Networked_Music_Review

“Microclimates III-VI” by Natasha Barrett

glacialloop1small.jpgMicroclimates III-VI is a sound installation and concert. The installation plays in almost complete blackout so that the ears focus on the tiny details in the sound. A 3-D sound-space is created using 3rd-order ambisonics spatialisation projected over 16 loudspeakers. The playing duration and arrangement is designed for each exhibition context. The concert version combines spatialisation performance with pre-programmed spatial information.

Natasha Barrett uses a recording technique following the acousmatic composition heritage. Here composing begins at the sound recording stage, improvising with less conventional recording techniques and capturing a spatial and spectral microphone ‘performance’. Often the result is one of placing the source under a sound-microscope. In Microclimates III-VI it is the complete environment of each location that is placed under a sound-microscope.

Most of the sound-sources are purely the environment acting naturally on itself and on the recording equipment. In a few instances some sounds were coaxed for the microphones – sounds that would happen naturally, but seldom, and never when you are ready. Small rock falls. Tearing moss and rotten wood. Popping leaf buds. The movements:

Microclimate III: Glacial Loop

On my first attempt to record sound at the foot of Briksdalsbreen glacier I arrived when the wind was so strong that it forced rain horizontally into my face and body. For brief milliseconds I could open my eyes to glimpse a blue ice monolith through the turmoil. Some days later, on my second attempt, the scene was completely different. Although grey and drizzling, there was not a breath of wind and the forms in the ice were revealed: an enormous wall of blue twists and gashes suspended vertically an unknown distance away across a lake. Instinctively I jumped into the small rowing boat and with ceremony descended two hydrophones (underwater microphones) into the water. Our guide rowed so close to the face of the glacier that as my microphones recorded its electrical sparking, sucking, squeaking, whistling, burning and clicking sounds, I could at the same time run my hands over the smooth curves of its close-up form. To this constant singing and talking was added a single underwater ice fall. Slowly and gracefully the boat glided away from the face. Glacial Loop is an evocation of this boat journey.

Microclimate IV: Wet Face

Wet Face takes sound from marsh birds, dripping water, squelching mud, tearing moss and rotten tree-wood in the Sandane area. Initially the forces appear gentle. Later, when I subject the microphones to what for our normal ears is a gentle pitter-patter, we hear the bombardment and force in a different light. The rhythmic performance of incessant dripping had begun when I arrived. Its millisecond timing was ‘computer’ perfect. I expect it will be the same year after year. Maybe the rhythm will change as the rock is eroded.

Microclimate V: Water Fall

For Water Fall I threw two hydrophones off a bridge into the white rapids of ‘Holvik fossen’ (Gloppen), while keeping four more microphones stationary to capture the air-born soundscape. Turbulence and eddies dragged the hydrophones through local current systems, tossed them suddenly into the air or further down stream, smacked them into opposite eddies or plunged them into imploding air cavities. After a while I learnt a little about the waterfall’s system and attempted to anticipate where the microphones would end up and what type of sound they would capture. This proved interesting play – in one moment I had steered the microphones, at another moment the waterfall had tricked my anticipation.

Microclimate VI: Remote gale

The timing of my trip meant that an excursion to Utvaer would not enable entrance into the main attraction of the lighthouse, nor to overnight on the island. Instead the idea was to overnight at Hardbakke – a westerly point of the mainland – and daytrip by boat to the island. When I arrived at the accommodation a full storm brewed in the distance. Later that evening I received an SMS from an old sailor friend reading “full storm, 40 knots south westerly. This is no weather for sailing in the open ocean. Stay on land”. The next morning a call came from the captain saying he needed more time to get hold of a “bigger boat”… The driving rain and wind had clearly not deterred him, so I used this extra time to waterproof my equipment. Out at sea my stomach continually leapt into my mouth. At Utaer the wind and rain drove horizontally (an experience I would once again have at the glacier). Even with a thick weather shield over my microphones I needed to find windbreaks. The wind sung around every rock, every corner, through every gap. It was so strong you could even hear the airborne wind sound on hydrophones in the sea. The island was scattered with small houses. At one end rose the lighthouse. Open porches offered some rest from the raw weather. The lighthouse’s locked door hid a tower of still air. The wind knocked me over and one stereo microphone became entangled in a thorny bush. I let the wind buffet both bush and microphone as one, recording continuously.

adsonora-small.jpgNatasha Barrett’s work spans the extremes of concert electroacoustic and acousmatic composition through to sound-art, large-scale installations and live performances. The focus of this work stems from an acousmatic approach to sound, the aural images it can evoke, and an interest in high quality or unusual recording techniques that reveal detail the ear will normally miss. Although she is freelance, she tries to sustain the research side of her work as she finds this adds important life to her artistic creations. The spatio-musical potential of acousmatic sound has been one of her research and creative interests over the past ten years.

Most of the time she calls herself a composer rather than a sound-artist. As a composer she creates large scale forms of intense musical structure that requires the listener to listen attentively throughout the duration of the work. These works are most suited to concert hall, home listening or radio. As a sound-artist she presents the audience with an open experience that allows their own choice of listening approach. These works are mainly in the form of installations (sometimes interactive), and they may also exist for home listening. Both types of work may contain similar sound and a similar approach to sound. The critical difference is the approach to structure, time and intended affect of the listener. You can find more of her work here.


Jan 16, 2008
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Networked_Music_Review (NMR) is a research blog that focuses on emerging networked musical explorations.

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