Sound Engineering Week 1

To learn more about the medium I work in, I’ve started a sound engineering course with Saffron for Sound in Bristol. Other than feeling horrifically car sick, I had a really good time and learnt a lot. It was good to talk likeminded people, especially since we’ve all come from different backgrounds and have a different take on sound.

Week 1 was mainly about hearing and acoustics. I learnt a lot about the physical properties of sound, and different things that can affect it. Sound waves are essentially vibrations, so they need a vibrating body to ring. That’s why instruments always have a body of some sorts: the wooden body of a string instrument, the metal body of a flute, etc. Sound travels through air molecules to reach our ears and enable us to hear.

90% of sound engineering is the room you are in. Reflection, absorption, and diffusion all affect how we hear. Reflection (or reverb) creates echoes. It’s caused by the sound waves ricocheting off of reflective surfaces, bouncing the sound back. Hamilton Mausoleum has one of the longest echo times in the world:

The Royal Albert Hall, built for music performance, is one of the worst spaces for performance because of it’s huge echo caused by the domed ceiling.The problem hasn’t been solved, but the installation of large ‘mushroom’ diffusers (that absorb the echos) has improved it greatly. You can adjust the space you’re in to improve the acoustics and tailor it to what you want.

Different materials vibrate in different ways and have different affects too. Sponge, for example, absorbs sound – a good choice to absorb an unwanted echo, but not for an instrument’s vibrating body. Metal and wood are both good materials as they resonate well.

One of the most interesting parts of the session for me was learning about how we affect the sound we hear. Psychoacoustics studies how we receive sound and how it can be affected by our mood, bodily state, ideas, upbringing, etc. Biologically as well, sound differs from person to person. Women have a slightly better reception of higher sounds due to evolving to hear babies better. Our physical size, shape of our ear, etc all affects our hearing too – even our hairstyles.

Echo is something you tend to want to cut out when recording – it distorts sound, prevents a clean, editable track. I think it could be very interesting, however. I recorded a sound piece on the stairwell in 1st year, exploiting it’s echo qualities. What if the echo could create some interesting effects in the recording process? Positioning the mic in different locations from the source of the sound? Or playing tracks in the echo space?



In the first week seminars, the topic we discussed that interested me most was skill. This is something I’ve thought about a lot in the last year, especially in relation to my own practice.  My photo for the summer work was grouped with three other students for being ‘skilled’, (because it didn’t fit anywhere else) and I learnt more about skill and what I think of it.

I think with skill-fully made artworks, or works that showcase craftsmanship, have some indisputable value. They don’t need to hide behind a concept or artist statement, because something well made has value in itself. Take a mug for example: if it is well made it will perform it’s function well. You can dislike it aesthetically, but you can’t deny it’s craftsmanship. Skill can also support you financially: Angharad Pearce Jones works both as an artist and a welder for clients. She uses her skill to support herself.

I felt lost in my practice because I felt I wasn’t ‘skilled’. I’m starting a sound engineering course to gain the skills I lack, but I’ve also realised skill doesn’t just mean practical prowess.

At the start of this Svend Bayer video, he talks about skill and craftsmanship. He says that he used to think good craftsmanship must be evident in a piece, but now thinks skill can actually hinder you. Skill can help you carry out your ideas, but you still need the ideas. I think that’s where the distinction between craft and art lies: with skill alone you are a craftsman, with skill and ideas you are an artist.



Over the past year I’ve been honing in on my practice in sonic art, expanding on both what I make and how I exhibit it. Sound has the ability to change our perception of a space without physically altering anything. It can be inescapable (you can’t close your ears), or something you choose to engage with (eg using headphones).  I’ve also developed my curatorial skills further, something which influences my dissertation on how curation can enhance our sensory engagement of art. Sound has been of huge importance within this. I think the way that text is used in galleries to disperse information often diminishes our experience of the work, so experimenting with sound and language has begun my research into creating a new curatorial language.

The piece presented here is a sonic map I created in response to my time invigilating in Venice, and an accompanying graphic score.



1. A post that evidences the material and conceptual exploration and thinking that initiated and led to the development of your own original

2. A post that documents some of the key aspects of the Site Venue project that you participated in.

3. A post that documents some of the technical skills you have learnt and developed over the course of this year with regards to to the production of your artworks.

4. A key post of your own choosing that illuminates your studio practice.

5. A key post of your own choosing that illuminates your studio practice.



1. A post that demonstrates the most influential concepts you have gained from the Key Concept lecture series with a brief, but specific, description of how this has influenced your practice.

2. A post that demonstrates a key contextual contemporary reference you found through your continued research with your studio practice.

3. A post that indicates your contextual research and thinking about how artists display and disseminate their work with regards to your final work presented for site venue project or your final exhibition.

4. A contextual post of your own choosing.

5. A contextual post of your own choosing.





Final Book

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Here is the finished score! I’m quite pleased with how it turned out, but I also think there’s a lot more I can do with this. That’s how I feel about both of my final pieces – I’ve been ambitious and tried new things etc, and now  I’ve taken the positives and negatives from them and can expand further in future.

  • I think the choice to use only line was the right one. Colour would have confused the images, and it’s not how I interpret the score so would have been dishonest and inaccurate.
  • The format of the book works well. It reads and handles well, which is what I wanted.
  • I was very neat and measured with some sections, and more expressive with others. Unintentionally this reflects how I made these sections – the more expressive lines match sections that were more recorded stuff from Venice, whereas the rigid structures were the parts I constructed myself from scratch. It’s interesting how I hear them differently.

I want to explore the book as an object more. I’ve struggled this year finding a medium to display visual work in, and I think books are the perfect one. I think they’re more grounded in reality than video etc. You can hold them, leaf through them etc. This tactile experience of books is what makes them stand out to me I think.

As for the set up of the exhibition, I went for something humble: a shelf for the book, and a hook for the headphones. The piece is meant to be an experience, and I think having flashy curation would diminish that. I think in hindsight, I might add a stool/chair. The piece is 20 minutes long, and if people want to fully engage with it then maybe having a place to sit would encourage a longer interaction.

Key Concept Review

I didn’t realise the key concepts were meant to be so important, they felt very sporadic. They were interesting, but none of them really affected my practice that much. The one that probably had the biggest effect was James’ on the Everyday. I think I learnt from it not to be so serious about all of my artistic output. It’s okay to make more lighthearted things that don’t necessarily relate to my conceptual progression, because the act of making and being creative is beneficial in itself.

Because of this, I’m going to make Raisinquest over the summer. Raisinquest is a survey I did over the Christmas Holidays where I interviewed people on their opinions of raisins. I’ve wanted to collate the information into a book for months, so now I shall.

Making the Score

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I was torn with the score. I didn’t know whether to go for purely line drawings, or add aspects of colour – some of the scores I researched were purely b/w, some colour. B/w seemed the natural option, but then colour could depict parts in more detail maybe?

I went for b/w line drawings in the end. The way I work is always in b/w, and I never think of sound as colour, always as shapes and lines. To use colour would be a dishonest depiction I think. Restricting it to line ended up allowing me to use line more creatively too – like I learnt in circle line, restrictions can make you more creative etc. I made the score from sketches I had done whilst making the piece, and listening to it over and over and interpreting it.

Constructing the Book

Finding the right form for the book took quite a while, but it was worth the time – I think the form suits the score well. I’ve chosen to do a 9 page concertina book with a cover. Each page will depict a minute of the piece, and it will flow from left to right, then flip to the other side. I chose to do a paper cover as the contents of the book it quite delicate – I didn’t want the cover to overpower it. I think the less formal cover keeps a ‘working’ essence to it as well. The score will be very linked to my ways of working, so I don’t want to stray too far from that.

The construction was really difficult to work out, because for the amount of pages I had it would open so the edge was facing inwards. This disrupted the flow of the book and the score, so after a lot of thought I worked out a solution of removing a page – I thought my piece was closer to 20 minutes, but it’s only just over 19 so losing one page doesn’t matter.

Above is the model I made for the book. Again, as I said previously about being precise and caring over craftsmanship, taking the time to plan it out and try different formats meant my book form is exactly as I wanted, not a ‘that’ll do’.

The actual book form itself went really well – I really cared over it, and it looks neat and professional as a result. Now I need to fill it.