Wednesday, 31 December 2014

120 Seconds Over Ladywell Fields: running track sound recording

My friend Richard Sanderson runs a record label, Linear Obsessional Recordings featuring 'experimental, improvised, and other music that falls through the cracks'. He recently invited people to submit tracks for a compilation album with the rules 'that the works had to be exactly two minutes long, and that at some point in the recording process a microphone should have been used'.

As he is interested in soundscapes and location recordings I decided to put a piece together based on running round the track at my local Ladywell Arena. The piece, '120 Seconds Over Ladywell Fields', is one of 87 tracks from all over the world featured on the album 'Two Minutes Left', released this week. The tracks, as Richard says, 'are as diverse as it's possible to imagine- from full, immaculately produced studio works to hissy smartphone recordings- and throughout there are things to remind you that you're listening to real people in real places - birdsong, pets, breathing, conversation, and the location recordings run from the electrobabble of a Shanghai cab ride to the near silence of night on the Argentinian Pampas, to the sounds of the pub or a football match. In between are some gloriously recorded musical vignettes by some of the most extraordinary musicians around... it seems to me to be ultimately a celebration of being human, and a celebration of friendship and collaboration'. You can download the album here.


Recording it wasn't quite so easy as imagined. I tried various ways of recording footsteps, in the end I got the best result from attaching a contact mic to one of my running shoes as I ran round, with the lead feeding up my tights to an old school portable cassette recorder. The combination of the footsteps on the track and the friction of the mic on the shoes created the castanet effect 'rhythm track'. The breathing was recorded as I ran round again with mic attached to collar of my top - this also picked up the sound of parakeets in the trees alongside the track. Finally, using Audacity, I mixed over the sound of some of Ladywell's runners from Kent Athletic Club (me included) and others taking part in the South of the Thames Cross Country race on Wimbledon Common last month - the sound extracted from some found film footage of the start of the race.

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