Elizabeth Reigel, “Felling”

For this project, I wanted to create a piece that merges the ideas of soundscapes and musique concrète, taking a sound out of context and using it simply as the sound itself. My primary inspiration for this piece was David Tudor, and how he created “natural” sounds from electronic sources, as well as “electronic” sounds from natural sources. I was drawn to the idea of creating mechanical or electronic sounds from natural sources, and the potential that this idea has to convey something really meaningful about the tension between music and a mechanical society. I also was inspired in soundscape creation, and how a natural backdrop can be created for sounds, and a TED Talk by Bernie Krause helped to solidify my inspiration for this piece. Bernie Krause is a soundscape ecologist who creates recordings from the same location over time to observe how the soundscape is changing. He has found that the effects of logging and deforestation can have drastic impacts on the soundscape, creating what I would call a “reduced” soundscape, as some of the species are no longer present. I wanted to capture this feeling of emptiness in listening to a soundscape that is no longer vibrant due to environmental degradation; specifically due to deforestation and industrialization.

With these inspirations, I created a musical piece embodying the creation of a natural soundscape, while including aspects of musique concrète to represent deforestation. I recorded from several locations on Cornell’s campus (Beebe lake and various spots on the Botanic Gardens), with a specific focus on locations as free as possible from society and noises of humans and technology. The goal of these recordings was to compile the different soundscapes from different locations on campus. The recordings more free from human and mechanical noises were used in the soundscape creation of the first third of my piece; the creation of the soundscape. The more “contaminated” recordings, or recordings in which there was not a vibrant natural soundscape, were used in the third section of my piece; the reduced soundscape. In between these two soundscapes, I introduced mechanical sounds involved in deforestation, such as cars, tree selection, equipment sounds, and trees falling. I created these sounds by modifying various insect and bird sounds, taken from the Macaulay library, as well as by modification of select previously recorded sounds. The purpose of introducing these mechanical sounds was to imagine what Ithaca, and specifically Cornell, would sound like if the remaining trees in the natural areas were to be felled. This second section of the piece describes the process of deforestation as told by natural sounds, overlaying the backdrop of the soundscape composition. The two soundscape components, the compiled soundscape and the reduced soundscape, were edited to smoothly transition between the two in accordance with the felling sounds to create the reduced soundscape, one which could appear if the natural resources of Cornell were depleted. With this piece, I wanted to embrace the feeling of discomfort that one might feel if the environment and soundscape around them was drastically changed.

While recording for the soundscape portions of this piece, I was shocked to listen back to the recordings and find that there was an anthropogenic hum behind almost all of the recordings, created by HVAC systems, nearby roads, or other mechanical sources. I used Reaper to edit out many of them for the first soundscape, because although there could have been other ways to achieve a more “natural” soundscape, free of human sounds, I wanted to record in environments that I often visit, and have a personal connection to. I thus imagine the first soundscape as more of a suggestion of a soundscape that might have once existed, and the second soundscape as one that is even more extreme, to more strongly demonstrate the effect that humans and environmental changes can cause to Cornell’s environment. I also chose to include a few sounds in the reduced soundscape that I made while recording, to emphasize my own role in the destruction of the natural soundscape.

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