Mentor to Park Soyoung through August 2023
Over three weeks I was mentor to performing artist Park Soyoung (CA/KR), helping her understand various aspects of sound, including resonance, frequency and wavelength, how microphones and speakers work, amplifiers and preamplifiers, recording and playback, editing and composing, feedback, overtones and harmonics, using motors, magnets and electromagnets, binaural recording and many other subjects and topics. Her mentorship was supported by a generous grant from the Canada Council for the Arts.
Below is a brief outline of the sessions and the content of each.
Soyoung in Staple Hill Tunnel on the Bristol and Bath Railway Path during a field trip to find exterior locations.
Test with stethoscope modified by inserting small electret mic capsules in the earpieces.
Utilising neodymium magnets atop lengths of wire and the magnet of a woofer speaker we combine the works of William Forsythe, Takis and Steve Reich. This shot is a still from a movie that can be watched lower on this page.
Soyoung and I revised the plan of activities to be more focused on techniques and equipment than it was, with me explaining what I used and how during our brief collaborations at Yatoo, South Korea in 2016 and FoCA Palbok, South Korea in 2019. In one performance I used sound exciters attached to metal poles so the audience heard the sound of rain around them on a sunny day, and during our performance together I took a live feed from a nearby stream using my trusty Aquarian hydrophone and a rock with a contact mic attached, playing them through a speaker and a sound exciter attached to some bark.
I explained all the equipment, which led to needing to explain how microphones and speakers work. We decide to try and build a speaker. Examples of creative ways to do this can be found in the work of Victoria Shen and Rudy Decelière.
Focus on amplifiers and waveforms, to demonstrate how a speaker works. As we cover copper coils I also show how they can be used as sensors to hear EMF. We then research various methods of constructing speakers, plus how a piezo disc works as it is designed to function as a speaker, and look at electromagnets and solenoids.
Field trip to the Staple Hill Tunnel, which is a prominent landmark on the Bristol and Bath Railway Path. I always like to take visitors here as it has interesting sound effects and is almost always raining inside. We took a recorder and explored close proximity recording, A-B vs. X-Y positions of mics and even made a small impromptu sound installation with water drips and empty drinks cans.
I show how I tend to use Ableton Live in my work, and we then look at MIDI triggering briefly.
I purchased a stethoscope prior to Soyoung's arrival, so we insert tiny electret mics inside the earpiece parts and listen to various bodily functions.
A second field trip, this time to Stoke Park as I found what I thought might be an interesting site for sounds on a bike ride. The site is an old gun placement from the Second World War, and now is home to a herd of goats. Sadly the site was not that interesting sonically as the square concrete sections that litter the place do not channel or resonate with sound.
As Soyoung has a particular interest in feedback and resonance, we find some videos that show the effects as well as explain them. One great one we found featured a Ruben's Tube, which is comprised of a pipe with holes along its length that is filled with a flammable gas, which is lit and when a sound is played into the pipe, the waveform shows in the flames! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ynqzeIYA7Iw
Resonance and overtone feature in the classic “I am sitting in a room” by Alvin Lucier, so I showed how to repeat the simple process of record and playback with a sound exciter on a metal bowl, which quickly altered the sound heard.
We then built both contact microphones and a set of binaural mics, with Soyoung learning how to solder.
We revise generated sound wave types which help explain the action of a speaker (i.e. sine wave = smooth movement, square wave = sudden movement).
We then explored two methods of triggering sound clips using Ableton Live. The first was assigning the action to a certain key on a keyboard, which triggered a specific sound. This technique can be used with an old USB keyboard – you remove a key and attach some kind of switch that allows you to trigger the clip from a distance.
The second one uses piezo discs as sensors, which actually opens a gate so a sound is heard. This requires the clip to be constantly playing or to be long, as the piezo doesn't trigger the sound, but does allow you to hear it.
I built a makeshift e-bow from a computer fan, mini CD and neodymium magnets, which worked a little on my guitar but not as much as I'd hoped. I got the idea from this video of a presentation by Koka Nikoladze from 2018.
Having been shown the installation work of choreographer William Forsythe, and making various experiments with feedback, I showed Soyoung Steve Reich's “Pendulum Piece”.
Following this I constructed a long string instrument using steel wire and a length of timber and using the diy e-bow we managed to resonate the wire. Placing a copper coil near the wire, connected to my recorder and an amplifier, I managed to amplify the sound generated.
Long string instrument with DIY 'E-bow' - Day eight
Combining Takis, Steve Reich and William Forsythe - Day eleven
We returned to the stethoscope, trying it out to see if we could amplify body sounds in performance, but both the handling sound and the low body sounds don't really allow for this. Listening through headphones (as with listening through the earpieces) is much more effective, therefore it seems that if one were to use body sounds, they would need to be prerecorded.
There was a need to revise envelopes and gates when it came to sound triggering and altering.
The afternoon saw us build a crude prototype to have a speaker and then a motor initiate and possibly continue a pendulum action – however neither was effective.
Considering magnets and pendulums, I showed Soyoung the works of Takis. His use of both permanent and electromagnets shows what is possible with suspension and release, and how to trigger sound and movement using both.
We then returned to an earlier feedback experiment that uses only a mixer and amplifiers to create an installation with 4 speakers, this time with a cardboard tube to 'aim' the microphone at a speaker. Relative success although placing a microphone in a tube also creates feedback.
I tried an idea using the slow turning motor (I think 2 RPM) to trigger a pendulum which worked on a small scale. The idea was to drag the string to one side and then release with almost a cam action.
We also returned to the early DIY speaker test using the neodymium magnets which was much more successful. We even had a coil jumping to Run The Jewels.
We have a short review of the sessions and a sketch by Soyoung reminds me of dripping water on a soft stone. It makes a hole in the stone because of a sonic wave emitted from the impact, not because of it dissolving.
Wanting to have a result from the sessions I suggest we try combining magnetic 'flowers' of Takis with the pendulum speaker of Reich, which was pretty successful, if very derivative.
Soyoung expresses an interest in building a radio, which I have no experience of but of course YouTube can tell you how to make anything. The problem is the examples we find require various components we don't have – crystal diodes? However we do find one that uses a graphite diode (from pencil!).
The conversation turns to how to generate electricity and comes around to using a motor as dynamo. Finally I can play with my Stirling engine once again and show how the heated tubes push the pistons of the motor, which in turn turn the wheels and the dynamo.
We go through a full review of all the previous days activities, going back over various terms, equipment and processes so Soyoung understands them more.
We dismantle an old transformer I have lying around that as two quite different gauges of coated copper wire inside that we can use for making coils.
This lead to us building the crystal or foxhole radio as described above, using a pencil – however, sadly it did not function at all!
From top left, another view of the 'e-bow' made from a computer fan and neodymium magnets, playing our DIY long string instrument, The right image shows how we added small electret microphones to a stethoscope, and bottom left a coil jumping to Run The Jewels when held over a neodymium magent.