LAS VEGAS, NEVADA – FEBRUARY 2010: A SoundField SPS200 software controlled microphone, supplied by German SoundField distributor SEA, has been used to capture audio for a unique sound installation at a Zurich cultural museum. NONAM, Switzerland’s North American Native Museum, is constructing a permanent exhibition representing five of the main geographical regions of North American Native culture. The new audio installation evokes the culture of the northwest coast of the continent, playing quadraphonic sounds and audio textures captured on the west coast of British Columbia on a permanent loop inside an acoustically treated chamber.
The engineer responsible for capturing the sounds was Hein Schoer, a German PhD researcher working at the Fontys School of Arts in the Netherlands, and accredited by the University of Maastricht. Schoer recorded the sounds and textures during a three-week trip to Canada’s west coast last autumn, in collaboration with the U’Mista Cultural Centre in
Alert Bay, British Columbia. “The idea was to create an evocation in sound of life in each of these cultural regions, by presenting the sounds of the local weather, animals, and the activities of the indigenous people of the region,” he explained. “We had previously put together an audio montage from DAT recordings to represent life in Nunavut for an earlier exhibition, and as a recording engineer, I wanted to see whether I could improve the quality of the recordings from the northwest region.”
The Sound Chamber at NONAM is an acoustically treated four-meter square cube designed to contain up to seven people at a time. Inside, light is excluded by black drapes and sound-absorbent foam removes most of the acoustic reflectivity of the chamber, rendering it almost anechoic and allowing the quadraphonic speaker array to immerse the occupant in the sounds of North America’s northwest. Schoer wanted to make true quadraphonic recordings for use in the chamber but without resorting to a cumbersome multi-microphone array, and would have had no way of transporting such a complex rig in rural Canada anyway. “My original idea was to use a couple of stereo mics to make simultaneous recordings on separate stereo recorders and sync them in post-production to create quad soundscapes. However, this idea fell through. I contacted SEA and they suggested that I think about taking the SoundField SPS200 instead. It turned out to be the best thing that could have happened. Synchronizing two stereo recordings made on separate recorders could have been very hit and miss and time-consuming, but the SPS200 allowed me to capture the audio independently of the output format with one microphone.”
The audio captured by the SPS200 can be decoded later in post-production using the SPS200 Surround Zone plug-in, which is supplied free of charge with the microphone. As with SoundField’s other multi-capsule microphones, the output from the SPS200 may be converted to a variety of output formats including phase-coherent mono, stereo, quad, or 5.1 surround, without any phase artifacts. “The sound installation for NONAM is in quadraphonic, but this is also my PhD project, and I intend to make radio presentations in stereo from the recordings,” explains Schoer. “So the ability of the SPS200 to output audio in different formats is very useful to me. All I have to do is change some settings in the SoundField decoding software on my laptop.”
Schoer made over seventeen hours of recordings with the SPS200 in its custom-made Zephyx windshield kit, including the sounds of the wildlife, birds and lakes of the region, wind passing through the trees over a nature reserve, everyday life, Native artists at work, classes at the local school, and a number of musical performances by the Native American people of the region. He supplemented the recordings made with the SPS200 and his eight-channel digital Sound Devices 788T recorder with mono and stereo recordings made to a Tascam DR100 with a Beyerdynamic shotgun mic and a stereo pair of Oktava microphones respectively. The completed twenty-minute quadraphonic composition is being installed at NONAM in Zurich this spring, following selection and decoding of the recordings by Hein Schoer, quadraphonic pre-mixing sessions in the surround studios at the School of Audio Engineering in Frankfurt, and Schoer’s final mixdown inside NONAM’s sound chamber itself. The plan is to create similar ‘immersive’ audio installations for all five regions represented at NONAM, and thereby develop guidelines for the future creation and presentation of such cultural soundscapes in years to come.
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PHOTO CAPTIONS Hein Schoer.JPG: Hein Schoer recording in British Columbia, Canada, with the SPS200 in Zephyx Kit.