt very pleased to awake to something like bird song, as compared to a sharp, low-fi, mechanical buzzer of an alarm.

“Net Noise”

April 5, 2012

My professor from another class recently brought this site to my attention www.cTheorymultimedia.cornell.edu . It’s an on-line journal of sorts with the main focus being “Net Noise” right in the middle of the page. When you click on it the screen expands and you are shown different icons you can click on. There are different noises for each one and there are multiple links that will take you to other pages. 

I personally found this website fascinating especially since it made me think outside of the normal natural sounscape that we discuss and into that of the internet. The internet itself, I’m sure, makes thousands and thousands of tiny sounds inaudible for the human ear. I wonder what it sounds like in cyberspace when we click on a link and that information goes buzzing throughout the World Wide Web in order to bring us to our desired multimedia destination. The computer itself is always making sounds whether it be a constant humming of electronics working internally to satisfy the user or the sounds it makes as we enter a disc or take one out. The internet, however, is what fascinates me. Billions of people use it every day. It has almost become a necessity in every day life for many people. We can use it on an airplane or in a library in the confines of our own personal bubble, without making any audible sounds. But, does the internet make noises that we may just not hear? If so, would we ever be able to hear them?

Nesting of the Cranes

April 5, 2012

Like many traditional instruments, the Japanese shakuhachi, or bamboo flute, has a rich history. Perhaps greater than its evolution as an instrument, however, is the depth of its repertoire, which encompasses melodies passed down through the centuries and pieces written by contemporary composers, the latter often in multi-instrumental and cross-cultural settings. Having attempted for a short period in my life to play one, I can attest to the utter dedication required to attune its character to the undistracted self.

In light of my recent critique regarding the pitfalls of Western classical notation in representing birdsong on the page, I found my mind wandering to the notation practices of shakuhachi music:

The form differs from what the classical musician might expect. Not only is it read from top to bottom, right to left, but also uses scripted note values and diacritical marks with at best implied meters.

One classic piece in the shakuhachi canon is Tsuru no Sugomori 鶴の巣籠 (Nesting of the Cranes). It evokes a full narrative in which the eponymous cranes arrive on wing, find and rejoice in their nesting place, hatch their egg, witness the departure of their offspring, and pay their respects to heaven in having fulfilled their duty. Here is an abbreviated version played by FUJIWARA Dōzan for Japanese television:

Are Western notation practices sufficient to capture these nuances? Perhaps not, though it hasn’t stopped people from trying:

In the end, of course, interpretation wins out over the ways in which a piece might be scored. Any self-respecting shakuhachi player will likely tell you that the best way to learn is by ear, that notation serves only the purpose of guiding the solo performer to a state of total embodiment. Such mastery of mind and body is the lifeblood of this music. Through it one meditates not on what has been written, but on what can be erased. -Tyran

Market, late morning, 26 March 2012: a walk down Electric Avenue.

Horses and Pit Bulls

March 13, 2012

Throughout my life I have had many unique experiences with a variety of different animals.  From dogs and cats to horses to cattle to hawks to snakes to turtles to fox to deer, I have been involved with many different rescue and rehabilitation efforts.  This is partly due to my mother’s passion for animals with special needs (which also drives my father crazy–funny how things work).  Her, sometimes outspoken, passion for animals certainly allowed for me to actively play a role in the lives of many animals, and it was also a way for me (who was had chronic illnesses growing up) to have an opportunity to grow and heal with these animals.  And it is also helped me to develop my “spiritual” philosophies of Connectedness in regards to human and animal relationships–covering everything from food to companionship.  One might be able to label my mother as an “activist of animal rights” of sorts, however I would term her as a “practical activist” because most of what she does is thoroughly thought out and always has a practical explanation for her decisions.  unfortunately there certainly are a number of people who are overly radical and just not practical when it comes to animals and “rescuing” and often make a bad rap for “animal lovers.”  Where I stand on this issue is more of a blending of animal rights and animal welfare (both of which have choppy definitions and I won’t waste time explaining–at least now you understand a bit of my background and a general idea of my view, which is that I believe animals need to be treated in a fair way, but I realize that humans have practical uses (such as food and clothing and work) which are essential to our own survival and I will not overlook this fact).

So, a special experience that I share with an animal…. I could talk about the numerous shelter animals that I have helped my mother rehabilitate.  I could talk about my own work as an assistant vet tech at a non-kill shelter.  I could talk about the orphaned hawk that I helped rehabilitate (although it was illegal being that I do not have a license to rehabilitate wild animals–yet).  I could talk about any of my three dogs that came into the shelter through horrifying cases.  I could go in a completely opposite direction and talk about showing dairy cows and working on farms.  The list goes on and on and on.

However, there are only two instances where I felt connected to an animal beyond that of normal human-animal relationships (mostly because my mother has this gift where most of our animals trust her much more than anyone else in the house hold).  These two animals were: (1) Flyer, our 40-year-old thoroughbred horse who had an extensive career at Saratoga and hailed from “royal” blood, but his career also led to his injury and his ultimate fate as a pasture rat, and (2) Gypsy, a pit bull that I found in a chicken coop with nine puppies.

Flyer was certainly a thoroughbred.  High strung and pissy until the day he died.  However, the tactics that were noted by Patton as being damaging (ie. the cowboy way of hitting the horse to desensitize it), were clearly used on Flyer during his training.  My mother did not take Flyer in until he was long removed from the racing industry and had some years on his life.  And in the years between racing and my mother’s discovery of him, his behaviors worsened.  And until the day he died he expressed signs of nervousness, and in many cases sheer hatred of male humans (even my father and grandfather who worked with him extensively).  The only male human that he was completely comfortable around was me.  My mother jokes and says that this is because she was thrown off of Flyer while trail riding while she was pregnant with me–so we were bound to have a connection.  Nevertheless, I often, throughout my childhood, would spend a lot of my times in the barn just studying this majestic creature.  He was huge, 18 hands, jet black and powerful looking.  Even in his old age (I knew him from the time he was 25 until he was 40–my mother had him for about twelve years prior to my birth) he was a presence.  There was just a natural connection between the way we interacted, a connection that I have yet to regain with any of our other horses.  And also, his death was of significance to me because it truly was like watching an immortal die, and it made it worse that I was the only one around when it happened, and he died, still fighting with his head in my arms.  I have written numerous poems about this occasion and it is something that will stick with me for a long time.

Gypsy, is still with us today, but her story is also interesting.  Emaciated, mange riddled, full of fleas, injured, and extremely frightened was the condition that I found her in.  My best friend Marc and I were both working at the shelter and had a call about a dog in the chicken coop.  When we got there we didn’t know what to expect.  The neighbors that lived on the particular hill were scared of the dog because she was a pit bull, which is a stereotypical fear that is ridiculous.  My only fear was moving her and her puppies because the puppies were newborn and covered in mud and feces from the chicken coop, and Gypsy (we named her because that is the name of the hill in which the chicken coop was) was so frail and injured.  Eventually we were able to get them into my car (which was a small Subaru legacy at the time–the shelter van was broken down and we had to use my car).  Gypsy was so extremely shy that she often didn’t move or even look at you.  She would sit with her head buried in her paws.  After about half a year, her and her puppies were adopted out to different families.  unfortunately, her adoption was a bad adoption and she came back to the shelter.  She was even more shy and reluctant of humans than before and we soon learned that the owners had beat her after she chewed some shoes (we issued the owners a ticket to appear in court for animal cruelty).  So, it became my mom’s mission to rehabilitate this dog.  She came home to us on a “fostering” trial.  I knew that this meant she was really being adopted.  And now, three years later, there is a significant difference in the dog’s personality.  She trusts me the most out all humans she comes in contact with, and I am the only one to be able to rough house with her and our other two dogs.  But to me, she really is a case of human qualities in an animal.

Playing ruff

March 13, 2012

When I was about 12 years old, my single father and I moved away from northern California, where I’d been born and raised. My father had fallen on hard times, and my uncle had offered to let us stay with him in Long Island until we could get back on our feet. Not only did this connect us back to our East Coast family; it also gave me my first dog in my uncle’s Golden Retriever. Robert Maximillian III: a regal name for a down-to-earth personality. Robert didn’t own a leash. He went wherever we went. Most of the time, in fact, we let him out to do his business, after which he would come back and scratch on the door when he was finished. Two things I remember most about him: his smell and his voice. Those who’ve lived with a Goldie know that smell, which is somewhat foul to non-owners yet nostalgic to the rest of us. Even his weekly bathing did little to mask it. It saturated the house, became a part of our lives. His voice, on the other hand, had a variety of scents. It was full of color. Squirrels or other dogs would occasionally set him off, but for the most part he was quiet. I remember most his sounds of play. We had a favorite game, for which I’d put on my dad’s oven mitts (much to his chagrin) and initiate a play fight. I would begin by slapping Robert on the face until he started growling, and we’d wrestle for half an hour, respecting each other’s boundaries but sometimes getting pretty rough. Yet his voice—a combination of snarls, snorts, and joyful rumbles—always let me know it was okay. He spoke to me in those moments, ensuring that the script of our play was true to character. Was this violent? For all intents and purposes, I suppose so. There was plenty of physical contact that in other contexts might have been considered abusive. But we shared an agreement. Case in point: I rather naively came to believe that all dogs shared this understanding, foolishly tried to initiate our little game with a neighbor’s dog, and received my first (and last) bite in return. We’d simply never had a conversation about it. My takeaway point is this: If we’re going to talk about physical boundaries between animals, including ourselves, then we must also think about play, for it is a contract that few language barriers, if any, can nullify. -Tyran

The Question of Zoos

March 12, 2012

“From the dawn of consciousness, we’ve been trying to frame, in everything from creation mythology to zoological parks, the simultaneous sense of kinship with and irreparable separateness from animals that our consciousness calls to mind. . . .

Modern science, for its part, now repeatedly confirms our long intuited commonality with the creatures we continue to keep. Indeed, a number of major zoos have already closed down their elephant and chimpanzee exhibits because of the psychological trauma those animals have been shown to suffer in captivity. Major lawsuits are also being pursued against places like Sea World for ‘enslaving’ orcas and dolphins.

‘In 2013, we’re going to prosecute the first cases,’ Steven M. Wise, a lawyer and president of the Nonhuman Rights Project, recently told me. ‘Their goal will be to use the latest science to help persuade state court judges that such creatures as whales and chimpanzees should be accorded common law personhood and rights.’”

Farewell to the Monkey House

Knee deep in Niedecker

March 8, 2012

O my floating life
Do not save love
      for things
            Throw things
to the flood

This cluster of words, from Lorine Niedecker’s poem “Paean to Place,” is the perfect Deleuzian symbiote, a map along which to trace the comportment of our reading. This soundscape consists of jewels, some tarnished and others clear enough to be invisible yet each sharing the light that shines through them. Niedecker seems to dive along with us, looking deep into the instrumental heart of foggy waters throughout which float the visages of a divided family. Deafness is evoked as a sonic choice, a condition of severance from one’s home and the comforts that reside within it. The quotidian sings, washes away the means with which to describe it with the language of phenomenological interaction (“spoon-tapped waterglass- / descending scale- / tear-drop-tittle”). Emotion is the music of the spheres (“He netted loneliness”), the law of gravity (“A hummingbird / can’t haul”), and the nature of the body (“I possessed / the high word: / The boy my friend / played his violin / in the great hall”). Everything here inhabits the edge of something unseen, felt only as one’s own weight. The air sings, yes, but only the chambers of our hearts can decipher it. -Tyran

Hail? Nary…

March 7, 2012

A few days ago, when snowflakes touched down on Ithaca at last, a hush fell over everything. And in that hush, I was able to really listen to the sounds of snow for the first time this winter, a sound I can only describe as thousands of microscopic foil candy wrappers being unwrapped simultaneously. I regretted not having equipment sensitive enough to record this sound. Others have done that very thing—most notably John Hudak and Stephen Mathieu in their album Pieces of Winter, for which they took contact recordings of snow as a basis for electronically generated compositions. Yet even as I lamented my lack of means, a sudden hailstorm unleashed its relatively recordable sounds on my apartment complex. Thinking I had an opportunity, I switched my portable recorder on and left it outside my door until the storm abated. Yet when I transferred the file to my computer, all I heard was a mechanical whine and none of the tiny flecks of sound I was hoping to explore in greater depth. It turns out that when I opened my door to place the recorder outside, the cold air rushing into the apartment had triggered my heater to kick in, and since the unit pokes out of the wall right beside my door, it was its hum that I’d managed to capture on tape. Disheartened, I quickly erased the recording and forgot about it. But then I began thinking about the sound I had discarded. Might there not have been something to hear in the voice of a machine? Was it only because it was unnatural that I rejected it? To be sure, certain recordings have turned just such sounds into immersive listening experiences (murmer’s We Share A Shadow comes to mind). Let this be a lesson to find potential in every sound. -Tyran

Sound in space

March 7, 2012

This past Monday I accompanied other members of my Video Art and New Media class to watch William Forsythe’s choreography in Rand Hall. Broc, the dancer who was performing the choreography, had what seemed to be about 50 pendulums hanging from the ceiling surrounding him. He flitted in between them utilizing the apparatuses at times and avoiding them at others. At first, I really wasn’t sure what I was watching. His movements were extremely unique. The piece itself was titled “Everywhere and Nowhere at the Same Time.” I found myself paying extra attention to how the entire piece sounded. At first, the dominate sounds were the cars passing by outside the building, people moving in their seats, the sound of the door opening and closing as people were coming and going. It was difficult to tune these out. However, I started to notice the sound of the dancer’s feet as he was moving about. With some of this movements, the noise his feet made reminded me of a basketball court and how players’ shoes squeak with every short stride. He twisted the strings suspending each pendulum together at times and when they spiraled close enough to touch each other, there were clinking sounds throughout the room at random intervals. The most interesting sounds were the ones the dancer made himself. Whenever his arms would cut through the air in short, quick movements, he would emit a swooshing sound using his vocal chords. Randomly, he would also make short high pitched sounds almost like something you would hear from a machine that beeped. I wasn’t sure why he made these noises and what they meant in relation to the piece as a whole. Did they somehow relate to the pendulums? Were the sounds part of him making the most of the space? How do they relate to the title “Everywhere and Nowhere at the Same Time”? I was extremely confused by the entire piece, though I did thoroughly enjoy it from a artistic standpoint.

On another note. A friend of mine does a radio station for Cornell. He focuses on music with a vast array of sounds that tend to be a bit more “obscure.” I wanted to share his website with you all that has links to some sound bytes that I found interesting. Some I had heard before but a lot of it I had not. It’s called SonicLandscapes. Hope you all enjoy it!

I find it very interesting how some listeners can distinguish between similar sounds, while to others the sounds are identical – and how this can also be seen in speakers, the producers of the sounds in question. Typically, this can occur when one learns a new language, and has to master the subtle differences between tones or syllables, but it can appear in one’s native language as well. I recently noticed that a friend of mine pronounces the words “pen” exactly like “pin”, and “Jenn” the same as “gin”. She believes that she is differentiating the “e” and “i” in each of these words, but anyone listening to her cannot ascertain which word she is actually saying (barring contextual clues, of course). Even more curiously, she pronounces the name “Jennifer” using the “e” sound that should be heard in “Jenn”, but thinks she does say “Jenn” using the same sound. Within her umwelt, there is a differentiation between these sounds, although she rarely pays attention to it. When she speaks these words, however, the sounds that we find entering our spheres of existence are foreign and seem to be pronounced incorrectly. But this is all based on the filtration of these words out of her mind, into her umwelt, and then into ours. What if we as listeners are simply incapable of noticing the distinction she makes? Is she “wrong” – or are we? How can she hear the difference in pronunciation by others but not notice the nuances of her own speech? Can any of us truly know how we sound to our listeners?

The metaphorical habit

March 1, 2012

Last night I attended an improvisational performance between legendary guitarist and composer Fred Frith and piano improviser extraordinaire Annie Lewandowski. The performance was sublime, and as I listened I “accompanied” it with some improvisations of my own, in the form of words (you can read them here). I noticed only after transcribing them just how often I turned to animals and natural imagery in order to describe what I was hearing, as if these very evocations were embedded in the ephemeral results of their tinkering. Is this purely a habit I have taken from literature? Am I really tapping into something essential about this music, about all music? Or do the metaphors remain only that, forever asymptotes to that being described? And why, by the same token, do we so often analogize the cries and calls of animals to the music we create with contrived instruments? This constant crisscrossing would seem to intersect at a juncture vital to life itself. I dare say it may be a juncture in which we all share, perhaps the genesis of life itself. Agamben calls it the “Open,” but it seems closed to anyone who tries to describe it. And I think this is the point. It is not an “it” at all. It simply is. We can write, sing, emote to no end about either end of an arbitrary divide, but until we listen to it we have heard nothing. -Tyran

Silence and Noise

March 1, 2012

After our encounter with Japanese noise music last class, I struggled a bit with the idea of music – and why such an apparent lack of melody and typical musical structure appeals to some listeners.  Similarly, I wondered why something explicitly called “noise”, composed of such aesthetically troubling sounds, can be considered music. But then, much music that I consider astounding has been deemed horrific by other listeners.  As I’ve been pondering this relationship and examining my own listening habits and preferences, today, in another class, a professor proclaimed that “if there were no silence in music, it would just be noise – a long scream!” I think she really hit the nail on the head (although she wasn’t talking about noise music in particular).  Her statement was similar to what was said a few classes ago, noting the relationship between sound and silence, and how the lack of one makes the other extremely disconcerting, to say the least.  I think what my professor said epitomizes the conventional view of the relationship between sound and silence, and the result if one is diminished to the point of vanishing.  In order to find the most appealing balance of sound and silence, boundaries must be pushed and combinations of the two conditions must be experimentally toyed with.  From concerts that lack deliberately produced sounds, to performances that contain screaming guitars but little to no silence, we can only locate the borders of what is we consider “musical” after having crossed them into the realm of excessive silence or chaotically noise.

On an entirely unrelated note, everybody who lives in my house is currently complaining about a faint car alarm going off on Dryden Road.  Again, once a strange and repetitive noise was drawn to our attention, we couldn’t remove it from our consciousness and relegate it to to something we hear but don’t actively listen to.  I’m a bit dismayed at how much attention this meaningless noise demands from us, and how we are unable to adapt and begin to ignore it.

Another Soundwalk

February 29, 2012


Alexis Rodriguez

I just read Justin’s post and his observation of how animals are denoted as being deep listeners brought back my own encounters with various animals. I feel as though it’s common sense that dogs, cats, possums, etc. have a much more sensitive ear than humans. I’ve never truly sat down to think about it, though. It’s always been a knowledge I considered as “just there” such as “grass is green” or “the sky is blue.” We never stop and ask why? I know there have been many occasions where I’m walking home from the library or from work and out of the corner of my eye, I spot a possum or skunk up the road. Every time, as soon as I see the animal, it is already frozen in place looking in my direction. I know this is because it hears me approaching even though I’m two blocks away. If I were unable to see, I wonder if I would even here the animal at all, let alone from that distance.

Why is this? Is it because their ears are more fully developed and have a far greater capacity than human ears? I agree with Justin’s thought that all animals (including humans) are naturally deep listeners in order to survive. Maybe we could hear just as well as animals do but we choose not to. For animals, though, it’s more than just having an exceptional sense of hearing, they can pin point sounds (such as me walking down the street) out of all the other noises surrounding them. Perhaps this is an evolutionary trait in order for them to sustain life in the wild.

The thought of ear adaptation fascinates me. Loud sounds that are frightening to animals (e.g a vacuum or thunder and lightning) are more of an annoyance or even a comfort for humans. We are reared into a world where these sounds are normal and we associate them with non threatening apparatuses. However, our animal-like characteristics come out when we’re walking down the street at night and we hear footsteps in our general vicinity. Much like animals freeze and search for the origin of the sound, we too feel a surge of paranoia until we have identified the creator of the noise as “non-threatening.” Our hearing has become severely desensitized over the billions of years we have existed as a species and I believe it has a lot to do with evolution. Were we as perceptive as animals in the cave man era? Can we train ourselves to get back to that point?

Listening Response

February 29, 2012

Last Saturday night I attempted some field recordings of just whatever I could find.  However, it proved to be a harsh night with brutal temperatures and an unforgiving wind.  So, needless to say, most of what I picked up in my two hours of recording seemed to be just wind.  However, personally I heard a lot more than what I could record.  And I think that the most interesting thing about it is that I think that my style of listening changed because of my environment and the particular conditions of the night.  I think that normally I would say that my world revolves around a “low-def” soundscape, particularly during my school days.  But when put in an element that the mind senses as alarming, I think that my listening becomes more in tune with the “hi-def” and I certainly become more of a deep listener.

I now see why in Deep Listening animals are believed to be deep listeners.  I think that all animals, including humans must be deep listeners in nature to survive.  But since humans are not necessarily participating in the natural, animal world, we have slowly drifted away from deep listening.  However, I think that we have the tool of deep listening if we are caught in an alarming situation.  Take for instance my field recording experience: near zero degrees, wind and snow drifts, and pitch black.  Being excessively cold and damp and not being able to see well made me more attune to my other senses.  And any sound put me on alarm, even though I knew exactly where I was and was recording where I was by choice.

I just thought that it was interesting that my listening deepened due to environmental conditions.

The Muzak Box

February 23, 2012

Coyote

February 23, 2012

I unfortunately did not get the opportunity to record something myself this week.  However, I did search the internet for some of my favorite sounds.  Among those sounds is the yipping and howling of coyotes, which I’m sure most of us are familiar with.  I live in a very rural part of New York State, so hearing coyotes is a frequent occurence.  SUNY-ESF at Syracuse University has field studies basically in my backyard where they have been researching coyotes through tracking and monitoring, capturing and releasing, video and audio.  unfortunately I could not find any of their videos or recordings.  I did find a fact sheet with audio on National Geographic’s website.  http://animals.nationalgeographic.com/animals/mammals/coyote/

The sounds are pretty awesome, I think.

The bird on the street…

February 23, 2012

I have wanted to try my hand at field recording for some time now, and in recent days I finally made the time to do so. I conducted my first recordings while in New York City for a conference two weekends ago, walking down the streets at night and in the subway. The street noise was fascinating, for in a twenty-minute span I encountered five languages (English, German, Spanish, Chinese, and Japanese), what felt like ten times as many car horns, the cooing of pigeons, and the usual din of the city’s perpetual construction projects. Yet I also encountered a few surprises. One of these was a rhythmic scraping, which after a few moments I noticed was coming from a white plastic mail bin being kicked by a disgruntled postal worker (in the flesh!) down 5th Avenue.

Upon returning from the city and readjusting to the sounds of Ithaca, I found myself comparing the two environments. I took comfort in the relatively natural quality of my present surroundings and looked forward to training my microphone toward the trees. Or so I thought, for when I actually began recording with the intent of capturing a bird song or two for the sound piece I was working on, it became impossible to do so without being within earshot of traffic. Whether from cars passing along roads or carried through the trees from Cornell’s campus (which hums with it), the sound of it seemed never far away. Feeling somewhat anxious, I decided to address this issue in my sound piece, in which the cacophony of the city encroaches upon the forest.

I think of John Cage, who once said he was as happy taking in the sounds outside his New York apartment window as he was sitting in a concert hall. Yet when the sound the friction of rubber on asphalt seeks me out amid a copse of chickadees (and one insistent cardinal), I find it difficult at first to accept what lies in the background. But then something happens. The language of vehicles becomes a drone, a blanket of white noise that blends into the folds of my brain and buoys the songs on which I am focused. And as I manipulate my recordings I am able to emphasize or subvert that drone at will, until they morph into a virtual orchestra of cicadas, distant and sketched until they are one.

I’m starting to believe there is a bit of nature in every machine. -Tyran

Male Digger Bees

February 23, 2012

Gregory Whitehead, “Male Digger Bees.” At 2:21:45 in Dan Bodah’s Airborne Event (WFMU).

Arthropod Soundscapes

February 22, 2012

Alan Alda reports on research being done at Hoylab (Cornell U) on arachnid and cricket sounds and fly ears.

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