metamorphosis: Tadpole concrète

Tadpoles in the pond at winnall moors

24/06/10
The pond in the moors is becoming one of my favourite listening posts. An aquatic cul-de-sac, the pond is a wet full stop at the end of a straight line that leads you away from the circular path around the moors. From the pond you can look into the reed beds and listen to the rustle of warblers moving through them: but what about the sounds beneath the water?
The development of microphone technologies has extended listening as the microscope and telescope have extended seeing: contact microphones allow us to listen to the inner vibrations of matter; the Hydrophone takes listening out of the air and into the water.
In May the pond was almost completely black with tadpoles, I lowered a hydrophone into the water to hear what I could see. There was some sort of sound, but at very low levels. In June there was a second batch of tadpoles and I tried again.  The sound was louder, but when amplified the hissing noise of the microphone smothered the slippery ‘noise’ of the tadpoles. I used a computer to filter the sound and isolate the tadpoles from the noise of the recording. Normally, I try to alter the recordings as little as possible, so that I can listen to the sounds as they are: let sounds be themselves as John cage said. But then again, with every recording, I point the microphone toward some sounds and consequently away from others.  The microphone I use alters the sound I record and without the interference of technology these wet sounds would remain unheard.
The technologies (records and tapes) that enabled us to record the acoustics of our everyday life also allowed us to alter the sounds we recorded: to metamorphose the sonic world around us. In the 1940/50’s, the French composer Pierre Schaeffer began using tape machines to make music out of the raw material of sound. Musique Concrète as it became known, heralded a new form of music and proposed a new form of listening, revealing the possible sounds lurking in those sounds around us.

As I filtered my tadpoles concrete, I heard them escape into the abstract landscapes of sound. But, when I listen back, my ear leans toward the noisy slurp of the ‘original’, the lightly filtered pool of possible frogs swimming around my hydrophone: let tadpoles be themselves.

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