TAKE A CLOSER LISTEN

72 pages of sound
Favorite sounds and short stories from Nate Wooley, Taylor Deupree, Aaron Martin, Felicity Ford, Ezekiel Honig, Richard Chartier, Tori Kudo, Simon Scott, Chris Herbert and many many more.
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It was a beautiful, sunny day in July, and I was lying in a park in Geneva. My iPod was out of batteries, but I still had my headphones on. I closed my eyes and listened to the sounds surrounding me. Having these earphones in somehow gave me the idea that I was more actively listening than I normally would. As if these environmental sounds were playing on my iPod. A world was slowly unfolding to me. I could hear people talking, cycling, walking and roller-skating. A dog barking. A truck passing. Behind me, there was the rhythmic sputter of a sprinkler installation, and kids laughing and fooling around. I could hear a wine bottle being uncorked and a box of crackers being opened. But most enjoyable were the sparrows, flying around nervously, trying to get hold of breadcrumbs. They were flying from tree to tree, from my left ear to my right. A chirp here and there. Sometimes they would burst out in an excited chirping laughter, as if they were watching a ballgame and someone scored. It felt like listening to a great radio play. I just had to do something with this. A project on environmental sound. Maybe a book?

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TAKE A CLOSER LISTEN

AN INTRODUCTION

The flapping of a bird’s wing, the grass under your feet, a tick of a clock and the sound of your coffee machine – they’re all instruments playing their parts in a giant, non-stop piece. And no matter how subtle, you’re always part of it. Andra McCartney is someone who knows about this better than anyone else. She organises soundwalks – tours that guide the audience through everyday life as we know it, but now with better focus and pricked ears. The following text serves as an introduction and is edited from an interview I did with Andra.

giving this experience the potential for listening and thinking differently about sound.” “Usually I tend to choose places that I know well through earlier research, or I will take several days before a walk to survey an area, preferably with local experts if it is a place far from my home. To get a sense of the area, I perform the same soundwalk multiple times. Areas change very much depending on time, mood, weather and other conditions, including who else is there and what is happening at any point. It’s interesting to hear about the variety of experiences people can have and how these are related.” “I ask people to think about sounds musically, to think about relationships between different timbres and melodies, how rhythmic relationships are established between different sounds. I ask them to imagine that the environment is trying to speak to them, and they need to attempt to understand its language. Sometimes I will stop and ask the participants to count sounds (traffic for instance) and to create sound maps.”

It’s all around us. Even if you close your ears, there’s always sound. You might think you know what silence is, but you’ll never hear it. There’s still the sound of your own body. Of course you’ll notice that blackbird singing, or a car honking, but a lot of environmental sounds pass unnoticed. Tiny fragments that are lost before you know it, or ever-ongoing drones that blend so seamlessly with the environment that you'll only notice when they’re gone. But as soon as you close your eyes and focus, you can hear complete symphonies. Countless layers of sonic material. Maybe not as melodic or structured as the music you normally listen to, but more abstract, unpredictable and, obviously, alive. And of course presented in the best quality surround sound.

“Many people believe that they have very little listening expertise, but once they are given opportunities to practise listening strategies with the whole world of sounds, they often become quite excited by the prospects. They react with excitement, enthusiasm and the desire to do soundwalks themselves as a regular practise, which is easy. As far as I am concerned, it starts once you’ve decided to listen…”

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“Everyday sounds can be apprehended simultaneously as musical, as a mnemonic device with potential for epistemological development, and as information about the environment, more readily than abstract sounds employed in music and sound art. Soundwalks form a bridge between everyday experience and creative listening, framing what could be an everyday activity and

Perhaps this book will inspire you to listen differently. Musically. Thinking of your favorite sound might be a start. I asked as many people as I could to do this, and on the next pages you will find some fine examples – from thundering walls of noise to the tiniest whispered detail. It’s a small selection of a huge list that couldn’t by any means fit in this little book. You might hear the rest with your own ears sooner or later.
Rutger Zuydervelt For more info on Andra McCartney, visit her website www.andrasound.org

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the sound of...

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windchimes on a front porch

umbrellas opening and closing

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sprinklers in a park

wet sneakers squeaking

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walking on leaves and twigs

wind blowing through trees

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snow lightly hitting a glass window

rain falling on a tent’s roof

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rumbling train engines

A few days a week, I ride my bicycle home from work. It’s along a windy waterfront, so things start with a building wind noise in my ears. As I break along the waterfront, I come to a train yard. Trains are in wait. You can feel the rumbling engines, even on a passing bike. The rumble slowly grows louder and starts overpowering the wind. Sometimes there are bells ringing along the crossing when trains are passing through, so you get the extra engine noise oscillating in the mix. There’s loud hissing of air as brakes are being tested. Occasionally a seagull cries out. All the while, you have the steady pulse of the bike pedals and the chains and gears churning. And you can top it all off with the rhythmic breathing from a solid workout.
Kyle Iman

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the drone of an electrical generator

There’s a giant generator that heats and cools the large library building for the main campus of New York University. The sound of its drone is very deep, rich and colorful. The overtones seem to dance above a base set of fundamentals the same way as in an Eliane Radigue or Phill Niblock piece. It changes slowly and organically, almost imperceptibly, from one place to the other. No one just walking by would ever even notice its almost human quality, but if you stand and listen for five minutes, the building seems to breathe and sing.
Nate Wooley

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soft and muffled footsteps

During the day at the office, when everyone is still here but conversations just cease, I will relax with a cup of tea and listen to the sounds around me. The drone of the air conditioning, the far-off clacks of someone down the hall typing an email, the squeaks of a file cabinet door closing, muffled thuds of someone walking down a far hall... It’s like a tiny corporate symphony.
Jay Blanchard

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static laden bed sheets

neighbours’ muffled conversation

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mail falling on a doormat

a new pack of coffee being opened

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the creak of an old leather sofa

a teaspoon stirring a teacup

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ice tinkling in a glass

water dripping in a bowl in the sink

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filling a bathtub

My parents have a bathtub that I ’ve been bathing in since I was a little child. At the moment, I ’m living in a student flat, but whenever I’m in need of some relaxation, I visit my parents, who still have that tub. At first, when turning the water on, there ’s a loud noise of water hitting the plastic bottom of the tub. After a while, when there's plenty of water in it, the sound becomes low and deep. It’s a beautiful layered sound, caused by various streams of water on and under the surface. I love it, and it’s a comforting indication that the bath is almost ready to get into.
Kaatje Lomme

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a distant refrigerator

A series of sounds I love is that of the subtle hum of a mechanical object, whether it’s an air conditioner, refrigerator, washing machine, copy machine or a far-away trash compactor – anything that is not loud, but has a definite whisper of exhaust to it. All these sounds are nondescript, and have certain qualities in common: the ability to function on both the level of wide swathes of noise and as a container that houses many tiny pieces that can be individually discerned upon close inspection. I can hear a variety of rhythms and melodies in the expanse of these sounds. It can go unnoticed, and then with a switch of focus a wealth of perception opens up in the low rumble. The possibilities are not quite there as much as they are implied, able to be shaped in your mind into a variety of directions by ignoring certain aspects of the sound and paying close attention to others. This also leaves space for development of what is being heard while remaining very much inside the originating object. One can hear a progression within a sound source that seems to be constant and consistent and yet has enough layers that it occasionally plays itself. I love it because its lack of definition and wide range of frequency makes it a sound of potential.
Ezekiel Honig

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the flapping of birds’ wings

In winter, over 3o,ooo geese spend the night at a roost near one of the Frisian lakes, not far from my house. At sunrise I often go there to watch them. Especially their spectacular departure. To fly to a nearby place to spend the day feeding on meadows, the geese will lift off together, in one big movement. Imagine a group of over a thousand percussionists, positioned in a diamond shape, all having a floor tom and two brushes. A split second after the rightmost percussionist starts a five second ruffle, the percussionists left of him do the same, and so forth. Further to the middle of the group, the sound grows louder, fading again when the middle is passed, leaving the leftmost percussionist to make the final beat on his kit. A group of alto sax players is mimicking this movement by simultaneously blowing short puffs. It’s truly incredible.
Romke Kleefstra

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a dog’s nails tapping on a wooden floor

a cat digging in the litter box

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a singing hummingbird

the chirp of an american goldfinch

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swallows flying over roofs

the cry of a seagull

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a rope rubbing against a dock

a far-off foghorn from a ship at sea

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waves crashing onto shore

My parents had a holiday house on the south coast of New South Wales, a three hour drive from Sydney. We’d often head down on weekends, leaving the city late on Friday night, so I’d be well asleep by the time I'd be put in bed. One of my fondest memories is waking up early on a Saturday morning, forgetting where exactly I was, and hearing rain on the tin roof of our holiday shack, or waves crashing onto shore. Then I realised I was on the south coast, before I’d even properly opened my eyes.
Cameron Webb

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ropes clanging against a mast

I love the way it carries like a bell, reverberating in the air, at times loud as a fire alarm, sometimes soft as a whisper you can’t quite catch. You can hear this the whole year round (even far from harbours, on the flag poles of big chain stores lining bleak highways), but for me it’s a wintry sound, speaking of cold windswept beaches and battered wooden shutters closed up for the season. A sound full of longing, lined with memory. An invisible trace leading back to childhood, when I was lying on the rough wood of a small dock, dangling my feet in the water. High above me, the northern lights were painting the skies with ribbons of yellow and red and ghostly green, while around me a dozen ropes strike a dozen masts, talking amongst themselves, telling a story I can almost understand, if only I could listen a little longer.
Sarah Payton

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constant traffic on a distant road

There was always that sound. Whatever I was doing, it never stopped. Sleeping, waking, eating, walking, talking, playing music, drinking or falling asleep... it never left. Until I left. When I came back it was still there, but loads louder. I used to live one mile from it, but now it’s only half a mile away. It changes timbre depending on the time of day and the direction of the wind, so it evolves continually. A backdrop to my existence here in Cambridgeshire that seeps into my work. It’s the drone of the A14 motorway.
Simon Scott

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wipers swinging on a windscreen

a car door being closed

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an aircraft flying overhead

a busy playground several yards away

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a bicycle changing gears

a skateboard riding on tarmac

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walking on gravel

footsteps in a museum

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echoes in a tube station

A few years ago, I wandered into a tube station on the deeply buried Central Line in London. Along the platform and out of my line of sight, three or four girls were singing close RnB harmonies. By the time this arrived at my ear, it had been bounced along several hundred metres of tunnel, an unfathomable series of natural comb filters that rendered it an unintelligible but gorgeous wooze, speckled with the faint percussive clank and rumble of a fully operational mass transit system. Although I sometimes record environmental sounds, you can never really be prepared for those one-off events that take you by surprise. In a way, I’m glad all I was able to do was stand and listen when I chanced upon the most beautiful improvised arrangement. I think every piece of music I have ever made has tried but fallen short of recalling this moment.
Chris Herbert

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the clunk of a cooling paint can

I love the sound of paint tins in an outside building responding to shifts in temperature. When they get warm, the air inside the tins expands, and then when they cool down again, the air contracts, pulling the metal lids down with a subtle, percussive clunk. I love how it sounds a little bit like a steel drum – sort of musical and metallic. And I love how the sound always comes as a surprise.
Felicity Ford

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rolling a wheelie bin

The garbage disposal in my street is pretty well organised. We have three wheelie bins: one for paper, one for biological waste, and one for everything else. This last one is huge and is emptied every two weeks. To get that done I have to place it at the roadside. When I take the emptied container back, the hard plastic wheels make the tarmac and sidewalk resonate in it. This creates an incredibly heavy and uncontrolled rhythm. A great soundtrack for my walk back to the garden. Sometimes I also take the neighbours’ trash cart back, so I’m walking with a bin in both hands. Then the sound becomes even more ferocious. It’s a pity that it’s only a thirty meter walk.
Martijn Jansen

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a key turning in a lock

the squeak of an old wooden door

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the click of a camera

the drop of a needle onto a record

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fingernails tapping on a table

striking a match

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paper getting crumpled

a book page being turned

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TAKE A CLOSER LISTEN

This little book contains a summary of favorite sounds submitted by Cory Allen, Adrian Arratoon, Seb Bassleer, Merijntje Betzema, Jay Blanchard, Richard Chartier, Michael Cottone, David Coyle, Taylor Deupree, Paul Elam, Ellen Evers, Felicity Ford, Martin Friberg, Gisela Frick, Raül Fuentes, Joe Garlick, Ian Hawgood, Chris Herbert, Maaike van den Heuvel, Ezekiel Honig, Mike Hoolboom, Kyle Iman, Martijn Jansen, Romke Kleefstra, Tori Kudo, Sjoerd Kulsdom, Josh LaClair, Willem Lauwers, Kaatje Lomme, Aaron Martin, Niels Masselink, Tiddo Muda, Sofia Opfer, Adam Pacione, Sarah Payton, John Prop, Antony Ryan, Simon Scott, Cameron Webb, Mike Weis, Brock van Wey, Coert Wigbels and Nate Wooley.

Editing and layout by Rutger Zuydervelt. Proofreading by Kenneth Kirschner. Printed by Raamwerken Printing & Design in an edition of 25o copies, December 2oo9 .
Thanks to everyone that participated by describing their favorite sound(s), including those that aren’t published here. Special thanks to Mariëtte Groot, Andra McCartney, Elif Özcan, Helma Verhof and Kenneth Kirschner.

Rutger Zuydervelt, Tweede Middellandstraat 2A, 3o21 BM Rotterdam, The Netherlands listen@machinefabriek.nu • machinefabriek.nu

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