photo by Jukka Rajala-Granstubb

Malakta sound field lab

From October 27th – 30th, 2016 I led a ‘Sound Field Lab’ which was organized and hosted by the wonderful people at Malakta Art Factory, in Malax Finland. This workshop would not have been possible without the help of regional arts coordinator Jimmy Pulli and the invaluable assistance of skilled sound recordist and engineer Stefan Backas.

The Sound Field Lab aimed to be an immersive yet creative exploration of sound and listening practices that combined exercises and discussions with practical experience of making ‘field recordings’. The workshop is open to anyone wanting to broaden their understanding and creative use of working with sound and environmental recording and I was pleased the participants came from a range of backgrounds and interests that included artists, musicians, journalists and media producers.

We covered a range of topics that included; sound and the environment, sound and perception, listening practices, resonance and acoustics, recording methods, collaboration and presentation. The excursions were designed as field trips aimed at working on practical recording techniques and methods through creative exploration of different sonic environments.

The weather on our two excursion days was very different giving us a chance to confront a variety of conditions in which to record. On the second day of the workshop it rained the entire day. Rain presents multiple challenges, mainly the possibility that water can easily destroy your equipment, but assuming you protect your gear it means that you are likely to have rain hit your mics which makes it ever present in a recording. We managed to handle the conditions fairly well and even work with it at times, particularly at the first site where we attempted to capture sounds of a radio/gsm tower from a variety of angles using contact microphones. As these kinds of microphones are somewhat weather-proof there was less concern with them getting damaged by water. Below is a recording I made with two contacts mics placed on a single stay cable. You can hear the rain hitting the cable as well as the low resonance of the cable.

msfl cables by john_grzinich
How many recordists can fit around a cable?


Afterward we made our way out to an area of forests and fields. Our guide Stefan knew a few spots where we might find some sounds. In one of the fields we came across a flock of migrating swans who were particularly vocal, most likely amplified because of our presence. Stefan rolled out about 20 meters of cable with 2 omni microphones in a zeppelin which helped shield the rain. This allowed Jukka to get a 9 minute recording without too many interruptions. Below you can listen to a short excerpt.

migrating swans
migrating swans gathering in a field outside Malax


The skies eventually parted and the next day we were thankful to have a clear sunny day. We decided to head out to the coastal island area northwest of Vaasa to a park on the water. Apart from a few fishermen it was a fairly quiet open space for everyone to explore. After a few hours of doing so and some lunch around the campfire, we gathered on a large dock nearby to reflect. The last thing someone suggested to do was to drop some hydrophones into the water. Stefan had a pair of JrF hydrophones that we connected to my recorder. As we dropped them in we noticed a large ‘cloud’ of tiny fish swimming close to the surface. As we hit record, it was immediately apparent that the fish produced a unique sound as they swam about. Below is a short segment of that recording. At first the fish sound is stable making it sound like some kind of mechanical noise but at once the fish disperse and the noise fades away.

recording fish with hydrophones
recording a school of fish with hydrophones. photo by Jukka Rajala-Granstubb.


On the last day we focused on selecting and editing some of our recordings. From our pool of sounds we developed a short ‘score’ for a live mix . While our score provided a rough sequence for the mix, much of what came out had to be played by ear. This was helped by the fact that each participant could play their recordings through a specific set of speakers that were distributed throughout the space (we were lucky to have access to a 5.1 surround system and an additional pair of powered monitors). Our mix was not meant so much to be a ‘product’ of the workshop as it was an experience in working through a possible collaborative use for a group of field recordings. Given the amount of material I wanted to cover, we worked with a strong time constraint in the end that proved to be helpful for us to keep a focus on what to do with the amount of material we generated over the past 2 days. In the end it was an intense but productive workshop thanks to the great facilities and assistance we had at Malakta and the enthusiasm and dedication of the participants. 

the score for the final mix.
the score for the final mix. photo by Maja Rajala-Granstubb.

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