Thursday, September 11, 2008

Coney Island

Faint sounds

I went to Coney Island last  Sunday and sat on the beach.  I tried to tune in to the faintest sounds I could hear.

There was a low bass drone, sometimes subsumed by the sound of the surf -- what was it?  A motor of some kind?  One of the large ships out at sea?  A distant airplane?  At one point, a very loud motorboat swept back and forth, probably about a quarter-mile off shore.  Perhaps that was it.

The wind in one's ears is a natural effect of a location that we usually try to avoid when recording -- but it's there in reality all the time, even when walking.  The wind was one of the sometimes faint, sometimes loud components of the aural environment.

There were also subtle changes in the perceived space when somebody walked by my listening position.  Even when the person could not be heard, the changes in the stereo field (for lack of a better term) could be perceived.

The soft, whispy sounds of footsteps in the sand were also discernible.

Bass sounds tend to carry farther over long distances -- that is, those that start off as loud bass  sounds, like the boat motor.  Otherwise, it seems, sounds with a lot of high-end content, like piercing seagull shreiks or even whispy footsteps in the sand, tend to cut through the other sounds in the area.

Repeatable sounds

One thing that caught my ear at Coney Island, this time on the boardwalk, was the sound of the "Shoot the Freak" game.  I don't know if you've ever been there -- the barker has a distinctive style of delivery, with well-punctuated phrases, and a sort of drawn-out way of speaking.  The meter of his speech can be pronounced sometimes:  "Come-ON-you-mesh-UG-gan-ah".  Also, in the old go-kart lot (I think) somewhere behind the boardwalk, they were playing Public Enemy's "Fight the Power" really loud on a sound system, so there would be opportunities in picking up parts of its rhythm in the background.

I'm reminded here of something:  It's been a while since I heard it, but in Steve Reich's "It's Gonna Rain," I think there is a sound of some kind of vehicle going by in the far background at one point.  It is a low descending bass tone.  This was an outdoor recording, and here was this normal bit of background "noise."  But when the preacher's voice (the subject of the recording) was looped, the bass drone changed to a more prominent part of the sound -- it was like a musical note.  At least this is my memory of it ... it's been a while...

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