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Underwater Recording Workshop

By David Madden

Way back on January 11, I attended an underwater recording workshop entitled “Working With Underwater Noises,” led by Norwegian sound artist Jana Winderen at Galerie B-312 in Montreal’s infamous Belgo Building.  She is primarily known for her recordings and installations of underground environments in northern climates and deep underwater soundscapes, including the incorporation of various fish species.  The workshop was attended by sound artists, the very gracious people who run the gallery and a few sound scholars from Concordia University interested in refining and expanding their portable recording techniques.  Winderen opened the day with a two-hour lecture where she discussed her process (she likes to work alone and is an avid ice climber), the various projects she is currently working on and her history with sound production, which started with portable cassette tape recorders and microphones fastened to coat hangers, before moving onto her current set up, consisting of various microphones (e.g. DPA 4060s and DolphinEar hydrophones) and a sound devices portable recorder.

In the afternoon, the group moved to iles Sainte-Hélène (pictured below) to record the sounds of the St. Lawrence River, the moving ice and to test out some of Winderen’s techniques.  We used specially designed omnidirectional microphones called hydrophones for recording underwater, which have a good acoustic impedance match to water and can be attached to cables upwards of 100 metres for deep water recording.  Additionally, we experimented with a parabolic microphone, which focuses sounds using a dish or reflector, and the above-mentioned DPA 4060s attached to a boom, adept at recording the surface sounds of water and ice.  This type of recording is very challenging and involves intense mime-like stillness due the sensitivity of the microphones, a certain comfort in difficult and cold weather climates and the strength to carry all of the necessary equipment.

Photo: Cecilia Chen

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  1. Marianne Decoster-Taivalkoski, media and sound artist, Finlande
    April 12, 2012 at 8:42 am

    Very interesting. Can you describe the kind of sounds you heard there in iles Sainte Hélène and the relationship between nature environment sounds and urban environment sounds? Thanks a lot.

    • April 19, 2012 at 10:20 am

      Hi Marianne, thanks for the question! On the particular winter day (Jan. 11) that we went to the island for the workshop, the primary sounds in the area were water sounds–and in particular, moving water and ice sounds. The strait/channel is narrow enough that the current can be very strong and when we were recording/listening, the water/ice was moving at a very steady pace. These water and ice sounds, in addition to a strong wind, were really the only ‘nature’ sounds present on that day (aside from the sounds that the workshop participants made). Interestingly, though, the island is removed enough from the city that the “urban environment sounds,” as you call them, are not too present in the soundscape. For instance, intermittent car sounds form a distant backdrop to the various sounds of the island.
      Please let me know if you have any follow up questions. It’s great hearing from you!

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