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Andrew Roth presenting at BASEbot 002Last 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’s Presentation

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.

-jeremiah moore
jan 31, 2008 sf

Field Recordist Chris WatsonOur nascent Bay Area chapter of ASAE, Bay Area Sound Ecology, held its first public listening salon on November 28. Christened ‘BASEbot’ with a nod to the popular Dorkbot model of informal technical salons, the event was intended to introduce both the chapter and the salon format to potential members.

BASEbot is an experiment in bringing people together around listening and the soundscape. It is envisioned as a meeting place for ear-minded people, and ultimately a platform for soundscape oriented projects. Toward that end I think our first salon was a great success! We had about 40 people attend to hear Chris Watson’s excellent presentation of sounds and techniques.

The meeting was launched by host Dan Dugan, well known as inventor of the Dugan Automatic Microphone Mixer and for his work with the Nature Sounds Society. Dan described his personal history and introduced the space for our meeting: his comfortable surround-sound equipped studio and home.

BASE co-chair pro tem Jeremiah Moore then introduced BASE and outlined the goals of the organization: to be a broadly-inclusive multidisciplinary forum for all Bay Area residents interested in listening and the soundscape. Jeremiah also described the (roughly bimonthly) BASEbot forum, which we envision will consist of one or two featured speakers, a time for announcements and calls for discussion, a break for informal discussion, and finally a sign-up listening salon, for sharing recordings and other soundwork with a like-minded and supportive (or if desired, critical) audience.

Finally, Aaron Ximm (other BASE co-chair pro tem) briefly introduced the night’s featured speaker, Chris Watson, one of the best-known field recordists in the world. Chris delivered an hour-long lecture in two parts. Part One defined a personal ontology for recordings, dividing sounds into (sometimes metaphorical) ‘atmospheres,’ ‘habitats,’ and ‘featured species,’ and described several favorite techniques Chris has used to make those different kinds of recordings. Part Two featured an in-depth account of recent work with four-channel surround sound hydrophone recording, both in the open water and buried in shallow sand or mud. Both sections were richly illustrated with favorite old and new and unreleased recordings, in both stereo and four-channel surround.

Chris’ presentation was recorded via a stereo microphone in the room; the hour-long two-part lecture now available via the BASEbot Podcast.

BASE is currently forming as an organization, and we invite any interested persons to join us. We anticipate meeting next in February 2008. We hope to draw members from the broadest group – be they sound designers, radio producers, composers, musicians, bioacousticians, or simply humans who listen.

Chris Watson: www.chriswatson.net

-Aaron Ximm and Jeremiah Moore, BASE co-chairs

The first and founding meeting of Bay Area Sound Ecology (BASE)Welcome to the BASE news site / blog and podcast.

Though I’m setting this up in may 2008, we’ll engage in a bit of revisionist history, back-dating the posts for BASEbot 1 and 2 to the dates of the events. (And back dating this post so it appears first!) How’s that for subterfuge.

I’m personally pleased to present these recordings, and am looking forward to more in the months to come.


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