On World Listening Day, Thursday, July 18, from 7–9 p.m., Phonography Austin will present The Invisible Suburb, an outdoor sonic art installation, in the Onion Creek Greenbelt at 7306 Onion Creek Drive, Austin, Texas 78731.
The Invisible Suburb will feature recordings made in and around the homes of Austin artists, evoking the traces of domestic life that once permeated the Onion Creek neighborhood, where evidence of former habitations is steadily becoming overtaken by nature. Through speakers nestled among tall grass and other plant life, participants will hear an audible reference to the neighborhood’s residential past while seeing and feeling the verdure of its future. It will be a respectful and gentle rememberance, using domestic sounds, to acknowledge the daily lives of the people who lived there and made it home.
The installation includes recordings made by Henna Chou, Anne Fichtner, Vanessa Gelvin, Travis Putnam Hill, Neal B. Johnson, Alex Keller, Douglas Laustsen, Lacey Lewis, Christopher McConnell, Daniy Oberle, Sean O’Neill, Travis Pope, Josh Ronsen, Christy Tappe and Jackson Warren.
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, and raise awareness about the creative exploration of acoustic ecology through educational initiatives that explore these concepts and practices. Phonography Austin was founded to host Austin’s first World Listening Day event in 2016.
Artwork by Ethan W., student at Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired.
On Saturday, May 11, the Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired, with the support of Phonography Austin, will present a selection of student-made field recordings in the Fine Arts Building at the school’s campus on West 45th Street in Austin.
The listening exhibit, which is open to the public and part of TSBVI’s West Austin Studio Tour showcase, coincides with the online release of a compilation of the students’ recordings, co-curated and co-produced by Phonography Austin and TSBVI staff.
Audio recording plays a significant role in the lives of individuals with visual impairment, often serving as their analogue to photography, where snapshots of sound can serve as aural memories. Visual impairment manifests across a spectrum, and students at TSBVI have varying levels of vision loss, including a range of deaf-blindness. In addition to recording audio to capture memories or for pure enjoyment, TSBVI students interpret sound to situate themselves in physical space or to recognize familiar voices. For students on the deaf-blind spectrum, sound takes on a more tactile nature, where exploring sounds is about feeling its vibrations with the body.
More than a dozen TSBVI students contributed to the compilation, which collects together a diversity of audio elements and events that represent the students’ everyday lives. The project not only conveys the day-to-day sonic culture in which the students are immersed but also demonstrates self-determination, revealing part of their decision-making process for participation in and engagement with their surroundings through their choices of sounds. From recordings of Preston P.’s tactile exploration of the vibrations of an accordion and foot massager to the scratching of Lukas M.’s cane during music lessons, this project seeks to expand our notions of who listens and how we listen.
Date: Saturday, May 11, 2019
Time: 11 a.m.–6 p.m.
Location: Fine Arts Building 602 on TSBVI campus. Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired, 1100 W. 45th St., Austin, TX 78756
Join Phonography Austin members for an introductory workshop on the art of field recording on Saturday, April 6, 2019 from 11:30AM to 4:30PM. No prior experience is necessary, but participants are encouraged to bring a recording device (a cassette tape recorder, a smartphone, or a digital audio recorder) for hands on practice. This free event is open to the public and will be held at Austin Public Library’s Carver Library Branch, 1161 Angelina Street, Austin, TX, 78702.
*Lunch is not provided. Feel free to bring your own lunch or eat out somewhere nearby.
What to Bring
Recording Device – a smartphone, cassette tape recorder, miniDisc recorder or other digital audio recorder. If your device does not have a built-in microphone, you will need to provide your own microphone and necessary cables.
Pen and Paper – for note-taking.
Comfortable Shoes and Clothing – We will be walking around and recording, so please plan accordingly.
Optional: Lunch, a Snack, or Water Bottle
Optional: headphones, extra batteries for your recorder, a microphone and mic cables for your recorder (if not using built-in microphones), a microphone windscreen and/or a portable mic stand.
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.
• 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?
• 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
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
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.
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)