War Sounds Mashup

Do you ever wish there was a random soundtrack for every google search that you do? I might just sound like this. Listen:

I just did a simple experiment. I typed in "war" into the search engine at freesound.org to see what would pop up. I was listening to the tracks one by one, but then I started playing them on top of one another. You can play as many as you want at the same time using freesound.org's embedded player, generating an instant mashup.

In the first 15 results of "war", I was delighted by the diversity of sounds. First you get what you might expect: air raid sirens, bombers, gunfire and explosions. But also: George W Bush, angry soccer fans, a cheezy laser cannon, and a benign ship's bell from the HMS Chepstow. In the following version, I spread out the clips with about a three second offset, in the order they appeared in the search list:

Credit for the individual samples goes to: guitarguy1985, ljudman, digifishmusic, acclivity, EcoDTR, m:o, and daveincamas.

p.s. I borrow inspiration from the sound artist Chris Kubick who has used folly libraries and Supercollider to generate some pretty fascinating landscapes.


Rubble Mountains

Rubble mountains. One can only imagine the sound of a rubble mountain under 'construction'. Rubble mountains are everywhere, under your feet, under buildings; they are underground mountains. What is anything we call ground but some form or rubble, of various sizes, 'destroyed'particles, aggregates of something else reconstituted as a new landscape.

Berlin's Teufelsberg is the largest rubble mountain in the city. I am walking up to the top and observing the activities found there. Listen:

Skies over rubble mountains. I am listening to the radio. Listen:

Tubes beneath rubble mountains. The U-Bahn. Listen:


Red Sands Boat Trip

As seen on BLDG BLOG, my wife and I took a boat trip out to see these incredible structures leftover from WWII. The day was filled with some unexpected events, such as the lowering of a broken windmill turbine onto the boat, using an old crane arm from one of the towers. On board, in awe of these hulking towers of rusting steel, will be a couple hours of my life that I will never forget.

Here's but a small sample of the sounds recorded out there. Listen:


20: Netherlands Sound Matter

Following after one of my favorite sound artists, Francisco Lopez, as I record sound I am collecting the matter of sound. Lopez writes in an essay titled "This is Not La Selva: Sound Matter vs. Representation":

In my conception, sound recording does not document or represent a richer and more significant "real" world. Rather, it focuses on the inner world of sounds.

Both of the samples presented here are unaltered from their recording. There is only one layer, and that is the recording itself. If you detect multiple layers, that is architecture that you are bringing to the experience of listening.

In the first sample, an escalator outside Rotterdam's Central Station aspires to join an urban drum circle. Listen:

The second sample is from a train station ticket machine in Haarlem. Listen:


19: Cockatoo Island

I'm now over a week deep into the Urban Islands design workshop, working with Geoff Manaugh of BLDG BLOG and 15 other students to devise a tarot card deck and some proposals for Cockatoo Island from that deck. Cockatoo Island is a former shipbuilding facility and convict prison in the middle of Sydney Harbour. Since its closure in the 1990s it has been the subject of much speculation.

I am bringing to the workshop a desire to document and project sonically the environment on Cockatoo. I wish to make architecture out of sound, to build turbine halls and warehouses and glacial canyons out of sound. Cockatoo Island is the first illicit commission to do so.

Four days ago I took the audio tour and I was struck by the simultaneous experiences--one virtual, of the audio tour, and the other real. Often canned sounds of seagulls would intermix with actual seagulls. (are they communicating?) A low hum in the background would be unsettling in that I didn't know if it was the tour or if it was real, until I removed the headset.

I'm interested in audio tours because they suggest alternate realities that coexist with ours. My quest, then, is to produce an audio tour that isn't so prescriptive, yet opens up a dialogue with a place.

This may be where Soundscrapers is trending--to produce audio tours for each place that I visit... A collection of military audio tours.

This is not yet an audio tour. Listen:


18: NZ tanks

New Zealand is a peaceful country, if only because it is so far away no one has bothered with it. Henry Kissinger once called it a "dagger pointed at the heart of Antarctica" but that's about as militarized as New Zealand gets.

Now it is possible to drive a tank while visiting the lovely South Island city of Christchurch. Through this experience, really a boyhood fantasy come true, the land of milk and honey can be sited through a periscope. The sound from the inside of the rolling tank might be a cow pasture in New Zealand or a desert landscape in Afghanistan. You choose. Listen:


17: White Sands

Take a flight out to New Mexico and explore the wonders of White Sands Missile Range, the largest military installation in the United States. I will walk around and point out various missiles in the park, and then let some of the museum video material speak for itself.



new look

There's been a hiatus in posting sounds. I'm still recording fearlessly, forever heightening my awareness of the environment around me. The sound recordings continue to amass. Electrons stored, charged, awaiting release.

I am re-evaluating the function of this blog. I have a blog over at Archinect that serves my needs to discuss the things that I am seeing.

So what can I do with this space? I want to transform it into a productive workshop for exploring sonic landscapes. I will continue to post soundscrapings, but I am looking to link them geographically. Soundscraping is also about inward travel--the effect of sound on perception. Just as sound codes a place, it also codes your conscious self as an agent in that landscape.


16: Arlington

The laying of the wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier is pervaded by a sonorous trumpet. I've heard it a million times in movies, but to pick up the resonance, the subtle variation in the tapering off of each note in the live performance is powerful. I feel directed to observe, obey, and to be humble. Needless to say the trumpet call has a high signal to noise ratio.

The Tomb is an axial memorial, looking out over the Potomac. It induces an axial movement, the epitome of military precision. It functions to obliterate the visual and audible noise of the landscape and hone your attention on its grandeur.

Arlington itself is a militarized landscape, gravestones like white pixels coding a neutral green landscape.

The hills once belonged to Robert E. Lee. It is that note that I think is most interesting. Before this was a cemetery, it was a majestic house and estate. To prevent Lee from returning to the estate, the first graves were dug in Mrs. Lee's rose garden. It became an occupation by cadavers.

I walked among the rows and encountered a solemn sound. Bagpipes for me evoke more than anything the open landscape. It is the sound of air itself. It has just enough noise to allow it to absorb into the atmosphere. The trumpet, on the other hand, demands obedience to its signal. Listen:

15: Rolling Thunder

Rolling Thunder, a motorcycle parade in its 22nd year, roars across the Memorial Bridge to make a circuit of the Mall before terminating at the Vietnam Memorial. Vietnam vets ( Desert Storm and Iraqi Freedom vets as well) ride their hawgs to bring attention to POW's and MIA's, and veterans' rights in general.

Curiously though, the noise becomes part of the background. I found a way to tune out the rumbling. The occasional rip of a revving engine breaks out of the background sound profile. Otherwise the sound which seeks a temporary occupation of the space of the Mall just sounds like loud, annoying traffic. The occupation happens physically in the barriers erected by the police to allow Rolling Thunder to pass through.

I am left wondering what the noise is saying. Listen:


14: Gettysburg

Stepping inside the restored Gettysburg Cyclorama is a strange juxtaposition of a 19th century precursor to the cinematic experience with a 21st century lighting and sound spectacle. Looking at the various sections of the battlescene, I am impressed by the painting's extraordinary detail. It is as though you could infinitely zoom into the battle. The illusion is that nothing is hidden from view. The experience is total. This 'total' experience is redoubled by the sound, volleying from all directions. Tactics give way to chaos. I am simultaneously the general and the soldier, in command of the view but completely without control of the scene.


and listen:


13: Ricardo Porro's Institute of Art

Continuing to dig back through some sound recordings. This is an amazing building that is being restored on the outskirts of Havana. In the 1960's it was not applauded by the Castro government which viewed the orgasmic curves and laborious brick construction as unbecoming of a young, industrial communist state.



12: Cuba Revisited

In Berkeley for 12 more days. Why not do a little armchair traveling myself? I went back through my recorded sounds of Cuba and put a little something together. Take a cocotaxi ride into the depths of Havana, exploring the soundscape of the ocean meeting the city edge.


11: Forbidden Narita

Following my interest in how to represent exclusive, forbidden spaces, I got this idea as I was going through the usual routine of the airport security check. I took my recorder and mics out of my pocket and was about to stuff them in my bag when it occurred that I could actually do a little military exploration here. I switched on record and in it went, a satellite probe into one of the most forbidden, fortified spaces of the 21st century. The carry-on x ray machine.



10: Okinawa Creepy Yaedake

I finished day 8 on top of Okinawa's second tallest mountain, or rather a hill at about 450m above sea level. My goal was a US communication station which has been partially returned to the Okinawa Prefecture. There are several satellites still in function, including the one which I describe in the podcast. After the sun sets I head down alone, darkness chasing my tail. The surrounding jungle comes alive. Listen:


9: Okinawa Bad Karaoke, Loudness, andFrogs

After nearly 20 miles of walking today, a moderate day, I have just enough energy to share three samples of sound from this strange island.

First, a quintessential Okinawa experience: the enduring of Air Force vocal chords. Listen (if you dare):

Next, another common sound, the jet swooping in to land at Futenma Air Station. I am standing about 300 feet below the jets when they come in. Get ready to be rocked. Listen:

Finally, a bit more of a peaceful scene. I explore a beach near a military base. Listen:


8: A terrible noise

The thunderous jet noise described last time:

There is a lot more sound, but I'm off to Okinawa.



Drawing the void

The void is an evocative theme. It works two ways, across a threshold. For the military, what lies outside the fence, as far as I have seen, is always represented on their maps as a blank region. And in city plans, the military base is a grey block, a chess piece which makes no move and can never be taken. There is an important difference with each type of "void space" here. From within the base, the world outside is an ocean, an expanse of otherness which laps at its shores but has no real effect there. From without, the military space is dense, solid, filled in. It may as well be a wall projected a thousand feet high. The military can virtually come and go as it pleases, but civilians must be screened, and only a select few--those who work there--have access.



7: Korea On Base

The experience of walking onto a military base is truly stepping across into another world. This soundscraping also contains a dialogue with a retired Army Sergeant-Major and a visit to the Odusan Unification Observatory at the DMZ. Listen:

soft Tokyo

Tokyo is a soft city. It is incredibly relenting. This is not a visual experience. I am talking about the cushion of space that people make way for you. The language, both bodily and spoken, is designed to ease the potential awkwardness of strangers crossing paths. Eventually the polite but ubiquitous "Irashaimase!" that store clerks deliver when you walk into their space wears out and becomes annoying. But now my attention is focused on it. In fact, if someone working in a store or restaurant breezes past me without apologizing profusely or at least acknowledging my holy presence with an irashaimase, I feel wronged. God forbid someone bumps into you.



6: Korea Snacks

This latest Soundscrapers installment takes place over a span of week. I have been moving in fits and spurts, under the weather a bit and traversing the country.

In the spirit of the Korean snack, I have limited each clip to a 10 second interval. As soon as one section of sound is absorbed in the ear, another one follows it in. Listen:


5: Korea War Memorial

The Korean War Memorial is a massive building that sits on the edge of Yongsan Garrison. Children play on the big tanks. The massiveness has a sound. Listen:


4: Arrival in Korea

It's been a full two days now in Korea. It's cold. The food is spicy as all hell. And I'm very happy about that. I think this is a culture I agree with very well. It's nice to be traveling somewhere and the people basically leave you alone. And when you want contact with people, you find they are exceedingly friendly and hospitable.

The sound here is full of jingles and jangles. You can't really escape the cutesy hello kittyness of the culture even if you void out the visuals. This first stab is an attempt to code the culture, finding both rhythm and sinew in the sonic tissue, while the jangles and blabber skims over the surface.

Note: slurping is considered culturally acceptable and, moreover, a sign that the dish is so tasty you eat it in a rush. Listen:


3: Tijuana border crossing

This is revisiting some sound I recorded from the beginning of the trip. Hey, don't give me any grief for posting things out of order. Khronos, after all, is a god of serpentine form with three heads. You can't possibly expect him to be in sync either.

Three sounds: Cables supporting the arch at the entry of the Avenue of the Revolution, Tijuana. A highway outside Naval Station San Diego. The turnstyle at the US Mexico San Ysidro border crossing.

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2: Waikele Ammo Bunker

I spent the morning at these old Navy ammo bunkers. Listen:

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Everything you need...

Gear, originally uploaded by nicksowers.

...for a year around the world.

From left to right: German shoulder bag, Alice frame, pens, minidisc, minidisc player, camera, Tide travel detergent, various medicines, contact microphone, stereo microphone, battery charger, usb cable, bug spray/sun block, bandaids, leatherman, compas, ear buds, collapsible frisbee, cellphone, flashlight, cuba guidebook (yes it works everywhere), Spanish phrasebook (si se puede), thinkpad tablet x61, extra straps.


1: Panama

This is the first Soundscrapers podcast.  As I travel around the world to visit military bases and post-military spaces, I will be collecting audio in 10-20 minute sonic cross-sections.

If you download podcasts on itunes and the like, use the subscribe link to the right. Headphones recommended. Please enjoy.

a mini guide

0:00 Houston Airport
0:30 A sound installation
1:12 Flight 875
1:35 Panama City Airport
2:35 Marketplace
3:34 Bird-natures
4:55 No habla taxi
5:12 Fort Amador, abandoned base
8:16 Deluge
9:07 Steve the pacifist
11:47 Good night
12:50 Valkyrie in the street

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