By Ruby Quince
CALL OF THE WILD
Analyse the sounds of a forest you’d find that every animal has a place on the audio spectrum. The insects are way up at the top, followed by birds a few notches down and mammals way at the bottom. This isn’t by chance. They make way for each other so that they effectively have their own broadcast channel in the environment. You probably know where I’m going with this on a communications blog.
I read that animals develop a tonal range that fits their immediate habitat too: Birds in plains and grasslands have buzzing calls to travel distances, those nearer to the ground evolved lower pitch calls to avoid the sound bouncing around. Even birds of the same species but in different environments have different calls: The song of the Scarlet Tanager in the west is markedly different to the same creature in the east, where the foliage is more dense.
We adapt to our surroundings and the changes within them. Whales in New Zealand have become louder to adapt to the increased audio pollution from shipping. It got me thinking about how the beasts in the SCA jungle are adapting their thinking to the surrounds and finding their pitch within our own creative spectrum. Almost 10 weeks in and you can see that people are finding a voice, carving out a niche within the noise. While some animals have got louder, I’ve been particularly interested in the ones that have changed their song, often becoming somehow quieter but more distinctive. I love this.
I’ve stolen a lot of this from David Byrne’s utterly brilliant ‘How Music Works’. In it he remarks that “genius – the emergence of truly remarkable and memorable work – seems to appear when a thing is perfectly suited to its context”. Mozart was a genius, but he was a product of his environment.
In the early days of music recording there would be just one microphone and the band would be placed physically in order to best capture their sound: the singer at the front, the drums way at the back. The need for elephantine lungs able to reach the audience gave way to singers that ‘sang to the microphone’. Eventually, stars like Sinatra were born and a new intimacy developed.
Because sound was printed straight to wax, techniques were developed to make recording less distorted or stop the needle jumping as it recorded: the aggressive twang go the double bass was replaced by smoother low-end instruments; jazz drummers avoided whacking the snare and used other parts of the drum. As other musicians heard this on record and assumed it was how it was meant to be. Suddenly you’re hearing the side of the snare and blanketed kicks as part of the sound as it evolved. I’ve been inspired by a lot of the work of my SCA peers and I’m sure my thinking is responding to that to some extent.
As our creative thinking evolves, how much of it responds to the school and to what degree of we folding in the wider environment beyond SCA? We’re dancing to the tweets of the Jazzy-legged Lewis but we should also be drawn to the mating songs of ECD’s across the industry too, making sure that we adopt a pitch that’s suitable for terrain beyond the wilds of Brixton.