Last night saw the second iteration of the BASEbot listening salon, featuring sound recordist and designer Andrew Roth, at Dan Dugan Sound Design in San Francisco. We had a small but wonderfully diverse group – and many good conversations were had.
About Andrew Roth
For more than a decade Andrew Roth has been an active member of The Bay Area sound community. After graduating from Oberlin College in 1995, he took up residence at San Francisco’s Earwax Productions, working on both popular commercial and smaller independent projects ranging from radio to theme parks, television, film, games, and everything in between. In 2001 Andrew founded Natural Sounds, with the dual purpose of continuing his growing post-production business as well as promoting a growing catalogue of natural sound recordings captured during his travels.
The first of these, Natural Sounds of Costa Rica (now in its 7th printing) provides a sampling of the myriad soundscapes of that Central American country. After much delay, he will soon be releasing its follow-up, Natural Sounds of Japan. This new collection covers an even greater variety of aural terrain, tying in the rich cultural and historic fabric of the country, and recorded across the entire archipelago throughout its many distinctive seasons. The goal of all these recordings have been to create as complete a transportive and immersive listening experience as possible.
Andrew shared sounds from his work-in-progress Natural Sounds of Japan. The first recording was a rich array of animals from a subtropical island between Japan and Okinawa. A dove’s flutey sound, a melody reminiscent of certain strains in Gagaku, the court music of imperial Japan. Then microphones inside a pipe found jutting out of the ice in the far northern winter capture an unearthly desolate cold beauty. Ice sheets on a frozen-over beach creak like old doors. A bamboo forest, several days dry from rain, emits pointed resonant pops pinks and cracks. It begins to rain and thunder as an enormous boar appears… And then, taking us to Costa Rica, we hear the breathing of an active volcano.
It was fun to hear the sounds in the context of the stories of their recording. What do you do when a wild boar the size of a dinner table – an animal which could kill you in an instant – appears foraging in front of your microphone? In this case, you don’t move, and don’t stop rolling. And how artificial these recordings are: ten minutes either side of the ice recordings is a fisherman chainsawing holes in the sea ice for a group of tourists to scuba dive through – and everywhere planes and traffic are carefully edited out. On recording in Japan, to paraphrase Andrew: “Japan is really good for nature recording because, due to the political situation where there’s always money to build, it’s full of roads into the middle of nowhere.”
We talked technique a bit. Andrew’s finished soundscapes are constructed of layers from wide-spaced omni ambience recordings and mono spot-recordings of individual species. His mixes can be kaleidoscopic at times – wide and full – always something interesting happening. The idea being to build a translation of the original natural-context listening experience into the medium of recordings-heard-on-speakers.
Personally, I was impressed with the beauty of a wide-spaced omni stereo array in capturing the sense of space you experience in the woods – particularly the way a breath of wind moves among trees.
Aaron and I recorded the evening. It’s available on the BASEbot podcast.
jan 31, 2008 sf