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Kinokophonography: Discovery of Listening

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On February 6 the Library for the Performing Arts is presenting Kinokophonography Night, where sound artists, recordists, and attentive listeners share recordings and celebrate listening. Below is a guest post by Coryn Smethurst, a composer, film maker, philosopher, sound recordist, and longtime friend of the Kinokophone Collective. Mr. Smethurst is also the Co-founder and Administrator of the Sonic Arts Forum. In this post he shares an experience that changed the way he listens to the world.

I spent a day, several summers ago, recording in Yorkshire in the UK with my friend Lee Patterson. I had, after some research, found a good spot for nocturnal birds and was surveying the area beforehand and seeing what else I could find. Lee spotted a wire fence and, upon placing contact mics on it, found it to be producing incredible sounds—which he later talked about in a review in The Wire magazine. We were within sight of the geodesic domes of Menwith Hill (a not so top secret early warning / listening station) and Lee wondered if the wire was picking up some VLF (very low frequency radio) from the site. Lee then put his hydrophones into one of the pools of water in the semi flooded field we were stood in and recorded a beautiful sequence.

The area was full of midges which attacked us every time a cloud passed in front of the sun and, despite me bringing two mosquito head nets (one for each of us), it was not pleasant.

Contrary to Lee's success all my recording attempts that day were failing miserably. My hydrophone sounds were dull and birds were thin on the ground—and those we did see—a quail and chicks—were near silent. Then we both heard a sound and looked at each other in puzzlement. What was that? Then we saw the dogs and the owners who would produce the sound you will hear at the next Kinokophonograpy event. I had my microphone in a parabolic dish and let it hang by my side as if I was not recording. Lee started to speak then realised what I was doing, his momentary slip letting me know that the dog owners would be oblivious. The sound is extraordinary and I cannot explain why the dogs sound as odd as they did, it has to be the acoustics, surely, yet the woman's voice, which can also be heard, remains unaffected.

At the end of the day we went back to my car, packed our gear into the boot and, just as we were about to leave, heard the panicked calls of a small bird as it flew in front of us pursued by a raptor. I do not know if the small bird got away, but I do know that the sound, unfortunately did.

That day both myself and Lee had recorded sounds—things neither of us were looking for (especially in my case). But more than this, we were able to share the sounds with each other, sonic moments that we, as friends, would both treasure, and now I can share one of those moments with others, possibly new friends, through Kinokophonography, knowing many more from around the world will be doing the same with their sounds.

Kinokophonography Night
Kinokophonography Night

Every Kinokophonography event is a chance to meet others, discuss techniques and approaches, gain feedback, and most importantly listen. There is no hierarchy, the first time recordist, the multi-award winning recordist or the interested member of the public are all equally welcome to hear the world through the other’s ears – to sonically experience the world in all its variety and strangeness – in short to hear differently. I have been proud to support this event, attending all its meetings in Manchester in the UK. I am glad Kinokophonography is spreading its sound spores across more continents giving people the space, away from the utilitarian, to hear their beauty anew.

Coryn Smethurst

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