Darren Copeland

Sound Artist

The Absent Listener

The Absent Listener is a series of pieces derived exclusively from continuous and unsupervised soundscape recordings made since 2019 at a rural property 22 KM west of the village of South River, Ontario, Canada. The recording process is done in this way so that the presence of the recordist has as little influence as possible on what is audible in the recordings.

May 2021 Web Version

The latest work in this series is an online audio installation premiered at the Re: Flux Festival in Moncton, New Brunswick where online listeners generated compositions for later listening by choosing from a small set of parameters. The installation intentionally avoids real-time interaction in order to support focused listening with minimal human intervention. It uses only recordings from the spring months, which have an extreme range of listening experiences. In March and April there is the quiet subtlety of sub-zero conditions accented by short loud events (ice and trees cracking) that evolve into blustery windy conditions, which after the temperature warms, gives way to a gradual thickening of birds, frogs and peepers.

I am very grateful for the assistance of Sonia Paço-Rocchia for Max and Web programming, to the Re: Flux Festival for presentation support and to the Canada Council for the Arts for financial support. In 2022, additional programming by Ian Jarvis has been supported with funds from the Ontario Arts Council.

To create a composition visit The Absent Listener setup page. To listen play any of the mp3 files below. Files are named by username, date/time of file creation, followed by selected parameters.

Project Background

The The Absent Listener project began in February-May 2019 as an “open microphone” soundscape stream hosted on the locusonus world-wide network of open microphones. Since then the stream has been mostly limited to the first weekend of May during the annual Reveil broadcast of daybreak soundscapes.

During this initial period recordings were done directly to a laptop using AC power so that settings can be monitored and adjusted off-site. The microphones consisted of a matched pair of DPA 4060 miniature omni-directional microphones mounted on either side of a sheet of plywood attached to the overhang of a small out-building. This location was convenient for WIFI access for streaming as well as protection from the elements. The microphones were routed to the computer through a Sound Devices Mix-Pre-6 audio interface.

Toughbook Laptop with Sound Devices Mix-Pre 6 audio interface. Items housed inside a waterproof plastic bin with a thick blanket for winter time.
Microphones at streaming location.

Livestreaming was abandoned starting in May 2019 in order to have the freedom to record in locations on the same rural property that could only be powered on battery and that had no WIFI access. These recordings were on average between 24 to 36 hours long with short breaks roughly every 14 hours to change the battery.

Portable setup recording with no computer for streaming.

Absent Listener – February 2019

In December 2019 the first fixed media soundscape piece in “The Absent Listener” series was made. It 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 2019 was a month where there was minimal human presence within earshot of the recording location which was among pine, birch and cedar trees approximately 1000 feet from the shore of Deer Lake. The area was 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 reflected the shifts in winter temperatures that happened during that month.

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 – March 2020

The second piece in the Absent Listener series was composed in a 60-minute version in March 2020 and it is derived from a continuous soundscape recording between March 16 and 18, 2020, which was close to the start of the COVID-19 social distancing measures in the local region. The difference between this version and the February 2020 has more to do with seasonal changes between mid-winter and late-winter then with the sudden COVID-19 shutdowns. Also, the location of the microphone was located on the waterfront shoreline and the sound of the ice on the lake shifting and changing is an attractive feature of this piece.

The Absent Listener is supported with funding from the Canada Council for the Arts and the Ontario Arts Council.

logo for the Canada Council for the Arts
logo for the Ontario Arts Council.