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Field Trip: Listening to Rocks

Updated: Jul 6, 2022

Open Invitation Recording Trip

On 28th of May 2022, A team of 5 individuals embarked on a trip to the Rocky hills near Magadi, about 40 kms from Bangalore. Their intention was to capture sonically, what this 2.5 billion year old, geological structure.. The 2 day recording initiative was focused on capturing space, vastness, stillness and reactions in the varied landscapes surrounding these rocks. The project aims to provide a perspective for the world we inhabit, without making the human being the largest player in the game. Anchored in The rocky landscape of Ramanagara, Karnataka, an ancient geological site, this team is trying to give the rocks, the trees and the animals and the non-human life the role of protagonist in their stories, leaving man as a witness in the vast scale of space and time around him.

The core team consists of the Open Platform collective - Shabari Rao (Lead Researcher) , Manush John, Navya Sah and Bindhumalini Narayanaswamy. Abhinav Suresh, from The Indian Sonic Research Organisation, tagged along for this particular expedition as a sound recordist.

This post was written by Abhinav Suresh

TheISRO Field Trip: Listening to Rocks


Day 1 : Listening to the Rocks

TheISRO Field Trip: Listening to Rocks

TheISRO Field Trip: Listening to Rocks

Day 1 began with Bindhumalini’s Performance in a small hollow between 3 large boulders. The 5 minute song was not a prepared performance, rather a reactionary improvisation based on how she felt in the space. She sang a few notes, listened to its echo between and rocks and led her performance on the instinctive responses to what she heard. The performance was captured through many microphones, namely a Contact/Piezo Microphone, A Shotgun Boom, A Lapel and a Mid Side. Each mic granted a unique perspective on the space and the artist’s voice. The Contact microphone rendered the vibrations of the voice, mixed with sounds from deep within the rocks, often in the forms of clicks, clacks, rumbles and thumps. The sound of shuffling sand mixed with the low end vibrations of wind grazing the rocky surface gives a feeling of placing one’s ear directly onto the surface of the hill.

The Mid Side Microphone allowed a wide field recording of what the space sounded like in complete stillness, in the absence of any observers.

Evening 1 : Valley Resonance

TheISRO Field Trip: Listening to Rocks

On the approach of the Sunset, the team set out to a valley formed between a large granite slope and a hill with a large Balancing rock. The intention was to record another performance that placed the voice of the performer in the overwhelming biophony of the valley. The intention was not to capture the performer in isolation, but rather the performance of the space she was performing with.

The method was to place the performer (Bindhu) a distance of over 100 m away from the microphones, which were perched at the elevated balancing rock. The mics used were a Shotgun Boom pointing at the valley, a Bidirectional Microphone and an Ambisonic Microphone.

The Bidirectional and Ambisonic Microphones rendered allowed for the creation of a sonic painting of the location, which were filled with cicadas, crickets, and birds of every kind.

The recording revealed how reactionary the songs of each creature were and how the reactions were not only to their kin, but also to that of the human performer. There were moments when the cicadas would pause their singing to give way to the human voice, and resume once the human song stopped.

Night 1 : A Performance around nature Set up inside the bounds of an open verandah overlooking a grove, two performers gave a musical opera with the sound of the crickets and trees as their orchestral partners.

A shotgun boom and condenser were placed diagonally opposite to each other. The bidirectional and ambisonic microphone were placed in the centre of the stage to capture the performance in a large field of hearing.

The performers rendered various improvised notes and tones and set the Raag Karaharapriya in the space and moved around to provide a spatial differentiation in the recording.

Day 2: Listening to the Forest

TheISRO Field Trip: Listening to Rocks

TheISRO Field Trip: Listening to Rocks

The Team set up a listening experiment in a nearby patch of forest, early in the morning, where each microphone and sound recording listened to the biophony of the wilderness for 30 minutes.

The Bidirectional Microphone was placed on an overhanging ledge in the centre of the grove and set to capture 360 degrees of the sound. The recording captured the sound of the forest waking up, wind rustling through the leaves and the handover of the music from the crickets of the night to the cicadas of the day.

Following the long listening session, another performance was created with 3 participants. The participants had to create reactionary sounds to their landscape and see how their voices blended in the music of the nature that surrounded them. The aim was again not the capture the performer’s voice, but the vastness of the integrated biophony around them

The trip ended with each member forming a newfound appreciation for what sound means in nature. Mountains, rocks and forest are humongous in size, but listen to them through a high powered microphone and you can hear the different microscopic elements that help make the large picture.

To walk and hear the ground where dinosaurs once roamed, will force a human being to accept his minute place in the vastness of time and space of the Earth.


About the Project:

Open Invitation is a part of Openlab The Witness by Sonic Matter

The project is supported by by Swiss Arts Council Pro Helvetia under the "To-Gather" grant.

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