Asbjoern Andersen


This is a post by sound designer and recordist – and founder of hzandbits sound effects – Christian Hagelskjaer From.
Here, Christian looks to the works of Danish film director and poet Jorgen Leth for inspiration on how we can – and why we should – rediscover the art of simply listening.

 

Jorgen Leth is a hero of mine.

I like his poetry, I enjoy reading his autobiographical books. I love his films. I admire him for his curiosity especially.

I guess all artists are curious by nature. They want to know more. Whether their area of interest is love, hate, death or any other of the infinity of things a human being can take interest in, they intend to examine it in greater detail than most other people. They are not satisfied with standard answers.

The films of Jorgen Leth are as good examples of curiosity in artists as I can think of. He wants to know more. He wants “to see what happens”, in his own words.

But where many other artists intentionally use themselves, their own feelings and opinions, to filter what their curiosity leads them to experience before expressing themselves to the world – Leth has a purer approach:

“I believe in slimming down, getting down to the basic rules, the basic grammar, of film making. What is a sound? What is an image? What does it mean to expose raw film to light? These are the questions I like to ask myself. ”
Jorgen Leth

In a source I can’t locate at the moment, he speaks of the “dumb camera” as a favorite method of his. The dumb camera doesn’t favorize; it is not opinionated about what it sees. It merely records what happens; often without panning or moving in any way.

There is no trickery, no selective editing – and because of this, we see exactly what is going on. We are not manipulated to see something that isn’t there, to feel more strongly or differently about the situation than it deserves.

This aspect of Jorgen Leth’s films reminds me of what I like about audio field recording – at least the way I do it. It is a question of positioning one or more microphones correctly to pick up the sounds you are interested in. Set the gain – and off you go.
Editing and mastering is usually done with a minimalist approach as well: merely performing cuts and fades in the right places; maybe removing a little bit of noise or extraneous low end.

Of course, it takes preparation to get a good take, whether you record in controlled environments (like a studio) or uncontrolled environments (such as gathering crowd sounds in your home town) – but it’s still simple stuff.

You record what is there, sometimes with a naturalistic perspective, sometimes focusing artificially with a shotgun or parabolic, sometimes with contact microphones.

You are basically “exposing raw film to light”, capturing the raw sound of something – or someplace. To paraphrase Jorgen Leth, you “hear what happens” – nothing more. For some, the quest ends there.

A Contrast To Predictability


The mainstream is used to different things, of course. Hollywood blockbusters know nothing of the dumb camera and “seeing what happens” – everything you see is extremely controlled.

Production time is too expensive to just roll film for the heck of it, and post-production of both sound and image is often very extensive and essential for the finished product.

There is nothing wrong with that though. I love a good sci-fi flick as much as anyone – and making one calls for anything but a naturalistic or purist approach to sound and image.

Big-budget movies are tightly orchestrated things. They are planned and controlled in every detail, with nothing left to chance – just like everything else in our modern lives.

We are led through generally very predictable plots (or verse-chorus-verse, in the case of music) toward a satisfying climax that never fails to emerge (unless the movie is crap, of course). We know what is going to happen – and that a lot is going to happen – and we like that, myself included.

You might argue that entertainment should be predictable and satisfying, that it should make sense and go somewhere. That, with the busy schedules running the industrialized societies of our world, movies and music, that provide instant and more or less guaranteed gratification, is not too much to ask for.

You can certainly easily convince me that this is what the mainstream consists of, and what most people seem to want.

I might just counter that argument though. How many of us can say, with maybe 80% certainty, that we don’t know what our work-day tomorrow will consist of?

The tasks or types of tasks, the workflow, problems we anticipate, our solutions to those problems? Our very ability to be efficient in whatever we do, depends on the premise that tasks are repetitive – at least to a degree – or we would be faced with reinventing the wheel every damn day.

No – jobs are repetitive and predictable, and that is not a bad thing to have in your life. But neither is a little contrast.

The work of Jorgen Leth is a contrast to mainstream movies for sure, and everyone should familiarize themselves with his work and his way of seeing.

But as a person with a penchant for the aural arts, I would also want people to become familiar with the “dumb microphone” way of listening, in a less planned, less prejudiced way.
What’s in it for the average person?

I would also want people to become familiar with the “dumb microphone” way of listening

Well, surprises:

Hearing things you never noticed before; learning things about your immediate environment to understand it better.
How sound travels differently at different temperatures, how there is no such thing as natural silence to be found hardly anywhere, anymore.

Is It Art?


There are some pretty profound sonic experiences in store for the vast majority of people in the industrialized world – we just need to start listening.

Some point toward the concept of acoustic ecology, others are more abstract; more like sound-art. Oh no – did I say art?

Only the most recession-hardened pleb would dismiss an art museum full of exquisite paintings and sculptures, whereas subjecting the public to weird noises in 8.1 surround is somehow less serious, less artistic.

In this mind frame, painting and sculpture is art, classical music is art, rock n’ roll is entertainment -and “sound” is just noise. In many parts of the world, we are used to experiencing visual art. We may not be experts on the matter, but we have heard often enough that the Mona Lisa is a great work of art – and so are works by Rembrandt, Dali, Pollock, etc. We may not like either of them personally – but not many will admit to just not understanding them at all.

In this sense, we all “know” what art is.

 

Popular on A Sound Effect right now - article continues below:

 

Latest releases:  
  • • In Pacific Northwest: Miniature, get a mini-nature collection of ambiences from the Hoh Rainforest, a temperate rainforest on the Olympic Peninsula in Olympic National Park. Hear Roosevelt Elk clack antlers and bugle as they fight for the chance to mate. Hear Pacific Wrens joyous chirps as they dance on rotten logs. Hear the massive sparseness of forests filled with 200-300 foot douglas fir and spruce. Hear haunting reverberations as ravens caw in groves of titans and the Hoh River’s soothing wash, the perfect sound to lull you off to peaceful dreams.
    • This library offers you a small collection of both quiet and active nature sounds from one of the wettest forests in North America. Some places on the Olympic Peninsula get over 200 inches of precipitation per year, and that abundance of moisture makes for a magical fern and moss filled ecosystem brimming with soothing ambiences.

    2% FOR THE ENVIRONMENT & CARBON NEUTRAL:
    • Two percent of the price of this library is donated to an environmental cause, as an “artist royalty” for the planet!
    • Carbon offset credits were purchased for the Pacific Northwest Series. Field Recording travel for these libraries was carbon neutral!

    KEY FEATURES:
    • Recorded near the One Square Inch of Silence
    • Featuring Roosevelt Elk
    • Hear two full grown Roosevelt Elk clacking antlers and bugling!
    • Distant elk trumpeting deep in the forest.
    • Varied ambiences from the Hoh Rainforest in Olympic National Park
    • Sparse ambiences with minimal wildlife
    • Active ambiences with twittering songbirds
    • One extended 35-minute quiet nature ambience
    • This library is a portrait of the Hoh Rainforest. The rainforest is in a long river valley, so the distant soothing wash of the Hoh River can be heard in all recordings.
    TEXT MARKERS:


    • Named markers are included in each file to help find interesting events in an otherwise uniform waveform!
    • Marker text included in the Soundminer description and BWAV description fields.

    FILE LIST & METADATA:
    • View in Browser or Download CSV
    • Flora (plants) and Fauna (animals) are described in these terms:
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    • flora sparse
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    • flora and fauna sparse
    • flora and fauna constant
    • Included wildlife: Roosevelt Elk, American Crow, Common Raven, Pacific Wren, Brown Creeper, Barred Owl, chipmunks, and various other distant murmuring songbirds
    BLOG POST:
    • Read the full story on the A Sound Effect Blog – Sounds from the Quietest Place in the Continental US 
    MORE INFO:
    • Read 30+ user reviews for Thomas Rex Beverly Audio
    • Read my Field Recording Mastering Rules and learn more about how these recordings were mastered.
    • Browse the Library Info Master List to compare specs on all my libraries.
    • Browse the Metadata Master List to search my entire catalog.
    • MD5 and SHA 256 Checksums are included for each zip file in my catalog. Use these hashes to check the integrity of your downloaded files. 
    GEAR USED:
    • Sennheiser MKH 8040 Matched Pair in ORTF
    • Sound Devices 702
    • Rycote ORTF Blimp
  • • In Pacific Northwest: Quiet Nature, get a peaceful collection of ambiences from the Hoh Rainforest, a temperate rainforest on the Olympic Peninsula in Olympic National Park. Hear the massive sparseness of one of the last pristine quiet places in the Continental US. Hear the natural cathedrals of sound created by Douglas fir and spruce. Hear wind gusts pluck autumn maple leaves and waft them to rest on forest floors. Hear massive halls of wet wood that envelop and transport you to a long-lost time when giant trees covered millions of acres of the Pacific Northwest.
    • This library offers you a large collection of quiet nature sounds from one of the wettest forests in North America. Some places on the Olympic Peninsula get over 200 inches of precipitation per year, and that abundance of moisture makes for a magical fern and moss filled ecosystem brimming with soothing ambiences.

    2% FOR THE ENVIRONMENT & CARBON NEUTRAL:
    • Two percent of the price of this library is donated to an environmental cause, as an “artist royalty” for the planet!
    • Carbon offset credits were purchased for the Pacific Northwest Series. Field Recording travel for these libraries was carbon neutral!

    KEY FEATURES:
    • Recorded near the One Square Inch of Silence
    • Sparse ambiences with minimal wildlife
    • Distant twittering songbirds high in the canopy
    • Mornings and afternoons in 300 ft forests
    • Eerie nights in old-growth titans
    • Barred Owl hoots
    • Sporadic drips and light soothing wind
    • One long unbroken natural soundscape. Thirty-five minute of natural silence!
    • This library is a portrait of the Hoh Rainforest. The rainforest is in a long river valley, so the distant soothing wash of the Hoh River can be heard in all recordings.
    TEXT MARKERS:

    • Named markers are included in each file to help find interesting events in an otherwise uniform waveform!
    • Marker text included in the Soundminer description and BWAV description fields.

    FILE LIST & METADATA:
    • View in Browser or Download CSV
    • Flora (plants) and Fauna (animals) are described in these terms:
    • fauna sparse
    • fauna constant
    • flora sparse
    • flora constant
    • flora and fauna sparse
    • flora and fauna constant
    • Included wildlife: Barred Owl, Pacific Wren, Hairy Woodpecker, Ruffed Grouse, Brown Creeper, Golden-crowned Kinglet, Varied Thrush, chipmunk, Douglas Squirrel, and ultrasonic insects. Overall, wildlife is very sparse during fall in the Hoh River valley.
    BLOG POST:
    • Read the full story on the A Sound Effect Blog – Sounds from the Quietest Place in the Continental US 
    MORE INFO:
    • Read 30+ user reviews for Thomas Rex Beverly Audio
    • Read my Field Recording Mastering Rules and learn more about how these recordings were mastered.
    • Browse the Library Info Master List to compare specs on all my libraries.
    • Browse the Metadata Master List to search my entire catalog.
    • MD5 and SHA 256 Checksums are included for each zip file in my catalog. Use these hashes to check the integrity of your downloaded files. 
    GEAR USED:
    • Sennheiser MKH 8040 Matched Pair in ORTF
    • Sound Devices 702
    • Rycote ORTF Blimp
  • • In Pacific Northwest: Active Nature, get an expansive collection of active ambiences from the Hoh Rainforest, a temperate rainforest on the Olympic Peninsula in Olympic National Park. Hear lonely frogs croakings and syncopated drips from moss covered branches. Hear high twittering songbirds’ joyous chirps twittering from canopy perches. Hear the soothing rush of the Hoh River from close and distant perspectives as it divides the valley and flows to the Pacific. Hear the Magical Dripping Tree, a majestic big-leaf maple covered head to toe in fog soaked moss. Hear massive drops from canopy mosses make rich plopping transients, pinging and enlivening the space of the old-growth forest.
    • This library offers you a large collection of active nature sounds from one of the wettest forests in North America. Some places on the Olympic Peninsula get over 200 inches of precipitation per year and that abundance of moisture makes for a magical fern and moss filled ecosystem brimming with soothing ambiences.

    2% FOR THE ENVIRONMENT & CARBON NEUTRAL:
    • Two percent of the price of this library is donated to an environmental cause, as an “artist royalty” for the planet!
    • Carbon offset credits were purchased for the Pacific Northwest Series. Field Recording travel for these libraries was carbon neutral!

    KEY FEATURES:
    • Recorded near the One Square Inch of Silence
    • Active ambiences with energetic wildlife, canopy moss drips, and close running water
    • Energetic twittering songbirds
    • Distant frogs croaking
    • Lush and lively moss drips from the Magical Dripping Tree
    • Normally, rain would be next to impossible to record rain in the middle of a forest. However, these moss drips enabled me to capture a rich rain-like density of drips when it wasn’t actually raining!
    • This library is a portrait of the Hoh Rainforest. The rainforest is in a long river valley, so the distant soothing wash of the Hoh River can be heard in all recordings.
    TEXT MARKERS:
    • Named markers are included in each file to help find interesting events in an otherwise uniform waveform!
    • Marker text included in the Soundminer description and BWAV description fields.
    FILE LIST & METADATA:
    • View in browser or Download CSV
    • Flora (plants) and Fauna (animals) are described in these terms:
    • fauna sparse
    • fauna constant
    • flora sparse
    • flora constant
    • flora and fauna sparse
    • flora and fauna constant
    • Included wildlife: Pacific Wren, Golden-crowned Kinglet, Belted Kingfisher, ducks, Common Raven, American Crow, Ruffed Grouse, Hairy Woodpecker, Brown Creeper, frogs
    BLOG POST:
    • Read the full story on the A Sound Effect Blog – Sounds from the Quietest Place in the Continental US 
    MORE INFO:
    • Read 30+ user reviews for Thomas Rex Beverly Audio
    • Read my Field Recording Mastering Rules and learn more about how these recordings were mastered.
    • Browse the Library Info Master List to compare specs on all my libraries.
    • Browse the Metadata Master List to search my entire catalog.
    • MD5 and SHA 256 Checksums are included for each zip file in my catalog. Use these hashes to check the integrity of your downloaded files. 
    GEAR USED:
    • Sennheiser MKH 8040 Matched Pair in ORTF
    • Sound Devices 702
    • Rycote ORTF Blimp
  • Water & Oceans Pacific Northwest: Storm Waves Play Track 35+ sounds included, 171 mins total $39

    • In Pacific Northwest: Storm Waves, get an expansive collection of storm waves from Rialto Beach, a driftwood filled shoreline of Olympic National Park. Hear massive 25 ft swells breaking and sea foam froth sloshing on rounded pebbles. Hear violent slurping as water is sucked out after each massive wave. Hear wave resonance tuned to perfection by driftwood logs a millennium old. Hear distant storm buoys droning their ominous warning and bats circling with ultrasonic clicks. Hear a coastline gradually eroded by Pacific waves. A place where massive spruce stumps are still rooted in the beach, desperately holding to the earth as the soil is stripped from their roots. Press a contact mic to one of those stumps and hear the heartbeat of the oceanThe vibrations from crashing waves move through rocks and roots to create stunning resonances in the wood!  I hope this library gives you a chance to hear the ocean in a way you haven’t heard it before. Enjoy listening to a large collection of storm waves from one of the most iconic beaches in North America.

    2% FOR THE ENVIRONMENT & CARBON NEUTRAL:
    • Two percent of the price of this library is donated to an environmental cause, as an “artist royalty” for the planet!
    • Carbon offset credits were purchased for the Pacific Northwest Series. Field Recording travel for these libraries was carbon neutral!

    KEY FEATURES:
    • Massive 25 ft swells
    • Rocky coastlines and pebble-filled beaches
    • Driftwood resonances
    • Contact microphones on dead spruce stumps rooted in the beach
    • Frothy impacts
    • Roaring bass
    • Storm buoys droning their ominous warning
    • A thirty-minute clip of the slowly approaching tide. This clip is broken into three, ten-minute clips with no fade ins/outs so it can be used in parts or as one long seamless clip!

    TEXT MARKERS:
    • Named markers are included in each file to help find interesting events in an otherwise uniform waveform!
    • Marker text included in the Soundminer description and BWAV description fields.
    FILE LIST:
    • File List: View in Browser or Download CSV 
    BLOG POST:
    • Read the full story on the A Sound Effect Blog – Sounds from the Quietest Place in the Continental US 
    MORE INFO:
    • Read 30+ user reviews for Thomas Rex Beverly Audio
    • Read my Field Recording Mastering Rules and learn more about how these recordings were mastered.
    • Browse the Library Info Master List to compare specs on all my libraries.
    • Browse the Metadata Master List to search my entire catalog.
    • MD5 and SHA 256 Checksums are included for each zip file in my catalog. Use these hashes to check the integrity of your downloaded files. 

    GEAR USED:
    • Sennheiser MKH 8040 Matched Pair in ORTF
    • Aquarian Audio H2a-XLR hydrophone (used as contact mic)
    • Sound Devices 702
    • Rycote ORTF Blimp
  • Whooshes Tiny Transitions 2 Play Track 320-670 sounds included From: $29.20 From: $21.90

    “Tiny Transitions 2” is the successor to the very popular Tiny Transitions sound effects library.

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    If you don't need the extra source sounds you can grab the “Designed Sounds only” pack.

    All source sounds were recorded with Sonosax SX-R4+ with a Sennheiser MKH8050+MKH30 M/S rig, a Sound Devices MixPre-6 with a MK8060+ATE208 M/S rig and a Sony PCM-D100. All sounds come with embedded Metadata.

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So what happens when we are subjected to sound that is clearly not Bach, Beethoven, Charlie Parker (and, possibly, not even music) or birdsong, waves crashing, etc? Most people don’t know what to do, when being forced to listen to sounds that are out of context – or which aren’t immediately recognizable.

While we all “know” what to feel when listening to a recording of crashing waves or whale song (relaxation, save the whales), we don’t “know” what to do with our selves, listening to Alvin Lucier’s “Sitting in a room”, his voice disappearing into the natural resonant properties of that room, with each iteration, each repetition.

We may not even know what to make of a recording of an everyday occurrence

 
We may not even know what to make of a recording of an everyday occurrence – if there is no visual clue to what is going on. Just the same, we don’t always know what to make of Jorgen Leth’s images. Is anything going on?

Is this art? When does he get to the point? The point is – and I’m obviously interpreting the man’s own words here – to observe.

To see what happens. Sure; there’s a lot more to his films than this, but it is an important aspect. So just watch – or set up a dumb microphone and listen. Don’t judge. Don’t expect art (unless visiting a museum or a gallery). It doesn’t have to be art – sometimes it isn’t.

But it’s always an experience.

Not seeing what you’re used to seeing, but hearing it only. It will be different from what you’re used to – which is reason enough to do it.

Thanks to Christian Hagelskjaer for sharing his thoughts!

 

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Some of the SFX libraries from hzandbits:

  • Howling Winds – Interior is 1.4 GB of high-velocity air molecules in 42 separate files – recorded in 24bit/96kHz stereo – from an interior perspective.

    It is a collection of highly expressive, sometimes vocal, sometimes violent gusts of wind, squalls of rain and sleet – as heard from within the safety of a home.

    KEY FEATURES

    • Howling, moaning, whistling wind sounds
    • Roofs and windows pummeled with rain and sleet
    • Bad weather in an urban setting

  • Weather Wind In Trees Play Track 32 sounds included, 93 mins total $28

    Here are ambient and specific recordings of rustling leaves, fluttering twigs and creaking trunks. Pine and Fir trees, Beechwood hedgerows and leafless Oak trees, along tall grass and reeds. All in all, a collection representative of the cultured landscape in Denmark, as well as much of northern Europe. I was lucky enough to record a storm during the last days of 2016, and those sounds are of course included here. No human voices or man-made sounds, but a few of the sounds have bird vocalizations in them.

    The focus is rather narrow, going for many nuances of the same flavor – rather than many flavors. If you need sounds of a storm or gale in northern European vegetation, then this should fit the bill. Note that there is audible buffeting in several files. I opted to leave it in there, as it might suit some purposes, and let me keep the most violent passages. You can try your luck with noise reduction, but since wind is mostly broadband noise anyway, it might not turn out well. YMMV.

    A few sounds appear in both mono and stereo versions, where the stereo version are X/Y derived from the M/S source files and the mono versions are simply the Mid channel. I did this, because most people seem to prefer X/Y files for post-work, rather than M/S – but a down-mix of X/Y to mono would be inferior to using the original Mid-mic signal. All sounds were captured in Denmark between October and January.

    You get:
    • Wind through trees, bushes and tall grass
    • Close recordings and wider takes
    • X/Y Stereo and Mono sounds (decoded from M/S)
    • Searchable file names
    • Metadata included in CSV and ODS (OpenOffice) formats
  • Hvac Drones & Tones gets you the noisy insides of hotel rooms, bathrooms and much more; recordings of large ventilation and filter units, cooling compressors and whining fans.

    Some of the sounds are completely pristine and unprocessed, while others have been tampered with to reveal hidden qualities. This collection contains both noir and noise!

  • City Life Urban Winds Play Track 38 sounds included, 49 mins total $26

    Urban Winds is 49 minutes / 1.33 GB of medium and high-wind sounds in 38 separate files – recorded in 24bit/96kHz M/S stereo (decoded to X/Y stereo and mono), using Sennheiser MKH micophones.

    You get empty streets and construction sites, office exteriors and the port of Aarhus. You get plastic that flutters or thrashes, metal fences that clatter and vibrate, pipes and cavities resonating in the gusts. You get ambiances and specifics. I have tried to strike the balance between variety and nuance, to give you sound pros something to build a scene around. In that sense, this really is a construction kit of sorts.

    You will hear very little human activity – other than distant traffic. I recorded mostly at night, and in large, undisturbed areas – and on one occasion in the aftermath of a violent storm (the kind that rips the tiles off the roofs). Had a good time standing in the relative safety of my doorway, recording stuff getting blasted down the street! All sounds were captured in Aarhus, Denmark.

    Urban Winds gets you:

    • Howling, moaning, whistling wind sounds
    • Wind-battered city ambiances
    • X/Y Stereo and Mono sounds (decoded from M/S)
    • Metadata included in CSV and ODS (OpenOffice) formats

 
 
 
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2 thoughts on “The Dumb Microphone – And The Lost Art Of Listening

  1. Very nice article. I was always a fan of the 70s flicks: gritty, human, amazingly executed and you never knew the ending. Of course, the dialogue sucked because it was ADR, but it embodied what film, and ultimately art, should be. It’s sad that it has been dumbed down and packaged for mass distribution. It seems that the speed at which technology develops has helped level the playing field so that more “art” can compete with larger budget productions. I hope art can experience a revitalization and, though it’s never going to be a mainstream commodity, that artistic communities and forums could flourish and find their places again due to the connectivity of the Web. I feel like that is the place of art in society, not necessarily to be at the forefront of culture, but to find it’s place to exist and impact those who choose to partake in it, share it, and create it. I hope sound finds it’s place with it.

    • Thanks for the kind words Jon. I certainly believe that the most powerful works of art mostly exist outside of the mainstream. That’s not to say that some don’t transcend the barrier – I can name a whole bunch of examples that have reached the general population in my country alone – by virtue of their scale, brilliance or ability to provoke. None of them are sound-related though; no field recordings or sound-art in the prime-time.
      But when did a band ever get TV-time just because they sounded good?
      Even the web is mostly image-centric in terms of things going viral, although places like SoundCloud is changing that to some degree. I believe some art forms carry more weight than others, in the eyes of the general public. Eyes, not ears, mind you. Paintings and sculpture, no matter how bizarre, will always draw a crowd – even among “regular folks”. Heck – staging 5 hour long German operas earns some people a living in huge, multimillion-dollar opera houses the world over! It shouldn’t be possible – but it is!
      I don’t believe field recording and sound art will ever achieve that kind of popularity, but that’s fine. It seems to tickle the brains of enough people for it to feel like a community. Good enough.

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