Ever been to a gig and moaned about the poor sound because of where you were standing or because you couldn't get the good spot? Well imagine hearing a show through the ears of someone who was ideally placed in the sweet spot, or better still onstage with the band? (Watch the video below while wearing headphones for a demonstration of what we mean) Well binaural recording has made that possible and Nottingham band Swimming - who recently released second album Ecstatics International - have adopted it for some of their shows. In a guest column their singer John Sampson examines the practical and artistic implications of hearing him through someone else.
The first time I heard a binaural recording was one of those gloriously rare and expanding moments that really changed the way I listen to, and make music. It also set up a long-standing collaboration with one of the most inspiring artists we've worked with. The recording was by sonic artist Dallas Simpson. I put my headphones on and was sonically transported to another place.
I became aware of my surroundings from the sound of me bouncing a ball around, creating echoes that cascaded above and below, from side to side, in front and behind. I was in a large tunnel. There was the sound of footsteps, which felt like they were from my own feet reverberating below me and some way in front of that came the sound of bird song blended in the soft sound wash of waves breaking. Fast forwarding a bit and I was stood in shallows of an ocean with waves breaking around me. The effect was so immersive that my body moved and flowed with the water.
The reason the sound had such a moving effect on me was because of the way Dallas had recorded it. I was hearing the sound of him bouncing the ball and wading out into the sea exactly as he had heard them. How, I hear you ask? Well, he uses a pair of tiny microphones that he puts in his ears that act as "ear samplers". Listening back to the recording on headphones recreates all the elements of our natural hearing: the listener is re-immersed in that space and time in a way you can't capture any other way.
I love the intimacy of listening to music on headphones and it made sense to use the binaural technique to add colour, space and meaning to our music, so I asked Dallas whether he'd be up for collaborating with us. It was essentially asking him to be a conduit between our music and the listener as it's through his interaction with the music people will hear the song. Instead of moving around the sound of bird song and bouncing balls, it would be instruments and voices...or a combination of both.
We began by making a series of "environmental binaural films" (with film-maker Simon Ellis) where we go to a forest or a beach or somewhere that fits with the song, re- arrange the music and set up so Dallas moves around us; playing within an interesting sonic environment.
The next step was to try it live, where we use two spaces, one for Dallas and us, and one for the audience. Our most recent was at a church in Manchester for Charlton Arts festival, which was such a beautiful space to do it in. It's an interesting experience for the audience because everyone has headphones plugged straight into Dallas' head.
It's a massive set-up and so different to playing our usual gigs, but the reaction makes it worthwhile. People say they close their eyes and meditate to it or feel like they connect with the music and us in a way they never had with live music before. Our experience of hearing is so personal and intimate and it is rare to recreate that connection with sound and share it with any one else. Binaural recording allows us to do that.
John Sampson @weareswimming
For more head to Swimmingband.com/binaural.
10:30 AM | 24/07/2012
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