The Sound of Suffering

How much can one man handle? The idea for the soundscape Walking on the Bloon came from watching the two characters, Magistrate and Spartan Ambassador, during their rehearsal, and then spontaneously connecting them to a particular sound captured during a dérive. The linking of sound to character is not uncommon. A well-known example is Sergei Prokofiev’s Peter and the Wolf (1936), a composition in which all of the characters are represented by a particular instrument and musical theme.

This soundscape, like Dawn at the Acropolis, begins in darkness during a scene change. The auditor waits eagerly to see who will greet them onstage when the lights come up. The sound tells us; it gives us clues and allows us to imagine. Myers (2011) discusses the technologies of transmitting and receiving sound, and comments on the value of the microphone in capturing voice in an intimate way (p. 75). An auditor can be provided with great detail in the materiality of voice, that is, the sounds made by the body (lips, tongue, breath) in producing the voice. These sounds would normally only be heard if the speaker was very close. The voices in Walking on the Bloon are intimate. They are the sounds of personal suffering. These men are weighed down and in a terrible state. The rhythm of the soundscape reflects the movement of the characters as they enter. The dark and sinister undertones of Walking on the Bloon are balanced with light, airy “lyre-ukulele”, providing some relief for the listener.

Before the characters emerge onstage, I’m sure the auditors will have imagined some bodies for the disembodied voices!


Myers, M. (2011). Vocal landscaping: The theatre of sound in audiowalks. In L. Kendrick & D. Roesner (Eds), Theatre noise: the sound of performance (pp. 70-81). UK: Cambridge Scholars Publishing.

The Flame-bright Fire

How to build a city

In Phillip Samartzis’ sound installation Soft and Loud (2001), the artist reconstructs five Japanese locations using sound. The process involved capturing (using various methods) the sounds of one place and reproducing them in another place, in this case a gallery. Samartzis (2007) discusses recording a “general overview” of the place, and then separately recording individual sounds to capture the detail (p. 49). In this manner he deconstructs the soundscape of the original place, reducing sounds to building blocks, which are then relocated and used to rebuild that place as a representation of the original.

The place I am building is a representation of a real place, ancient Athens, but the sounds I am using are not real sounds from that place. Both time and space prohibit me from capturing real sound; this limitation then informs my practice as “constructing place” rather than “reconstructing place”. Limitations as such can provide stimulus for creative thinking, which, when put into action becomes creative process—the drive behind this project.

Fire banner

How to build a fire

The scene I am working on currently is based around a fire. Visually, the audience will see on stage a structure built of sticks, glowing with amber light and emitting smoke. The structure will provide a reasonably accurate representation of a fire; the only thing missing will be its crackle.

Some simple options in providing the ambient crackling sound of the fire include (amongst others) downloading a sample from the internet or recording my own fire sample; however, in-keeping with the ideals of this project I am determined to build a soundscape from “found sound” gathered during our unstructured play sessions and other sound generated by our cast. The resulting fire soundscape is a representation, and could not be said to sound exactly like a fire.

One feature of the fire soundscape is the whispering of the female cast members. I had them read the following few lines of Prometheus Bound, written by Aeschylus, circa 430 B.C.E:

PROMETHEUS : Moreover, I conferred the gift of fire.

CHORUS : And have frail mortals now the flame-bright fire?

PROMETHEUS : Yea, and shall master many arts thereby.

The vocal sounds provide ambient dynamics as the close recording allows for intimate capture of the materiality of voice. The sound is licking and airy with syllables curling like flames. The lines of Prometheus Bound help to keep the language in tune with that of Lysistrata, and the fire theme represents power. In this scene of Lysistrata, the men are trying to maintain power over the women, (spoiler alert) but the women outdo them. Fire also represents passion, and the binary opposites of comfort and destruction. Fire can be wild, but is also vulnerable. These are the dualities represented in the fire soundscape.

The fire soundscape will lead on from another soundscape song, Firedrums. This is a thunderous, booming drumbeat, representing the power of the men, but it also aids in covering up the noise of the set change, as the fire is dragged into position.


Aeschylus (circa 430 B.C.E). Prometheus bound. Retrieved from

Samartzis, P. (2007). The space of sound. In L. Duxbury, E. M. Grierson & D. Waite (Eds.), Thinking through practice. Art as research in the Academy. (pp. 68-78). Melbourne, VIC: RMIT Publishing.

Dawn at the Acropolis

Acropolis banner

Scene One – Take One

Athenian woman Lysistrata has called a meeting. It is dawn, and she waits at the foot of the Acropolis for the women of Athens to arrive. She waits in the stillness and silence of the sleeping city. But what is stillness? What is silence? Absolute stillness and absolute silence are particularly rare, and when they are encountered, the percipient understands the strangeness of them.

Serres discusses sound and, in particular, noise and it’s place in life and performance. “We are immersed in sound just as we are immersed in air and light, ( . . . ). We breathe background noise”, Serres suggests (1995, p. 7). He continues to validate noise with statements such as: “Background noise is the ground of our perception”, and “Noise is the background of information” (1995, p. 7). It seems normal and in fact necessary, then, for us to be surrounded by noise. Background noise provides the context for the meaning-making of sound.

wooden flute

Scene One – Take Two

It is dawn, and Athenian woman Lysistrata waits at the foot of the Acropolis amidst the background noise of the sleeping city…

The soundscape Dawn at the Acropolis was created by layering selected background “noise” (captured during a rehearsal dérive) with a lyre-like note and wooden flute. As this is the opening scene of the play, the stage will be in blackness, leaving the spectator without visual information. Here, an opportunity exists for the ear to take a more dominant perceptive role. Verstraete (2011) points out that the absence of a visual source of sound (acousmatisation) draws attention to our auditory perception’s reliance on visuality (p. 89). The auditor will naturally wish to de-acousmatise sounds, that is, to embody them, to associate them with a source. With this in mind, the sounds in Dawn at the Acropolis have been individually panned to suggest gentle movement within the world on stage, leaving the auditor space to imagine the characters that wait in darkness.


Serres, M. (2005). Genesis. (G. James & J. Nielson, Trans.). USA: The University of Michigan Press. (Original work published 1982).

Verstraete, P. (2011). Radical vocality, auditory distress and disembodied voice: The resolution of the voice-body in The Wooster Groups’ “La Didone.” In L. Kendrick & D. Roesner (Eds.), Theatre noise: The sound of performance (pp. 82-96). UK: Cambridge Scholars Publishing.

I know that sound!

This fortnight I have been cataloguing my sounds. At first, I found myself simply stating the sound source, for example “Stick on bars, clean”. This was an easy process because I knew the sounds well, and I knew where they came from. As I progressed I thought more, or perhaps less. I tried to distance myself; to defamiliarise the sounds, and instead, I described what I heard. Words that came to mind included: warped, sweeping, flanged, trill, rip, crescendo and pan amongst others. Imagination stirred, and many of the sounds were given new associations or nonsense names (onamatopia), such as “Aeroplane Wall” and “Woowoowoo”. Other comments included quality (or lack of) issues, rhythm, speed (timing) and materials such as wood, steel and glass.

Placing my sounds into imaginary boxes reminded me of Kinokophone’s project, Kinokologue. This amazing sound cabinet, created by artists Jon Tipler, Amanda Belantara, Akiko Yanagimoto and T. S. Selm, is an interactive catalogue of “sound spores”. Visitors can create their own soundscapes in various ways, and explore this sensory collection. For more information, visit the Kinokologue site:

Kinokophone Emily Dennison
Kinokologue by Kinokophone, Photograph by Emily Dennison

In trying to be objective, I have discovered that some sounds have strong associations. No matter how hard I try not to, whenever I hear maracas, I see a room full of snakes. I know that not everyone will see snakes when they hear maracas. Without a context, a listener must draw on whatever baggage he or she brings to the sound. As I sift through my collection of sounds, I’m doing a mental shift in context, from 2015 rehearsal space to Ancient Athens. As I listen I ask myself, “What thing in Ancient Athens makes that noise?” It draws attention to my lack of on-the-ground knowledge of the ancient city. Although in reality I can’t immerse myself in Ancient Athens, thanks to technology, I am able to immerse myself virtually. It is not a complete experience, but it will have to do!

Ways to Play

header Intrument basket

Experiencing the open score…

A writer picks up an instrument. She looks at it, turns it in her hands, wondering. She finds a little tag attached and eagerly searches it for meaning, but the words are written in a strange language. “Made in Slovenia” tells her that the thing she holds is foreign to her country, as well as being foreign to herself. She returns her investigation to the instrument itself, and, knowing that it is an instrument purely because it was in the instrument box, she endeavours to play it. After some time she decides that it would be easier to write the instrument than to play it. She wants to write because she knows she can. She has learnt about pens and paper. She has learnt to use words to make meaning, to communicate ideas and feelings, to persuade and to record; but this instrument is dead in her hands and nothing comes from it. She can’t make it speak. She wants instruction.

header2 Intrument basket

Experiencing the unfamiliar…

A writer picks up an instrument. It is foreign to her. She turns it in her hands and presses her fingers into the engravings on the little ceramic pot. She taps lightly on the skin that stretches across the open end and runs her fingernail over the grooves where the skin has gathered. This is like a drum, she thinks, except for this stick-thing that protrudes from the centre of the skin. It looks like a chopstick. What is it for? she wonders. She feels the tag and sees that it is old and faded. “Made in Slovenia” the tag tells her.

She places the instrument on the wooden floor and notes the hollow sound. She taps it a few times on the wood, and the sound echoes inside the ceramic drum. She turns the instrument over and taps the chopstick on the wood. The sound is higher pitched and not as full, but the flex of the skin allows the stick to trill across the wood, and the small sound travels into the drum and makes itself sweeter.

The writer takes the instrument on a little journey. She introduces it to the walls—those made of concrete and those made of fibreboard. New and different sounds. She runs the stick across the roller door, and sweeping, hollow sounds ring out. Quiet first, then louder, then quieter again—a narrative arc; a conversation. Skipping across steel bars, making its own rhythm, the stick bounces and glides and bells peal, filling the space.

All four corners of the room are explored, tapping, sweeping, trilling vibrations over textured surfaces, all words that have never been spoken and can never be written down.

Towards clarity

Being surrounded by a sonic cloud is a captivating experience. My sound recording of the open score improvised play at Rehearsal Two of Lysistrata was successful, but something was missing. I sought clarity and separation but found very little. If I stopped searching and simply listened, I could hear the sounds I wanted; but they were buried. I wondered how I could isolate the sounds, having such little expertise in sound-craft. I pushed away any thought of recapturing the sounds because I wanted to work with what I had. That was my challenge.

A shift in my thinking came after reading about Phillip Samartzis’ process in recording sounds for his project, Soft and Loud, 2001, which documents five Japanese locations through sound (Samartzis, 2007, p. 48). Samartzis describes how he recorded a “general overview that reflects the size and surface of the location”, but then recorded many individual sounds “to comprehensively reconstruct the environment with as much detail and clarity as possible” (p. 50). His story reflected mine: the size and surface of my space had been captured, and all that remained was to add the details.

The act of improvised play brought into the rehearsal space sounds that may not have otherwise existed. My recording allowed me to appreciate the sounds through re-listening. Douglas Kahn states: “Sound inhibits its own time and dissipates quickly. It is too brief and ephemeral to attract much attention . . .” (cited in Edwards, 2007, p. 70). Being able to capture and re-listen to the sonic cloud allowed me to place value on many of the individual sounds that make up the location. The next part of my process would focus on recording certain details as clearly and separately as possible.


Edwards, P. (2007). Audio CD production in a contemporary art practice. In L. Duxbury, E. M. Grierson & D. Waite (Eds.), Thinking through practice. Art as research in the Academy.(pp. 68-78). Melbourne, VIC: RMIT Publishing.

Samartzis, P. (2007). The space of sound. In L. Duxbury, E. M. Grierson & D. Waite (Eds.), Thinking through practice. Art as research in the Academy. (pp. 68-78). Melbourne, VIC: RMIT Publishing.


Within the sonic cloud

Carr (2001) and Runswick (2001) insist on a certain amount of preparedness for improvisation: it’s not a matter of just turning up; a free-for-all. Of course, in the context of performance jazz improvisation, there are a number of prerequisites to ensure a smooth listening experience for the audience. A performer should know the tools of his or her art, and in my case I needed to get to know the Zoom H4next Handy Recorder—the location-recording device kindly lent to me by Stevie B. Usability: excellent.

I went into the rehearsal space with my mind open and fully charged batteries. The first thing that struck me was my inability to participate in my usual capacity. The device weighed me down. It needed attention, much like a newborn baby: starting and stopping, adjusting levels, and even the strange protective anxieties I felt for this piece of equipment that didn’t belong to me.

Being a “watcher” instead of a “player” made me aware of my enjoyment in participating, and I sympathised with Prescott-Steed’s feelings: a desire to be actively involved (2011). There is a certain energy, a buzz, when people step outside their comfort zones to play.

In my head, when fantasising about the recording part of my process, I imagined pristine sounds. I didn’t know what they sounded like, because they hadn’t been made yet. The important thing was that they were clear, distinct and separate. In actual fact, the sounds in the space were not pristine at all. The gym produced muddy sounds, and the over-enthusiastic cast created a cacophony of indistinct, sometimes unrecognisable noises. This is the result of noisy improvisation, but also the epitome of “seeing what happens”, and accepting it.

The sound experience this week was dominated by the bodies in the space; bodies with voices, breath that whistles, fingers that flick and strum, hands that shake and bang. When it came to sound mapping the rehearsal space, the musical bodies had feet and were perpetually moving, taking their sounds with them until all corners of the gym were filled with the one sonic cloud. I look for the words to build my sentences and my “zoom” is filled with asemic writing. This is a good place to begin.


Carr, I.. (2001). Improvisation and composition. Body, Space and Technology 1(2). ISSN 1490-9120.

Prescott-Steed, D. (2011) Improvising everyday life: The performance of practice-led research. Creative Industries Journal 4(1), 71-85.

Runswick, D. (2001). Notes for Improvisers. Body, Space and Technology 1(2). ISSN 1490-9120.