Archive for the ‘Phonography’ Category

The Kingdom of Fife

Tuesday, September 25th, 2012

I am originally from Kirkcaldy, a town in Fife on the East coast of Scotland. I get home to visit now and again and often take a drive or walk up the coast towards the East Neuk and St Andrews – usually with some recording gear. The landscape is mostly rural, arable land with my interest drawn to the coastline, probably due to living in landlocked Birmingham. Beautiful views out across the Firth of Forth to Inchkieth, the Bass Rock, the May Isle and East Lothian beyond change to the open expanse of the North sea as you round the point at Crail.  The once thriving fishing villages are more often busy with visitors during the tourist season, attracted by their picturesque harbours, cottages and beaches. The old mining towns and industrial docklands I’m sure don’t get much of a look in.

I’ve started uploading a selection of field recordings from these visits to soundcloud. More will no doubt follow.


Urban Wildlife

Monday, September 24th, 2012

Here are another couple of field recordings that capture the sounds of wildlife in an urban, Birmingham garden.

The first is a recording of a flock of starlings that happend to roost for a short time on the roof of my house. The sliding melodic songs are echoed briefly amongst the traffic by an ice cream van and a siren. They departed as swiftly as they arrived.

Starlings on rooftop

This second recording is the delicate sound of worms and woodlice working their way through my compost bin. It was recorded using hydrophones submerged under the surface of the compost.

Worms in compost

Rhodia Alarm Test, Langley

Tuesday, August 14th, 2012

Rhodia, a division of Solvay,  is a large chemical manufacturing plant in the small community of Langley, West Midlands.  Every year they test the off-site alarm, intended to warn local residents of potential danger resulting from problems at the plant such as chlorine gas leaks.

On 9th August at 12.00pm I managed to make two recordings of the alarm which sounds very similar to an air raid siren. The first was from just outside the factory gate, made with two small omnis hung out of my car window.

Langley Siren 1

The second was made with a stereo microphone from Langley park, about half a mile away.

Langley Siren 2

(Thanks to Annie Mahtani for the insider info!)

‘Fence Songs’ for World Listening Day 2012

Saturday, July 21st, 2012


As my contribution to this year’s World Listening Day, here are three recordings of a fence I made at a Sandwell Valley Country Park just North of  Birmingham. This is an ongoing study of the park which, due to its proximity to both the M5 and M6 motorways, does not afford very good air recording opportunities. Instead I have been focussing on contact mic and hydrophone recordings.

Each example is slightly different:

In the first one the microphones are attached to the smooth top wire and you can hear the low singing drone of the wind blowing across the wire. The higher frequency taps and scrapes are the sounds of the long grass moving against the fence.

In the second example the microphones were attached to the top barbed wire as I struck and plucked the smooth wire in front (as in the photograph). I assume the vibrations were being transfered via the wooden fence posts to which they were both attached. There are some very low frequencies in these sounds that will be better appreciated on headphones or loudspeakers with a wide frequency range.

Finally, in the third example, I moved the microphones onto the top of the wire grid formation that forms the main fence structure,  this gives a much stronger impression of the grass moving against the fence.

All the recordings were made with contact microphones by Jez Riley French.

Bees, Birds & Bikes

Tuesday, July 17th, 2012

This recording was made in a domestic garden on the outskirts of Kirkcaldy, Fife in June this year. As you may have guessed from the title the prominent sounds are bees, birds (the loudest I think is a song thrush) and the ‘bikes’ are motorbikes.

I attached a spaced pair of small omnidirectional microphones on some branches just under the canopy of an old cotoneaster bush that was just coming into flower – hence its popularity with the bees that were present in large numbers around the garden, suprising given the recent concerns about population decline. This microphone placement gives the perception of depth to the soundscape: the closeness and immediacy of the bees, the more distant but present thrush and the still further away motorbikes (and aeroplane of course).

I like the way the sound of the motorbike engine mimics the buzzing bees, like a giant bee flying around in the distance.

Bees, birds and bikes

Robins in the Urban Jungle – Birmingham, UK

Saturday, May 12th, 2012

Photo: Ernst Vikne via Wikipedia

I have recently been enjoying the sight of a pair of nesting robins (Erithacus rubecula) who chose to build their nest amongst the ivy and honeysuckle on a fence directly outside my studio. The glass panelled door and position of my desk meant that the dutiful feeding trips of the male returning to the sitting female frequently caught my eye. I eagerly awaited the hatching of the chicks as their nesting position was conveniently situated for me to gain easy access with my microphones. A week or so later the increased frequency of the parents darting in and out of the nest, accompanied by a distinct, high pitched chattering sound on each visit signalled my time for action.

Using a pair of small, lightweight omnidirectional microphones I was able to clip these to the shrubbery just outside the entrance to the nest.  This recording captures the sound of the adult birds’ wings as they enter the nest, the excited chattering of the babies as they call out to be fed followed by some satisfied chirps. In this particular excerpt the background ambiance reveals the urban location, the slightly inclement weather and the unexpected, mid-week peal of bells from the local church.


While the position of the nest, barely 1.5m up the fence, was ideal for my field recording pleasure, since their arrival I had been concerned about the security of this location. There are neighbourhood cats that also appear at my window. Inevitably, after only a few precious days of life the robins were conspicuous by their absence and a quick look revealed one of the chicks, floating lifeless in a bucket of rainwater by the back door. Life is harsh in the urban jungle.  So this turn of events lends a particular poignancy to this recording.

Above the River Wye

Sunday, April 8th, 2012


This recording contrasts ‘Below the River Wye’, being made in a small, thin stretch of woodland running along the bank above the river. The wood was flanked by fields and so, in it’s isolation, was accommodating a relatively concentrated number of birds. The microphone was set at ground level, well placed to capture the sounds of flies and other insects which are also prominent.  The flowing river is omnipresent and the soundscape as rich and dense as that below the water.

Above the river Wye

Below the River Wye

Sunday, April 8th, 2012


The first of two recordings that contrast the soundscape of the River Wye above and below the water line. Recorded on a glorious day in early June, where the Wye river runs past the small village of Fownhope, just south of Hereford, UK.

The banks of the river are steep at this point, and the water surface considerably lower, however I managed to descend to a small stretch where a conveniently placed log allowed me just enough access to submerge the microphones. This hydrophone recording demonstrates the richness of the soundscape underneath the water.

I’m frequently surprised by the density of sounds created by aquatic life, this particular example reminds me of the rhythmic songs of cicadas.

Below the river Wye


Garden Pond Life – Birmingham UK

Friday, April 6th, 2012

I added a small pond to my garden at the beginning of the summer last year, one of the moulded PVC ones. I potted up some marginals, dropped in some oxegenating plants and took delivery of some tadpoles from a friend.  By the end of July, nature had worked her magic as wildlife had begun to establish itself.

I made this recording using hydrophones from Jez Riley French. I can recommend his products (I have some of his contact mics too), they’re well made, competitively priced and produce great results. I have the ‘basic’ models but understand he has since improved the design with his ‘C’ series.


This recording features with other field recordings and processed material in a live laptop set I performed last year.

A couple of the frogs survived to return and spawn in the pond this year. It looks like the tadpoles have begun to hatch. I’ll be making some more recordings in the coming months.

World Listening Day

Monday, July 18th, 2011

Sunday 18th July 2011 was World Listening Day, an international call to spend some time listening to your soundscape on the anniversary of R. Murray Schaefer‘s birthday. Schaefer defined the concept of the ‘soundscape’ in his book Soundscape: Our sonic environment and the tuning of the world and helped establish the World Soundscape Project both significant in the formation of the area of study now known as Acoustic Ecology.

I wanted to participate in World Listening Day but it was raining in Birmingham. So I listened to the rain for some time and recorded the sound it made falling on the plastic rubbish bins outside my kitchen window. I used contact mics taped to the underside of the bin lids.

It was the first time I had recorded anything in a while. It was nice to engage with sound again in such a focused way, to spend time enjoying the pleasure of simply listening. I listened for quite a long time but you can listen to some short excerpts if you like.

Rain on wheelie bin contact mics

Rain on rubbish bin contact mics

© Iain Armstrong