This was a working weekend. Marc, Phill and I (Ralph) convened at Marc’s house in Crewkerne for the weekend of 6 September. We spent the whole of the Saturday firstly listening to the seasonal sounds captured by the DIVA contemporary soundwalks from spring and early summer 2014. These had been painstakingly reviewed, edited and processed by SATSYMPH members. Due tocapacity limitations imposed by Google Play (for Android phones) the storage limit is about 40mb – so we have to be extremely selective about what content we choose for the app, so, sorry, 100mb of sheep baaing through creaky gate noises, with larks ascending in the distance, tho’, granted, of sonic interest just won’t fit. The processing is also not about changing the sounds made by participants, but rather involves things such as getting rid, as far as possible, of wind hiss, amplifying the compelling parts, and, in some cases, layering different clips to increase the effect. ‘Cleaning up’, in effect.
After reviewing the SSW clips we moved on to the evocative recordings of old farmers talking about their lives ‘in the old days’ – some wonderful stuff here, from the content POV and even more from their wonderful Dorset accents and ways of speaking! “We had to call the doctor, but he b’aint come in a car, he come in a horse and cart, and we had to go fetch him from Abbotsbury, that we did, fetch him from Abbotsbury, walk over an’ fetch ‘im. Then the doctor come, he did…” . We decided these dialogues were the backbone of the walk, and we interwove the SSW sound material in and around them.
The next step was to re-edit clips where required, then virtually locate them in sound regions using Appfurnace software. This involves a rather long process of importing the sound clips into Appfurnace, bringing up a Google map at the right level, drawing the shapes for the soundpools over the map, all the while discussing at length which clips go in which order for the creation of a compelling experience. It’s a compositional as well as a technical exercise, and what we are essentially doing is ‘experience-design’: the question at the forefront of our minds is ‘how will a user of the app experience the soundscape on the ground?’. A further calculation is working out how long it will take a person walking at a slow to medium pace to walk thru’ any particular soundpool (you don’t want the content to run out either long before, or long after they leave the soundpool) … but, of course, this again is basically uncontrollable: users may wish, once they have found a soundpool, to stand there and listen, then move on, or they may move slower, or faster than anticipated, they may go to sleep if it’s a sunny day, or sit down and have their lunch. So, not a science, more an art – the art of experience-design. What will the user do?
We’re still at the computer station, working virtually. Questions arise about ‘the sheep’. They’re a bit faint, even when ramped up. We decide to ask Phill to layer a few sheep sections to magnify the effect, loop and stagger them, so you don’t get the predictable (and annoying) Sheep A: ‘BAAAAaaaaa’ at precisely looped intervals … so it sounds like a flock of real sheep, in short, which it was, but you can’t hear them … over to you, Maestro Phill, the best baa none (sorry)…
Then it’s on to the simulation. We trot an avatar through the soundscape at what seems to be a reasonable walking pace. listen, readjust, move soundpools this that or the other way, make them smaller or larger … eventually we end up with something that sounds satisfying ON SCREEN (!!!). We retire to Charmouth Beach for a BBQ as the sun sets over Lyme Regis.
…and wake up with the lark. Oh, it’s Marc singing in the shower. Final touches (them sheeps is still refusing to behave) and we go ‘on site’ to White Hill Plantation and ‘the ampitheatre’.
We spent the day testing the soundscape on the ground. To repeat: what it sounds like in a simulation in the studio is NOT what it sounds like on the ground. That is the located soundscape creators’ credo: TEST IT IN SITU! We developed yet another tool in our armory: to people walk the ‘scape at a slow/medium pace, the third records what’s happening and how long it takes to walk thru’ each soundpool.
From this (lengthy) process – it was a nice day, warm to hot, bit muzzy in the distance towards Chesil Bank – we worked up a series of things that needed adjusting, such as the zone being too small, that sound not working in that actual location, the soundpools being wrongly placed etc. We had a dongle with us, but it couldn’t access the web from anywhere along the two arms of the walk, needing a clear view of a network tower. So we retired to the Hardy Monument about 2 miles up the road, which had a clear view of Dorchester, and thus, presumably, of a network tower somewhere, anywhere.
This proved the case. After sundry ‘workrounds’ involving Bluetooth, extra mobile power charger, wifi, personal hotspots etc, we got a good signal, linked to Appfurnace and pushed, pulled, teased, rebuilt the walk. Then drove back to White Hill Plantation and the ampitheatre and retested, with timings. Sounds great. Job’s a good ‘un. On to Bronkham Barrows for our next visit.