Tag Archives: hydrophone

A wet, watery “Lights out Listening” experience

21 Sep

Last night I had my second encounter with The Lights Out Listening Group – an aural  appreciation night where you sit in total darkness and listen to experimental, playful and interesting soundscapes and pieces.

Last night’s session had something of an aquatic theme, featuring a few submissions (or sub-missions?) from Nowhere Island Radio, a temporary arts radio station that broadcast for for days in four locations in Plymouth. Pieces included Rapture of the Deep by Mark Vernon, which captured/created the experience and sounds of scuba diving. Gordon Kennedy’s piece, “The Captain’s Rest” was based on a traditional English sea-song combined with underwater recordings made by colleague Gerry Kelly just of the English coast. You’ll find more details of their work here.

I’d submitted two pieces to the event, and co-incidentally the second piece, called “A Child’s Nightmare” had included my first ever attempts at underwater recording. I had used a normal microphone covered with a condom so that it could be immersed in water, but last night I picked up some tips from some of the other producers, who used hydrophones – a specially designed underwater microphone – to record their pieces.

These specialised bits of kit can be very expensive, thousands of pounds even, but Mark suggested I check out the website of sound artist Jez Riley French, who makes and sells his own affordable hydrophone and contact microphones. The later can be used to pick up sounds transmitted through solids.

He has certainly captured some strange and wonderful sounds with these simple little microphones. But after listening to these, to Mark Vernon’s piece, and experimenting with underwater recordings myself, what it most interesting is how hard it is to make a genuine under-water recording sound like an under-water recording. Mark, for example, added and synthesised many sounds to create his scuba-diving soundscape, because an underwater recording alone would not have included many of the effects that we would expect to hear.

As I am slowly learning, sound design is often it is not just about recording reality, but about creating it.

You can find out more about Lights Out Listening Group here, and follow them on Twitter here.