Final Compositions

After a lot of recording, thinking, listening we finally come to this.

The “completed” works:

In the future I hope to make something with the third set of recordings, the Oslo urban sounds and the Akerselva, which sadly hasn’t been possible within this project.


Trip Three: Recording Part Four

For the final full day of my time in Norway I headed to the centre of town and the waterfront.

It is in this area that the river Akerselva meets the Oslofjord, finally completing its journey weaving down through the centre of the city. The river actually disappears underground at this point, entirely consumed by the city.

Screen shot 2014-02-22 at 21.08.11

This area along the waterfront is home to extensive redevelopment. I walked around on the roof of the Opera house and captured some excellent construction sounds as these large diggers forced metal pylons into the ground. With the direct sound and the reflections off of the surfaces of the opera house and other nearby buildings it presented a very appealing soundscape.

Following this I walked back up towards the palace and my hotel. En route I was able to capture a rich and complex soundscape along Karl Johans gate.

After this I walked back to the hotel, grabbed my laptop and headed across to the studios for my last session booked in studio Nordheim.

Trip Three: Recordings Part Three

Vigeland Mausoleum

Today I visited the Vigeland Mausoleum, a building with one of the longest reverberations in the world, around 20s in total, but actually you only get to hear about 8s on my recording due to the movement and actions of the other persons within the space.

Interestingly, upon entering the space we were given instructions not to speak. This engendered a rather interesting reaction, in that everyone really wanted to make sound but were too polite to do so. So, there was a lot of loud stepping, coughing (I may have started the trend for this!) and occasional whistling. As such the recording of this space alone could serve as an interesting document for exploring the human reaction to spaces and in pushing the boundaries of quiet. What is socially acceptable, what sounds can you get away with while still being ‘quiet’?

One other sound that I was able to record was the excellent squeak/screech of the chairs against the floor of the mausoleum. This created a very nice pitched decay which at one point even had the interesting social effect of causing all other persons in the space to stop moving, I think that everyone was listening to this sound, engaging in a shared appreciation of this forbidden noise.

Metro and NationalTheatret station.

After the mausoleum I headed back into town on the metro. I was travelling with Magnus Brugge who had kindly offered to visit mausoleum with me. It’s a good thing he did because it was a little out of the way, with no real signs providing direction to the place. But I would very much recommend the trip to anyone interested in sound.

We headed over to the NationalTheatret station to the circular room that Anders T had mentioned in December. On the way we passed down some excellent escalators which made a wonderful clanking sound and onto one of the platforms which was a giant concrete tube. I captured the sound of a train in this space, though was perhaps a little too far along the platform when the train arrived to capture the full sense of the space.

Passing back out from the other end of the platform we travelled back up some escalators (not such a cool sound) along a corridor and into the circular space. This room had a stepped ceiling, with sections gradually reducing in diameter. The space created a very present flutter reverb, with a small metal disk at the centre of the floor that served as a sounding object (rocking back and forth when stepped on). The space was interesting and perhaps effective as a piece of sonic architecture but I’m not sure if I’ll end up using this sound in my piece.

Trip Three: An evening of amazing sounds! And a completed composition.

Obviously I no longer had the recording kit. Oh cruel fate. Damn you!

  • There was a low flying helicopter with its sound being reflected of the buildings in the street.
  • A ridiculous car that struggled its way up the hill sounding like it’d lost its exhaust and possibly a few cylinders too.
  • Some great tram noises – clacking overhead wires, screeching across points etc.
  • And all to a calm and quiet backdrop of Torshov at 10:30pm.

This was my last night in Oslo with an early flight the next day so I was heading back to my hotel to pack and prepare for the trip home.

Is there any GOOD news?

Yes. A completed piece! This evening I tweaked and finalised the initial NOTAM piece, the one that I began on my first visit.

Conversation this afternoon with Gyrid was very good, she told me not to listen to everything that Anders said (he encouraged me to make all of my sounds louder and more assertive*) but comments from both of them about my aesthetic design were very useful and these combined with the time away from the piece enabled me to crack on and make some very important final tweaks to the piece.

Final Changes to the Initial Composition

  • I made my quiet sounds quieter again: creaks, reverb-y thuds etc.
  • I reined in the pitched and spinning sounds in the second section of the work, to give them more form, development and a trajectory.
  • I made the keyboard solo start more cohesively, after a mouse gesture. And end at the climax of the mouse section.
  • Major development of the flitting sounds were made (see below).
  • And the tolling resonant bells were also shifted at the end of the piece, so as to tie in more naturally with the subtle ebbs and flows in the ambient field recording made outside NOTAM.

Development of the Flitting Sounds

These had all been developed from a single recording, and were simply transposed / time-stretched versions. This changed their spectral content but meant that they retained similar gestural forms (all be it to different durations).

So I dragged out my old favourite, CDP, and used the ‘Scramble’ function to reorder the original gestures, creating a diversity of new flitting gestures. I edited some of these to smooth out any rough gestures (mainly the loud ‘click’ sound from the original recording) and started to assemble these within the piece.

With the new diversity of flitting gestures I was able to really populate this section of the work much more densely than I had previously, and it quickly became clear that these flitting sounds needed to respond and interact with the resonant tolling of this section.

I didn’t however want them to simply respond slavishly to the envelop of the resonant tolling sound. Instead I tried to construct them in a contrapuntal gesture, somewhat like ivy wrapping itself around another plant or a trellis. This created an interweaving texture which, I think, works quite well. And reflects more appropriately the life and energy that was present in the original ‘flit’ recording.

As the resonant tolling section increases in energy so does the pace and intensity of the ‘flitting sounds’ but they retain their independence gesturally, darting about around the resonant tolling sounds and slowly coming back to rest at the end. So perhaps they acted more like the fake snow in a snow globe? With the resonant sound shaking them up, until it resides, at which point they slowly came back to rest.

Final Mastering

On getting back to my hotel room I realised that the whole piece was lop sided. In the Nordheim studio the computer sits to the right hand side of the room whirring furiously away. This had clearly made me compensate by increasing the levels in the right hand channel.

So in final mastering I had to go back in and reduce the right hand level by 10%, in order to rebalance the channels and make the wide acoustic spaces appear more natural. This did have the knock on effect of interfering with the panning in some of the louder more gestural sections (the introductory gestures and the central ‘mouse’ section of the work).

Reflecting at the End

Time will tell wether the work is any good. I think that the piece is probably quite weak structurally. There was no overarching structural idea for the work, instead it evolved and as exploration of individual spaces and rooms within NOTAM, moving from the Studio, to the Offices, to the Kitchen and finally outside on the river.

The many excellent sounds could very easily be used in the development of another work that is devised in a more ordered and planned fashion. But we shall see, I look forward to peoples comments on this work and any pointers they might give which could highlight the sources of my anxiety.

More work could be done, but I am fairly happy with how the work has developed. And here is an ideal time to leave this work and move on to the next.

“that I could do something more does not mean that I have not finished it.”

John Boler (1964) Habits of thought, p.394 – as quoted in Umberto, Eco’s Limits of Interpretation, p.32.

Trip Three: Recordings Part Two

This quote fills me with confidence:

These three states–the physical (sensual), the aesthetic and the moral-rational, correlate with three phases of man’s relationship to Nature. He first suffers, then emancipates himself, and then attains mastery. 

Friedrich Schiller (1794) On the Aesthetic Education of Man in a Series of Letters.

Recording the Source of the Arkeselva – Maridalsvannet

I headed out to record the sounds of the Arkeselva because of its significance in the history of Oslo (particularly in the way that it powered the industrial revolution here) and decided that I should start at the beginning, its source.


“First he suffers …”

Of course, this being Norway in a warm winter, it soon began to rain. Which was fine for a short while, and provided some very nice dripping sounds. But though its a ‘warm winter’ this simply means that its wetter, and I soon became rather drenched and chilly. So I cut short my intended plan, which was to walk the whole river back down to Grunneløkka, and hopped back on the tram.


Both the Rycote and I got pretty wet.

“… then he emancipates himself …”

So once warmed up and in the dry I set about examining the recordings that I had made, and trying to extract some usable and interesting details. One revelation that I had when recording a babbling brook is that I must be careful. The world probably doesn’t need yet another electroacoustic piece made up of “water sounds”.

But luckily, I think I found a few other interesting sounds while I was out and about.

“… then attains mastery.”

That’s the goal anyway. We’ll see.

As I scroll though and listen to these sounds some ideas are stirring. But I don’t want to get carried away with any inflated ideas of “mastery”. Let’s get a sketch for this piece first, then we can talk about making it sound half decent.

It’s nice to dream that “mastery” might be tangible though…….

More Schiller?

If you’re interested in more about where the quote at the top came from then you should check out this blog post championing Schiller’s book, On the Aesthetic Education of Man in a Series of Letters.

Trip Three: Recordings Part One

All along, I had intended these final field recordings to encourage my exploration slightly further afield in Oslo. In the end, they might not have taken me far, but I did discover (what I think are) interesting sounds.

Most of my time in Oslo has been spent shuttling back and forth between NOTAM and my accommodation. This time I deacided to head of in a different and new direction, on a route that took me into different acoustic spaces and through different soundscapes.


It wasn’t a long journey but it offered up a diversity of interesting sounds. Here are a few:

Trip Three: Discussion with Anders Tveit

One of the people who inspired me to come to NOTAM in the first place was Anders T whom I met in Paris in January 2013 when we both presented works at the GRM’s Akousma festival.

Unfortunately he’s proved to be a little elusive over the times that I have been here in Oslo, but I was finally able to meet up with him for a conversation about the project, and he also showed me where I could find good beer (though frighteningly expensive).

I can’t quote any wise statements directly from our discussion but I can present my thoughts on the project after our discussion, which I jotted down while Anders was off buying drinks at the bar.


Composition One takes the sounds of the studio and highlights the divergent compositional approaches that this theme (of “Quiet”) encourages.

  • Is a more naturalistic approach adopted? (Presenting quiet sounds quietly, in a more natural state).
  • Or should a more interventionist approach be used? (Whereby quiet sounds are taken and amplified into the foreground).

The two subsequent works in the project might each explore one of these trajectories. EITHER ambient / soundscape OR highly gestural and developed.

Natural or Processed.

  • Quiet sounds in its natural state.
  • Or quiet sounds highlighted to draw attention to their beauty.

Now, time for some hard thinking [sic].