Ambisonic composition, 2023, 25′

The starting incentive of each sonic exploration begins at a point of an encounter, a chance event during experimental field recording. That is from a habit of a durational practice. I hear something I have not heard before or feel poetically driven by a thing. Those are encounters with singing bridges or unexpected echoes at the bank of a small stream. Recording with hydrophones pulled me towards listening to the unlikely precipitation of watery atmospheres around the canals and lakes in The Hague and the sea in Scheveningen. My first recordings were of raindrops on an iron fence on my balcony in Mariahoeve. I was interested in the rhythmic resemblance of waterdrops on iron fence and gamelan, which I later connected to Tetsurō Watsuji’s A Climate: A Philosophical Study, in which he stipulates that our environment greatly influences the shapes of our culture. I found it amusing that the layering of raindrops on an iron fence in The Netherlands resembles the rhythmic complexity of Indonesian classical music, two geographically remote countries with troubled political connections. So, I first contributed the recording to the Sounding the Spui, an 18-channel installation during Rewire, The Hague (2022), curated by Justin Bennett as an outcome of the field recording workshop. I later recomposed the contribution for the field recording 6-channel composition, (Re)Sounding the Spui, played at Composing Spaces Festival at Amare, The Hague (2023).

I made a first draft of the Voluminous Movement of a Watery Earth composition in the OTTOsonics ambisonic system (Austria) during an artistic residency in June 2022 with an IEM encoder and decoder. At the time, I focused on experimenting with movement, localisation, and convolutions and their impact on the perception of space. The result was an illustrative sequence of watery sounds with some initial ideas for later composition. In addition, I started to develop coherence and believability of simultaneously used sounds. Annea Lockwood’s A Sound Map of the Danube and several compositions by Manja Ristić and Jana Winderen were invaluable inspirations.

Water is a rewarding material. It rarely produces a disparity between fantastic experiences during field recording and the sonic output in the studio. Water usually sounds soothing or exciting, even when I listen to a waterfall with thick layers of white noise. Below, I list some of the more central field recording sessions from which I used materials for the piece with the name of a location, recording technique, year of production and geolocation.

– Soča River, hydrophone, 2021, 46°20’29.5″N 13°40’22.9″E.
– Rome, Fontana di Trevi, cardioid, 2022, 41°54’03.6″N 12°29’00.7″E.
– Hotavlje, active marble quarry, omnidirectional, 2022, 46°07’20.9 “N 14°07’00.8 “E.
– Pekel Gorge, cardioid, omnidirectional, hydrophone, 2022, 45°53’10.1″N 14°22’00.2″E.
– Ottensheim, storm, omnidirectional, 2022, 48°19’58.0″N 14°10’21.7″E.
– Sečovlje, Saltpans Natural Park, St. Bartholomew’s Canal, hydrophone, 2021, 45°29’53.2″N 13°35’36.7″E.
– Sava River, hydrophone, omnidirectional, 2022, 46°19’35.5″N 14°11’32.4″E.
– Haagse bos, frozen lake, hydrophone, geophone, 2022, 52°05’30.7″N 4°20’23.1″E.
– Westduinpark, omni, hydrophone, geophone, 2021, 52°04’55.4″N 4°14’03.5″E.
– Rotterdam, gardens, cardioid, 2022, 51°55’30.9″N 4°26’36.0″E.
– Haverkamp, rain on an iron fence, geophone, 2021, 52°05’25.0″N 4°21’02.0″E.

I started by identifying the qualities of collected water materials from tinny trickling droplets of a small stream or voluminous echoing of big drops in a quarry. Then, I dive into the overwhelmingly saturated white noise of a waterfall. Raindrops on an iron fence or an umbrella with a percussive gamelan-like rhythm. Metallic rain on a tin roof. A stream of people near fountains or footsteps on a flooded street. Sea water splashes and foams. Or, I listen to the muffled qualities of muddy waters, high resolution and high pitched flowing of crystal clear waters, or a reverberant multilayered sound with high pitch sweeps of a frozen lake. Contrary to other water sounds that have a clear direction, an abrupt thunderous storm appears and disappears abruptly, just like a bird splashing in the water. 

These qualities allow me to identify the thread of storytelling that expands my sound materials. For example, I remember a part of an improvisation session with musicians/friends (Tisa Neža Herlec, Philipp Ernsting, Josué W. Amador, and Filippos Glinavos) in Rotterdam at the end of 2021 in which we followed an image of water-like sounds. I used acousmatic fragments of those recordings as accents for the crystal-clear water recorded with a hydrophone.

Next, I converted clear melodic sequences of underwater recordings to MIDI and prepared them for an instrument with imitative qualities. I found a digital marimba instrument to resemble the trickling of water most accurately and layered those sequences on top of each other to produce richer harmonies.

Still, the piece needed more emotional and poetic identification. Therefore, I included a narrated vocal by a performer and storyteller, Ana Čavić, who has a beautiful timber and slightly high-pitched voice. She dictated a longer citation from Voegelin’s book (2019, 75), but I chose to use only allusions, such as “voluminous movement of the watery Earth,” that would slightly pull an associative flow. The words slowly granulated and merged with water sounds.

In addition, I used several modular patches recorded in VCV rack and Benjolin DIY synth that produces water-like sounds of droplets and several polyrhythmic and percussive sounds recorded with Buchla Easel.

The composition starts with a waterfall’s almost indistinguishable white noise, slowly becoming sparser and thinner in density and frequency spread. Slowly, trickling water appears under thick layers of white noise, joined by the chatter of a stream of tourists speaking in several languages. The meaning of the chatter is imperceptible. The scene is then submerged into a thick layer of lower frequency analogue oscillation and flooded by more abrupt analogue dust sound. A small stream comes closer and is spatialised as inflow and outflow towards the centre and out to the space. Then, the atmosphere shifts into many unrelated harmonic layers of diffused liquid digital instruments, vox sounds, oscillating frequencies of close miking of playing on glass, and the abovementioned improvisation session. The sequence slowly becomes rhythmic until distinct gamelan-like raindrops overtake the scene. Many rhythms merge into a distinct looping rhythm of walking on a flooded surface, bringing the listener to a grand reverberant hall with huge droplets and long, sustained delay. Then again, we immerse ourselves in a deep globular space with a melodic vox. Here, the narration appears, bringing us closer to the allusion of voluminous water. The scene continues with similar long drones with slightly lighter colouration and far away trickling of water that fuzzes with marimba samples. Occasionally an abrupt high-pitched tension of ice cuts the undulating soothing scene. The trickling becomes rhythmically more distinct, only to be abruptly cut by a clap of thunder, and the composition ends in noisy heavy rain resembling the beginning with the waterfall.