The Absent Listener is a series of pieces derived exclusively from long duration soundscape recordings made at my home, a rural property 22 KM west of the village of South River, Ontario, Canada. The recordings ran unattended anywhere from 24 to 120 hours. I approached the recording process in this way so that my presence has a recordist had as little influence as possible on anything that might be heard in the recordings. Also, it was a way for me to keep listening to the soundscape of a rural property that was important to me while circumstances in my life were causing me to spend a lot of time away from it.
The project began in February-May 2019 with an “open microphone” soundscape stream hosted on the locusonus world-wide network of open microphones. During this period I was recording directly to a laptop using AC power so I was able to make recordings that lasted uninterrupted for several days. The great thing about this approach is that I could continue monitoring and adjusting the recording while I was away. The recording equipment was setup in a way that it did not draw attention to itself, while also remaining protected from water. I mounted two DPA 4060 miniature omni-directional microphones on either side of a sheet of plywood and then in most cases clamped that plywood under the overhang of a small out-building. This building was located behind my house and convenient for access to a protected area with electrical power and WIFI.
From May to November 2019 I decided to stop streaming so that I could have more freedom to record in various locations around my property that were only accessible by battery and not within reach of WIFI. These recordings were on average between 24 to 36 hours long with short breaks roughly every 14 hours to change the battery.
In December 2019 I made the first piece in “The Absent Listener” series, which was 45 minutes long and based on recordings made through the month of February 2019. It was composed for a winter solstice performance on December 21, 2019 at the Dispersion Lab, York University in Toronto.
February is a time where there is minimal human presence within earshot of my home. The recording location is among pine, birch and cedar trees that are approximately 1000 feet from the shore of Deer Lake. The area is inhabited mostly by woodpeckers, ravens, rabbits, chickadees and red squirrels. Other sounds like wind, sleet and rain, as well as the cracking from trees and built structures reflect the shifts in winter temperatures that happened in 2019 through the month of February.
The stereo recordings are used in this piece with only slight signal processing. The piece follows the chronological order of the recordings and often layers four or more of them recorded from the same hour, which in the multi-channel concert performance in December 2019 were distributed spatially throughout the venue. The piece was edited and organized to evoke a sense of the natural rhythms and nuances of the events that unfold when I am not present.
The Absent Listener is supported with funding from the Canada Council for the Arts.