Closely Observed Trains


Comprising of reconstructed and transformed soundscape material, derived entirely from journeys I have undertaken on the railways leading to and subways of London, England, Closely Observed Trains is a comprehensive study of the sonic environments experienced.

In-ear binaural microphones were used to record all of the materials, providing a unique window on the sonority of public transport spaces and a peculiar perspective of the sonic environments. Aesthetically, the train is observed from various angles of interest; trajectory, mass, material, mechanics, rhythm and the wider, poetic and symbolising characteristics.
No Nazi munitions trains were sabotaged during the making of this piece. [Matthew Barnard]

Matthew Barnard is a composer of electroacoustic and electronic music, currently studying for a PhD in Composition at the University of Hull under the supervision of Joseph Anderson. The subject of the PhD is the electroacoustic composition, also known as sonic art, using the binaural recording and reproduction method. This method involves small microphones worn in each ear during recording, and headphones or earphones worn for listening.

This, in theory, recreates the recording as heard by the person wearing the microphones. This particular, somewhat organic method introduces certain aesthetic, creative and philosophical implications in a musical context. One important concept is that of an indelible negative space that the wearer of the microphones has left on the recording for the listener to then occupy by theoretically taking the place of the recorder in the reproduced sound environment.

The recordings provide a peculiar perspective on environments that can then be weaved into coherent compositions; sounds of public spaces are captured with rich contextual sounds that can introduce interesting extra-musical meaning to the subsequent compositions (conversations, for example). The research includes the technical, practical aspects of the method and the creative, aesthetic aspects and their use in the context of electroacoustic composition.

The aim of the composition process is to demonstrate musicality in a subjective representation of the moments experienced during the recording phase – expressive impressionism? Performances of works include the Binaural Audio Art Symposium, Binaural Art Radio programme on ArtRadio and the upcoming RMA Annual Conference 2008.

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