Guide to recording implosions

On Sunday, January 6, I got up before dawn to go record the implosion of a parking garage in the west campus neighborhood of Austin, Texas.

This was not my first building demolition recording. In 2000, I recorded the implosion of the Kingdome in Seattle; in 2018, I recorded the implosion of Ashbel Smith Hall in downtown Austin. That eighteen-year gap shows how often these opportunities come up – or at least appear on my radar.

Not getting to do such events regularly means that any specific skills and procedures get rusty, if they are even ever fully developed. Since you really only get one shot to record a building implosion, I’m going to try to document those skills and procedures, for your reference and mine.

1. Prepare. Building implosions usually happen early in the AM, so don’t count on packing that day. Set two hours aside to prepare and pack on the day before.
• Set up your rig and test it: every stand, every adapter, and test every extra cable. You need to be 100% sure you have everything.
• Charge your batteries and pack backups.
• Make sure you have freshly formatted media to record onto, and test recording onto it.
• Bring as many mics as you have inputs for. My default pick is a stereo pair of omni small diaphragm condensers. A third might be a dynamic mic that does well with lows like an RE27; a pair of PZMs might be good for a neutral representation of the space too.
• Pack a backpack with whatever else you may need; especially weather-appropriate clothing, snacks, and maybe a paperback book, should your setup go well.
• I’m usually all about staying hydrated but in this situation I’d recommend not bringing too much water. Tearing down and packing up just because you have to urinate is not fun or a good use of time.
• Pack some big garbage bags. Implosions tend to kick up a lot of dust and your equipment should not be exposed to such things. They are also good for improvising rain covers for your gear.
• On that note, at least bring a bandanna and goggles for the dust. You are better off with a painter’s mask, or better yet a respirator.
• Bring an SPL meter if you have one; it’s always interesting to see how loud things actually are.
• Make sure you can carry all your gear yourself!
• Familiarize yourself with the location – ideally in person, but a digital map will be adequate. Check the local police department site to get an idea of how close you can get. Pick a site to record from if you can.

2. Day-of
• Get up early, and get there early. I personally like to be able to start setting up an hour before. If I have everything I need with me, I should be able to work around any tech issues.
• If you haven’t already, pick a site. I try to pick a spot far away from people, so I just record the implosion, not a lot of people cheering. Being out of the line of sight is very helpful for avoiding people. I really like the idea of being three or four blocks away. At that distance you should still be able to catch the initial impact, but also get the long tail of reverberation. Also consider wind – you want wind to be blowing from you toward the implosion site, not the other way round. This will reduce your debris exposure.
• If there are policemen or security personnel around, you should say hi and let them know what you are doing, to avoid potential hassle.
• Set your levels. This is a terrifying gamble, as there are no do-overs for a building implosion. If you have a pad or limiter, use it, but don’t count on it to prevent clipping. My last implosion I set levels at about 20%; my limiter kicked in but it didn’t clip. If I could do it again I’d have gone down to 10%. I didn’t use a high-pass filter; for me the whole point of recording a building implosion is to get that low thump.
• Start recording ten minutes beforehand. For safety, these things never start early, but do you want to be the one to miss it the one time it does?

3. After
• It’s tempting to hang out and gloat about how awesome the implosion was, but debris travels fast. Put your respirator and goggles on, pack your gear quickly, stow it in garbage bags, and get out of there.
• Be prepared to vacuum your gear when you get home, and wash all your clothes.

I hope that this is useful. If you hear of any upcoming implosions, let me know!

Alex Keller is an audio artist, sound designer, curator and teacher based in Austin, Texas. His work is in the media of performance, installation, and recorded release, and reflects his interests in architecture, language, abstraction and music. More on his work at alexkeller.net

Future Listening // World Listening Day 2018

Future Listening World Listening Day event poster

In celebration of World Listening Day 2018, Phonography Austin members will host a soundwalk along Shoal Creek.

7:00 PM – Ear Cleaning

We will wear foam ear plugs (provided) to briefly experience near silence, so that when we are done our ears/brain are less inclined to tune out unwanted sounds.

The effect will last longer if you conduct your soundwalk in silence: walk quietly, and speak only as necessary.

What is an ear cleaning?
Ear cleaning is “a systematic program for training the ears to listen more discriminatingly to sounds, particularly those of the environment.” (R. Murray Schafer)

~7:10 PM – Self-Guided Soundwalk

Walk quietly along Shoal Creek to Lady Bird Lake and back at your own pace. A map of the route with historical notes and questions to consider will be provided.

Discussion

An informal, optional discussion will follow the soundwalk. Location TBD.

 

 

Where: Duncan Park
900 West 9th St., Austin, TX 78703

When: 7:00 PM
Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Ages: Adults, teenagers

Cost: Free

The soundwalk handout

Field Recording Workshop – May 19, 2018

phonog-wksp2

Phonography Austin will present a free workshop on the technical theory and practice behind creative field recording. Participants will spend some time discussing the science involved in making recordings, and break for a field recording scavenger hunt. After that we will meet to review the recordings and discuss any specific insights or technical issues that may have arisen.

No previous experience is required. Participants should bring something to write with, headphones and a sound recording device of any kind. Use something you already have or can easily borrow.

The workshop will be led by Alex Keller. He is an audio artist, sound designer, curator and teacher based in Austin, Texas. Learn more about Alex at alexkeller.net

 

  • Saturday, May 19, 2018
  • 10AM – 2PM
  • Austin Central Library, Room 621
  • Free

 

Teach Yourself to Fly // World Listening Day 2017 performances

World Listening Day 2017 in Austin will honor Texas-born composer Pauline Oliveros

 

On World Listening Day 2017 (Tuesday, July 18), Phonography Austin will host Teach Yourself to Fly, an evening of performances in memory of composer Pauline Oliveros.

Capitol Extension Rotunda

Teach Yourself to Fly will take place in the Open Air Rotunda (officially called the Texas Capitol Extension) at the Texas State Capitol. From 7:00 PM to 9:00 PM. Austin-based artists Lisa Cameron, Henna Chou, Brent Fariss, Vanessa Gelvin, Alex Keller, Ken McKenzie-Grant, Sean O’Neill, Steve Parker, Josh Ronsen, and Greg Wildes will perform selections from Oliveros’ Sonic Meditations with the involvement of the audience.

A native Texan, Oliveros died on November 24, 2016. In her preface to Sonic Meditations, Oliveros wrote, “All societies admit the power of music or sound. Attempts to control what is heard in the community are universal… Sonic Meditations are an attempt to return the control of sound to the individual alone, and within groups especially for humanitarian purposes; specifically healing.”

According to her obituary in the New York Times, the open-ended scores in Oliveros’ Sonic Meditations create “a total inclusivity, meant to free music from elite specialists and open it up to everyone, regardless of status, experience, or ability.” Teach Yourself to Fly will honor her intent by inviting the audience to perform alongside the artists. Excerpted scores from Sonic Meditations, which do not require any musical expertise, will be on display.

  • Date: July 18, 2017
  • Time: 7:00 – 9:00 PM
  • Location: Open Air Rotunda//Texas Capitol Extension at the Texas State Capitol (Outdoors)
  • Free & open to the public

SOUNDWALK/TALK: WORLD LISTENING DAY’S EVE

Map for World Listening Day Soundwalk. Led by Phonography Austin.

On Sunday, July 17, 2016 at 7:00 PM, the public is invited to meet Phonography Austin group members on the steps of the State Capitol building for a brief introduction to the concepts of acoustic ecology, a listening exercise, a loosely guided soundwalk, and a group discussion, to conclude roughly by 8:30 PM.

CENTRAL TEXAS: SOUNDS LOST AND FOUND

World Listening Day 2016 poster

On Monday, July 18, 2016 at 7:00 PM, the public is invited to attend the presentation of field recordings related to either the theme of Sounds Lost and Found, or to the sounds of the Central Texas region, at Rio Rita, 1308 E. 6th, Austin, Texas.

World Listening Day is an annual global event held on July 18 to celebrate the listening practices of the world and the ecology of its acoustic environments, raise awareness about the growing number of individual and group efforts that creatively explore acoustic ecology, and design and implement educational initiatives that explore these concepts and practices.

World Listening Day 2016’s theme, Sounds Lost and Found, calls on reminiscing, listening and observing what changes in our soundscapes have occurred in recent decades—be it language, nature, technology, music or even silence itself.