Soren Malpass, “Shorelines”

Growing up in Trumansburg, New York, I was never far from water. I spent my summers catching frogs and salamanders by ponds, walking up and down creek gorges, and looking over the lake’s deep blue surface. The soundscape in which I was raised was that of water and to me, water is very much alive, and the place where it meets land, these so-called “Shorelines,” are very special. I wanted to share these locations, the question then becoming, how? I have taken my fair share of photographs of these places, but a picture, being a static medium, can only convey so much. Filming the location is better, yet part of what makes these environments so compelling is their sonic presence. Video (at least taken with conventional, easy-to-acquire gear) tends to put far greater emphasis on the subject’s visual aspects, while the aural character is only sufficient to convey the most basic sense of what was heard. Soundscape recordings, however, have the potential to be truly immersive.

So, I ventured out amongst Ithaca’s multiple waterways in order to record a collection of soundscapes. My gear list was simple: a Zoom recorder and a pair of binaural microphones. Initially, I had considered using a more conventional microphone to record, however, I wanted to convey the whole soundscape, not just a single part of it. Since binaurals record sitting nestled in a pair of ears, I found them to be the best choice. However, I had previously run into the problem of unwanted clothing noises while recording with binaurals, and while I believe the person recording is just as much a part of the soundscape as anything else, I did not want to distract the listener from the actual subject of the pieces. So, in addition to the Zoom and microphones, I brought along a life-sized glass manikin head, which would stand in for my own.

My methodology for recording was simple: find a spot along a body of water (no matter the size), set up my head prop with the Zoom, and begin recording. While my belief was to let nature do the talking, I of course had some aesthetic influence in the choice of where to record. In my composition, I looked to Hiroki Sasajima’s work for inspiration. His pieces tend to be very self-contained and focused, encompassing a whole soundscape yet maintaining a sense of space and purpose, such as heard in “Melting Snow” (Sasajima). I set up each soundscape recording as I might a photograph; attempting to hone in on a certain detail yet still capturing all the sounds of the place. In addition (as seen below), I took a panoramic photograph of each location to provide context, as I did not want these recordings to be treated as musique concrete. In the words of Hildegard Westerkamp: “A soundscape recording is always rooted in themes of the sound environment” (“Linking Soundscape Composition and Acoustic Ecology”). Some light equalizing work was done, along with a high pass filter on some of the windier tracks, but overall, I attempted to be as hands-off with these recordings as possible.

I hope that these recordings might foster a deeper appreciation for the biodiversity seen around the shorelines of this region. Beyond the sound of water, it could be said my recordings have two other themes: birds and frogs. Two species in particular grace these recordings on multiple occasions: the red wing blackbird (Agelaius phoeniceus) and spring peeper frog (Psuedacris crucifer). Both depend on these ecosystems for survival, but I was especially drawn to the spring peeper. Frogs are very important animals when it comes to environmental damage and pollution. In his paper “Amphibians as Models for Studying Environmental Change,” William A. Hopkins states “their permeable integument…makes them particularly sensitive to changes in hydric conditions as well as contaminants and certain skin disease. Moreover, the reliance of many amphibians on both aquatic and terrestrial habitats places them in ‘double jeopardy’” (Amphibians as Models for Studying Environmental Change”). For this reason, I see the spring peeper as somewhat emblematic of this collection as project for environmental awareness.

However, more than anything, this album is a celebration of the natural areas in and around Ithaca. Growing up, I cherished these environments and soundscapes, and this project was simply my humble attempt to share them with others. In her interview with Cathy Lang, Annea Lockwood discussed how the Hudson River was a “visual entity” for most people, and how she wished to change that (In the Field 32). With these recordings, I hope others may enjoy the sound of these shorelines as much as I do, and perhaps be inspired to experience them firsthand as not only landscapes, but also soundscapes.



image2Little Torrent: Recorded at Cascadilla Creek, near the East Ithaca Recreation Way. 11:54 a.m.

image3Creek Bend: Recorded at Cascadilla Creek, near the East Ithaca Recreation Way. 12:04 p.m.

image4Creekfall: Recorded near Six Mile Creek. 4:30 p.m.

image5Meetings: Recorded at Six Mile Creek, upstream from Second Dam. 5:36 p.m

image6Spring Water: Recorded off Stevenson Road. 6:44 p.m.

image7Hillock Pond: Recorded off Stevenson Road. 7:05 p.m.

image8Botanic Gardens: Recorded at Cornell Botanic Gardens. 8:08 p.m

image9Peepers: Recorded at Ringwood Nature Preserve, off Ringwood Road. 8:15 p.m.

image10Overlook: Recorded at Beebe Lake, near Sackett Bridge. 1:51 a.m.

Works Cited

Hopkins, William A. “Amphibians as Models for Studying Environmental Change.” ILAR Journal, vol. 48, no. 3, 2007, pp. 270-277. Web.

Lane, Cathy. Interview with Annea Lockwood. In the Field: The Art of Field Recording. pp. 27-37. Google Drive. Web.  

Sasajima, Hiroki. “Melting snow.” Soundcloud. 2011.

Westerkamp, Hildegard. “Linking Soundscape Composition and Acoustic Ecology.” Organized Sound, vol. 7, no. 1, 2002, pp. 51-56. Google Drive. Web.

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