Though most would agree that sight is our most prime sense, sound also plays a huge (and often underestimated) role in how we make sense of the world; indeed we hear our mothers in the womb, before we have seen them, and can distinguish their voice from others. Despite this, many everyday sounds go unnoticed; this one of the reasons why I found 356daysofsound such a fascinating blog. Each day the author recorded a sound (some of my favourites include ‘bike wheel rubbing against mudguard‘ and ‘pouring water into a glass), usually not from, traditionally ‘musical’ objects. As such without being presented as worthwhile many of these wonderful sounds would go otherwise unappreciated.
Inspired and armed with my trusty Zoom H1 recorder, I set about recording my own sounds using objects found lying around my house.
When listening back to my recordings I quickly found myself mentally splitting the sounds into different categories; sounds with a recognisable source, familiar sounds with an ambiguous source, and those with a completely unrecognisable source. It is the latter group that I find most intriguing – it is exciting as a musician to discover an object has musical properties that you wouldn’t have imagined and can only enrich the musical palette , but it is also interesting from the point of view of a listener.
For example this recording of me bowing a banding wheel (used in pottery) seems to bear little to no resemblance to the object of its origin; the object has no chamber so I was amazed at how resonant and pure sounding it was. When hearing an unexpected or unfamiliar noise it seems almost instinctive to look in the direction of its origin, to identify the sound and its source. Just like when unidentified ‘things’ go bump in the night when the source is unclear, the result is rather eerie and mysterious.
There also seems to be varying degrees to this mystery, as mentioned earlier, another category was ‘sounds with an ambiguous source’ by which I mean that the sounds themselves aren’t so alien and there is a clear, but unexpected link between the sound and its source. My favourite example of this is my recording of a lamp being struck by a mallet; the surface of the hammered metal lamp stand is not dissimilar in appearance to that of a cymbal and so the ‘gongy’ sound is to a certain degree expected, though there is still a certain enigmatic quality
It is when sounds such as these are used musically that it becomes really interesting; when listening to any music with samples I feel compelled to discover their source whether it be a drum loop, vocal hook, or field recording. As samples such as the ‘Amen’ break and ‘Funky Drummer’ have been plundered to the point of them becoming almost cliché it is refreshing to hear new sounds. My favourite example of such a sample is that of a ‘wind-up toy car‘ in cLOUDDEAD’s ‘The Teen Keen Skip’, whose seems to mimic the scratching sound used in much of hip-hop. Figuring out the source of the sound required more thought than if it had just been the usual ‘scratch’ and as such made for a more rewarding and interesting listen. It’s this feeling that drives me to seek out such sounds myself not only as a musician, but as a listener – if you have the right gear, get out there and record some of your own, I can’t recommend it enough!