sound workshops for youth

sound workshop for youth, rev. 3

Last week I gave a sound workshop which was part of a summer theater camp for youth in Mooste. The camp was held for the first time so there was plenty to be learned especially when trying to collaborate with the other workshops (drama, art, film). For the sound workshop we concentrated on the ideas of “soundscape” and understanding how humans navigate with stereo perception of sound. Then I did a number of group sound exercises on listening, playing and synchronization using everyday objects (bottle caps, tin cans, paper tubes etc). Towards the end I took on a group of 5 to work on some “advanced” skills with basic recording methods, acoustic sound properties and improvisation with various objects. I should thank all the great young people for their attention and in particular Madle, Silver, Doris, Triin and Regina for their time and energy in the more focused exercises at the end.

Below is a short excerpt from one of the improvisation exercises made with my final group (I had them try 5, 10, and 15 minute improvisations to understand the effect of time duration).

youth sound workshop – group improvisation:


sound workshop for youth, rev. 2

I spent last weekend with my colleague Toomas Thetloff conducting a “workshop on sound” for youth which was organized by the Tallinn Youth Center in Lasnamäe. I’m going to give a quick rundown of everything that happened just to give readers a taste of all that happened. Together with Toomas we spent three days with a group of six youngsters (mostly around 17-18 years old) exploring ideas and concepts of using sound as an artistic medium as well as looking at the history of music experimentation from early tape music up to the possibilities of digital audio today. The main idea behind such a workshop is to look at our relationship to sound in the broadest sense. This can be done through a reflexive process of sound listening and sound creation.

Initially we looked at raising awareness of our ability to hear the world around us through different types of listening exercises starting with listening to examples of recorded music from the past (Ruttmann, Cage, Stockhausen, Xenakis, Riley) up to listening to the present environment around us (going out for a sound walk). From there we built simple instruments (rattles and shakers) which were used in group listening excersizes in both conducted and improvised sessions to experience a range of similar sounding instruments that are played in an ordered vs random manner. This moved into more “free” territories where each individual in the group was allowed play a unique instrument in a group improvisation session. Understanding of our ability to listen was key here. Meanwhile, when all of this live activity was happening it was also being recorded. We created our own material in which to manipulate and compose later on with free open source software on computers. This was of course a natural progression for the participants (all of whom use computers on a daily basis), but the ground had to be laid first. So several open periods were spent collecting sounds then working with analyzing and editing this material. We demonstrated the capabilities of sound cutting, layering and time stretching along the way.

As some form of “output” was expected from the workshop we shifted our attention back to the live experience in the end. The goal was to perform a composition that was made by the group using the constructed elements and knowledge gained so far. In this case we took on the idea of making transitions from pre-recorded compositions to live sounds from objects and instruments (rattles, cymbals, a radio, amplified coat rack and a saw). Intervals of free improvisation would bridge each of these sections. As time moved quickly it wasn’t easy to remember all the details of who plays what and when, but the basic structure was there. Just to be safe Toomas suggested to take down the visual score to encourage the players to use their memory and intuition.

In the end it seemed to work well. After 2 practice runs we made a final go in front of an audience of 30 odd people who braved the snow to come and hear our curious brand of noise. To top it off we ended on a classic note as the microphone documenting our performance was not turned on. Thus we are left to rely on our keen memory of the experience.

Special thanks to Rene, Raido, Mihkel, Ats, Olga and Marianne for their time and energy during the workshop and to Maris for her interest and organizational efforts.

sound workshop for youth, rev. 1

with Seth Nehil, December 2005

Tartu Children’s Art School

Day One

Opening discussion: what is your experience with music or sound, any instruments played or recording devices used?
– Talk on the history of sound art with slides and examples: Pierre Schaeffer “etudes aux chemins de fer”, John Cage “Williams Mix”, Terry Riley “Persian Surgery Dervishes”, Karlheinz Stockhausen “Gesang der Jünglinge”, Xenakis “Concret PH”, Seth Nehil/Jgrzinich, untitled multitrack file , isolating individual tracks, Discussion – favorite sounds

– Sound Walk, 25 minutes. Two listening stops, 2 min. eyes open, 2 min. eyes closed
– Discussion – sounds heard, difference between the two listening stops, experiences of space, distance and relative quiet

Day Two

– Making simple instruments – slate chimes, rattles with peas and cups
– Demonstration – dictaphone recording and speed variation
– Group sound-making exercises in large room: – rattles with conducting (loud/soft) – rattles with passing leader, exploring different ways of playing – chimes while wandering throughout the first floor, away and back
– Discussion – distance, echo and reverberation, sound and time, the effect of reflective surfaces, exploring reverberant spaces
– Group sounds in small glass-walled tower room: – pitch pipe and imitating tone and rhythm, passing leaders- pitch pipe imitations + dictaphone, alternating between live and recorded – looking out windows (away from group), passing vocal sounds around the circle – passing vocal sounds + individual mutation – passing phrases as quickly as possible – passing phrases + overlap
– Demonstration – Mini-disc recorder and stereo microphone Independent recording in groups of two, throughout building and outside
– Discussion – recording experiences and adventures – Listening to recordings separately – Listening to sounds together, random mix on multiple speakers

Day Three

– Demonstration – editing software (WaveLab) cutting, copying, pasting, inserting silence, pitch adjustment, reverb and echo – Independent work period in groups of two – computer editing
– Demonstration – multi-tracking and volume curves – Listening to individual compositions – Discussion – ideas, titles, elements used – Concert/Installation in Gallery space: – Mix of groups 1-4 – Group 1 x4 (Merili/Leelo) – Mix of groups 1-4 – Group 2 x4 (Liina/Riin) – Mix of groups 1-4 – Group 3 x4 (Kelli/Piret)

Partners of the workshop: Tartu Lastekunstikool

Workshop is supported by: Estonian Ministry of Culture, “Kunstiaasta 2005” program, Cultural Endowment of Estonia

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