The Sonic Postcard Project

For this project, I was assigned with the task of collecting a series of random sounds using audio-capture equipment (Marantz), and blending them together to create an artistic piece of media called a ‘Sonic Postcard’. The idea of Sonic Postcards is to create a feeling or emotion in the audience, usually specified to a certain place or context.

Straight from the moment this challenge was set, I had it in my head that this would be the project with which I would learn how to use Garageband on my Macbook. It is a tool used to create music, but as I never fully learned how to use it, this seemed like the perfect opportunity. Other sounds that quickly came to mind were the bells of the cathedral and the sound of cars on Coventry’s inner ring road. We had a practice session where we experimented using the equipment, and then we were left to our own devices.

Using the Marantz was odd – I’d been given a skills instruction at some point last year, and slowly but surely most of it came back. The sound I was worried about the most was the ring road. I had a place in mind to go to get the sound – namely, a bridge overlooking the road. For obvious reasons though, I didn’t to be hanging around there late at night. I also had the added problem of what other sounds my project needed – and also how I was going to present it. Having seen several examples in my formats module about how radio has integrated with images, I decided I would take photos of relevant places, and put the audio over a slideshow in order to stimulate both audio and visual responses in the listener. It was important that the visual element did not detract from the audio, however.

I booked a Marantz out for 24 hours, and got the clip of the ring road first. I used a boom mic to help pick up the highest quality sound, and also some headphones so I could hear what was being recorded. I placed all the cables in a bag, which helped me move more freely once the kit was set up. Unfortunately, my lack of experience with the Marantz was evident really quickly – the sound was far over gain when I started recording. I turned the tuner down, but every time I put the box back in my bag, the tuner turned up to over gain again. I figured I’d finally got the clip I wanted, but on returning home, I found that I’d lost the file. Maybe I hadn’t pressed the record button… I’ll never know. However, hearing the fuzzy white-noise from the over gain, I decided that would be an interesting sound to work with, and so I chose to keep the clip anyway.

Other clips I chose to use were ones I had easy access to. I tapped a pen on my table to a simple time signature, and that created another background sound – almost a beat. I also experimented with dripping water droplets, as the music I’d developed on Garageband seemed to fit an ‘aquatic’ feel. The bells I decided to put at the end, as the noise seemed to be a suiting end for the sudden change in audio which was the effect I was trying to create. I used the white noise to fade into the bell chimes, and then faded out as the chimes echoed away (inspired by Holst’s ‘Neptune’ piece). I went back to the ring road and re-recorded a backing track of the traffic driving past – this was to be the background ‘ambience’ for my piece.

Ultimately, this was always meant to be a medley of random sounds put together to create some abstract artistic audio artefact. I was merely experimenting with audio – it has no purpose, and it doesn’t have any deep meaning, it merely is what it is. What the listener derives from it is entirely up to them, although I suppose it’s not the most romantic piece of audio you could hear… certainly the white noise adds a rather sinister undertone – perhaps a taste of things to come in upcoming media production.

The photos were taken of random places around Coventry. The photos were NOT the places where I got the audio from (because a picture of a tap dripping into a sink would have been crap, let’s face it). The waterfall and fountain were pictures I liked – I experimented with water and shutter speed on several occasions before. I decided to experiment with shutter speed and traffic, and the shot of the ring road was taken near where I got the audi from. I took several, and the final shot used was the one where there wasn’t too many or too few vehicles. The shot of the tree was taken on a whim – I felt the nature shown in the picture provided a stark contrast to the electronic noises that start to emerge at that point in the audio.

The photo of the cathedral was near where that audio clip was taken as well – I got the audio from the bottom of the tower, which made for a less interesting photo. However, the photo I use over the piece was an accident – though clearly, the bright blue background silhouetted the cathedral into some imposing colossal shadow through jet-black tree branches, which added to that sinister undertone of the artefact. I think the white noise and this picture of the cathedral work nicely together, though as mentioned, no clear message is intended – it’s purely in the eyes of the beholder.

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