Name: Bethan Parkes
Where do you live / work: I work and live in Glasgow.
Personal Website: www.bethanparkes.net
What about these manipulations makes them your favourite?
I am interested in how sounds can give you a sense of space, and these manipulations can all contribute to being able to shape how the listener hears the space that the sound is happening in.
1. How would you describe the type of music that you make?
I make mainly acousmatic, surround-sound compositions and sound installations, made from field recordings and electronic sounds.
2. If you had to use the genre categories to describe your music, which would it be?
3. What types of sounds do you like to use when you compose?
I like to gather sounds by going to interesting locations and making a variety of field recordings using different types of microphones. I like noisy environments that have many layers of sound going on in them. Often my favourite sounds are the unexpected ones that interrupt a recording session or surprise me as sounds that I didn’t expect to hear in that location. I also like recording sustained and dense sonic textures, in particular weather – rain, wind, hail storms! I enjoy listening for little changes in the sounds that I might use or emphasise in the composition.
4. What makes these sounds your favourite?
Unexpected events when recording are always interesting, and sometimes, when I am listening through headphones at the time of recording, I can’t tell where they have come from, which can be quite disorientating. Although interruptions can be frustrating, I think that viewing them as positive, interesting events can work well when composing!
Noisy environments, which might contain natural and/or man-made sounds, create interesting sound textures, with lots of sounds criss-crossing and interrupting each other. Because these soundscapes are lively and complex themselves, recording them provides me with lots of possibilities for creating many different sounds with fairly small amounts of recorded material and quite subtle processing.
I have always loved listening to the weather, and I think a lot of people do! Recording sounds of the weather and using them in my compositions is really enjoyable, and at times very challenging, as I don’t always record horrible weather from inside! The sounds of weather interacting with buildings, different surfaces, trees, etc. are so diverse when you start listening, that they can inspire lots of ideas for starting compositions.
5. How do you go about starting or coming up with an idea for a composition? Do you personally use a similar approach each time? Or is it always different?
I usually start with at least one recording session to gather sound materials to begin working with. Sometimes this will be at a specific location or with the intention of gathering some particular sounds that I want to work with, and other times I will start with no ideas whatsoever and allow the recordings that I get to help guide what I make. There are always surprises when I’m out and about recording and it is often these that help me to decide what to do next. I like to take a variety of types of microphone with me and get lots of different perspectives on the sound environments I am in – so, for example I might take some contact microphones that attach to the surfaces of objects, some miniature microphones that can fit into tiny spaces, and a surround-sound microphone that records the overall soundscape. I love listening to the variety of sounds that you can get with different microphones and microphone techniques, and I will often start a piece by layering some of these different types of recordings together, in particular to get close-up and distant sounds interacting.
6. Which composers /musicians are an inspiration to you?
Jacaszek, Ben Frost, Tim Hecker, Jana Winderen, Francisco Lopez, Gilles Gobeil, Alva Noto, Burial, Ametsub, Mika Vainio, Janek Schaefer.
7. What is it about this music (either your own or the work of others) that engages you so much?
I like the way that all these artists (and others making music like them) make interesting and unique sound-worlds that are so absorbing when you listen to them. Sound can be so powerful, emotive and captivating, and I think the music these artists create really explores this.
8. Could you pick a short section from one of your own pieces and describe how you created it?
This is an excerpt from my composition CloudLines which I composed in 2013. It contrasts delicate, quiet sounds with loud, intrusive and disturbing ones. I recorded lots of different sounds for this piece, both outside and in the studio. At the start of this excerpt I layered several recordings – rain on a window, leaves rustling in the breeze, metal chimes and even a recording of popcorn in a metal bowl. I panned the sounds to fill the space and added reverb to the rain recording to make it sound like it is in the background, giving some depth to the sound-space. All these tiny little bits of sound add up to make quite a lot of noise – crackling, ringing, tapping and rustling – but overall it is a gentle, quiet sound-world. The sound that interrupts this is an electronic interference sound recorded with a device called an induction coil pick up, which picks up electromagnetic activity from electronic devices like laptops, mobile phones etc.. In the section that follows, I used louder, distorted, compressed and granulated sounds in amongst the subtler crackling sounds to create contrast and to explore the full range from really quiet to really loud sound that I enjoy making the most of when creating this music. There is a big build-up of noise toward the end of this excerpt that includes recordings of stormy winds, traffic in an underpass, a street cleaner, more electronic interference sounds and contact microphones dragged over rough surfaces. These sounds are filtered to get the exact part of the sound that I want, so that I can layer them together without the soundscape getting too cluttered! I wanted to make a really big contrast at the end of this build-up, when the noise suddenly stops to reveal the gentle rustling, chiming and crackling sounds again. I made this big contrast by stopping all of the loud sounds at exactly the same time – like someone has flicked a switch to turn it off – leaving the listener with the gentle sound-world that was interrupted earlier.
9. What were you trying to convey to the listener in this excerpt?
When I was creating this piece I was thinking about the way that loud sounds and busy sound environments mask or cover up other, quieter, delicate sounds. We live in sound environments that are sometimes very loud, and sometimes very quiet, and quite often we forget about the quiet sounds, but they are worth listening to! I was also thinking about how loud sounds like that can be disturbing and unpleasant, but they can also be really interesting and exciting.
10. If you were giving some general advice to someone who was beginning to compose a piece what would it be? What is the most important thing to remember when composing?
I think it is important to start off with good recordings, so I find it useful to build up a sound library before starting a piece. Everyone will have different methods for starting work, but having recordings that you can listen to and play around with is a really good way of experimenting, especially when you are beginning a piece.
I also think one of the most important parts of composing is listening. Developing your listening skills will really help you compose, so listen to everything – not just music, but everyday sounds, and the way that different rooms and spaces sound. Think about how different sounds happen at the same time and create interesting combinations; think about how these sounds make you feel; what they mean to you; and ask yourself what the sound is like, without thinking about what is making the sound. All these thoughts can help you decide what to do with the sounds you record, and help you to shape your composition.