The Sonification of Morecambe Bay

Boynton, Neil (2012) The Sonification of Morecambe Bay. Winchester University Press, Winchester.

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A Study in Observation The Sonification of Morecambe Bay is a video about observation, how events that we might not normally see or hear in the environment can be brought within the limits of our perception. The video presents an uninterrupted series of over 6,000 images taken during a four-day period in January/February 2010. Weather data captured concurrently with the images control elements of the soundtrack, offering new ways of perceiving the mix of ephemeral events and large-scale rhythms of the environment. The video presents images of Morecambe Bay, Lancaster: the horizon is deliberately placed to bisect the image at the midway point. Above, the main source of action is the clouds, below the ebbing and flooding of the tide. Other elements come into view from time to time: birds can be seen wading along the edge of the water or flying in the sky, fishing boats come and go. The time compression brings into focus events beyond the limits of our ordinary perceptions, and even then, some elements present in the video are mere fragments of larger cycles: the image sequence covers approximately 1% of the earth’s orbit around the sun. The combination of the time-compression of the image sequence with the metereological data-mapping locks the viewer into a hyper-sensitized present, with no pause between scenes, no intervention in the unfolding of rhythms, none of the usual scope for reflection. The short, irregular rhythms associated with measurements of the wind bind the images to the surface elements of the soundtrack in a literal manner; the longer, periodic elements associated with the rotation of the earth and the moon’s orbit also share this connection with the surface of the soundscape and at the same time they go further by virtue of their periodicity and link the sounds and images together at the level of what in structural terms might be described as a musical middleground. The meteorological data can be considered as an extension of the image. Some of this data merely corroborates what is evident already in the visual data; additionally, some of it provides information about the environment that is either not conspicuous in the images or cannot be detected by the camera. For example, the meteorological data allows the wind to be heard: the visual counterpart is the movements of the clouds, which at times look homogenous and undifferentiated, yet the wind data adds a level of detail that brings these visual clues to life. Likewise, at night, when the screen is dark, the tide height data provides information about the movement of water in the bay, and the turning of the tide is clearly audible in glissandi clusters that track this data stream. The regular rhythms in the movement of the tides and the earth’s rotation are suggestive of polyphony in music, where two or more voices progress independently, at times moving in parallel and at others in contrary motion. Taken together, the visual and meteorological data create an extended data set that describes an environmental scene. The channels in Morecambe Bay are constantly moving with new ones forming every tide. Through tuning into the rhythms and timescales of these and other environmental events, we gain perspective on the ones that appear to govern our daily lives. Considerations of Method The video presents images captured by a camera looking across Morecambe Bay toward Grange-over-Sands. The camera was set to shoot at 30-second intervals; in the dark of the night the frame rate drops to one a minute due to the longer exposure times. The video presents a long, unbroken series extending over a period of four days and nights (from 29 Jan, 0113, to 1 Feb 2010, 1008). The process enables the viewer to experience the landscape over a longer period than is normally possible, e.g. a typical day comprises 2025 frames, and is compressed into ca. 80 seconds of video. The time-lapse technology allows observation of variations in landscape scenes, from different times of day and night, and contrasting weather conditions. In any one visit the typical visitor would be unlikely to see as wide a range of environmental elements captured in the video.

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Host publication: Ex-Trauma: The Opposite of the Traumatic, Experiments and Intensities, vol. 2, curated-edited by Annette Arlander, Yvon Bonenfant, and Mary Agnes Krell. ISBN 978-1-906113-04-9
Uncontrolled Keywords:
?? landscapetime-compressionobservationdata-mappingenvironmentsound synthesismusic ??
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29 Feb 2012 11:02
Last Modified:
07 Nov 2023 01:15