First studies in time-lapse phonography
For the past year I have been developing time-lapse sound studies, as a means of hearing long-term acoustic changes in recordings. I was looking to hear and/or discover patterns which are imperceptible at our regular listening attention spans.
Here is Pink Floyd’s concept album Dark Side of the Moon in 10 seconds
Dark Side of the Moon in 10 Seconds
As you can hear, the time-lapsing process turns the album into a collaged sound masse. The album loses the distinguishing details of beat by beat change; emphasized is an overarching dynamic contours of the works, with sprinkles of timbre jumping towards you. Listening in this manner it becomes audible that for the first ⅔ of Dark Side Of the Moon the form of the music is based on gradual crescendos and decrescendos, while the last ⅓ is characterized by a more “pulsating” dynamic contour. What causes this is the shortening of the times on songs as we near the end of the album.
I was excited to hear what might be gained by taking such a seminal concept album and time lapsing it but unfortunately I do not believe much is gained from this listening experience, it is much more fun listening to the entire album. However it demonstrates the time-lapse technique very clear, which is why I have used it for the first demonstration.
Philip Glass’s Einstein on the Beach was another work I was excited to hear time-lapsed. At nearly 2 hours and 45 minutes the work is quite long and repetitive, the two qualities that critics use to express their disagreements with Glass’s minimalist approach.
Here is the work compressed to 30 seconds:
Einstein on the Beach in 30 seconds (about 330 times faster than the album time)
We can hear the movements repetitive rhythmic activity, static development, and abrupt transitions into the next movement. The association with repetitive rhythmic activity is something the minimalist and pop songs have in common, so I compressed Einstein on the Beach to the length of your standard pop song.
Einstein on the Beach in 3 minutes
There are also forms which we forget exist because of a diverted attention. When we attend a concert we focus on the way that each piece of music follows into the next. What we do not hear is the time between the works, we do not include that in our perception of the concert.
Soprano and Organ Recital in 1 minute (Recorded May 2010, San Pantalon, Venice)
So far, I have only presented works with conceived forms. What of “formless” events that we know the process occurring, but not the sound and contours of that event?
Like a piano tuning.
Such an event has a distinct and predictable form, but enough variability that there may be some unexpected results as well.
Piano Tuning In 1 minute (Recorded April 2015, Fenway Center, Boston)
These examples all are under 3 hours. The longest operas– Wagner’s– are around 4.5 hrs. These are lengths of time that fall within the window of our ability to perceive “an event”. To time-lapse them, while yielding interesting sonic results, does not reveal much in the way of a new perspective. My interest is to make perceptible the imperceptible, to make a cycle not just conceptually understood but felt. Just as we understand that the Sun moves across the sky during the day- but do not instantaneously observe; Soundscapes have infra-perceptually acoustic cycle, which we may conceptually understand but due to the limits of perception can not “hear” as a single listening experience.
How we perceive sound has been covered extensively within the contexts of “musical sound”. Bregman’s Auditory Stream Analysis and Fred Lehrdal’s A Generative Theory of Tonal Music are two exemplary texts which explain the mechanics of how the brain decides to parse or combine sounds and how this leads to our perception of acoustic imagery. A quick summary would be: sounds are understood based on their proximity in time, pitch, and timbre space to other sounds events. A chord slowed down can become a melody, or conversely, a rapidly performed melody resembles a chord.
So a phonographic time-lapse would be like converting a melody into a chord- but on a much larger scale. What about taking days and turning them into seconds?
Days in Seconds
92 Hours In…(2015) is my first study in longitudinal field recording (multi-day field recordings). A work made from thousands of “sonic frames”. For 92 hours, I recorded 3 seconds of audio from a microphone positioned outside my window, capturing the sounds of my Boston neighborhood, Jamaica Plain. What is made audible is the change of day, the rise of morning, and even the distinguishing sonic features of different days of the week.
92 Hours in 1 Minute
92 Hours in 30 Seconds
92 Hours in 7 Seconds
92 hours in 1 second
Alternative versions of these studies done in a “jittery” are available for listening on the soundcloud playlist:
The jittery takes have less of a crossfade between each sonic frame.
The second study I did,Five Days in…(2015) , was recorded from July 13 to July 18 on the fire escape of my childhood apartment in Tribeca.
Five Days in 30 Seconds
Contrary to the suburban sounds of 92 Hours…, Five Days in… has the strong presence of traffic and construction during the day, and constant droning of summer time air-conditioners. These acoustic factors make the day/night cycle very noticeable, and the extra day and a half allows you to feel the rhythm of the city a little better than 92 Hours….
What is strikingly apparent is (as R. Murray Schafer would put it) the low/high fidelity differences between the two environments. Unquestionably, the environment of 92 hours has higher fidelity in terms of the range of amplitudes and distance of sound able to be heard. While 5 Days, recorded in lower Manhattan has much less fidelity.
Image of waveform + spectrogram of Five Days in 5 minutes
Longitudinal Field Recording borrows from the world of science, where researchers conduct longitudinal studies to document how a subject changes. In terms of field recording I am interested in documenting how a soundscape changes over long time periods (days to weeks). Sonic events such as the rise and fall of traffic, frequency of bird calls, murmuring procession of crickets through the night, the lapping of waves over several tides, the drifting pitch center of wind blowing through grass, can not be perceived in a single listening session.
The challenges of realizing these examples has been difficult, yet I still do not have anything I consider a true “work”, everything so far is just a study, trying to understand the the aesthetics and constraints of this method.