Beauty in Lo-Fi

Sound immersion with Johan Vandermaelen, March 2016

I believe in encounters. Every year Elias Heuninck invites different artists to give sound workshops in one of Ghent’s university labs (KASK Herculeslab). I would probably have heard of Johan Vandermaelen much sooner if I had followed a more predictable path to film art in Belgium. Johan is a microphone-maker, sound engineer, sound artist and hardware hacker. More importantly, he is a generous and passionate man with decades of experience working within the context of sound in art.

The workshop was surprisingly eclectic, with a great balance of theory and hands-on hacking. Three hours into it, I was soldering my first contact microphone, moving on to making an excellent stereo mic for about 5 euros in material costs.

Acknowledging the religious nature of the quest for the perfect image and sound, we went from a classic instructional film on the properties of sound, through branded tutorials as a way of reviewing basic parameters and technologies for building microphones, to hacking hardware and building our own quick-and-dirty mikes. The hands-on activities included a field recording session, mixing our own sound recorded with hand-made mikes, and re-amping our field-recordings to create live accenting and modification of sound over time.

The list of my takeaways is rather long from the three days. For Rites of Resistance, the following two parameters have to be considered: What are the physical dimensions of the object(s) to represent with sound? What is the physical space in which the film will be experienced?

Both of these questions have revelatory power for the project. This is my first entirely celluloid-based work, and I decided for analogue distribution and presentation. Practically, the sound will have to be mixed for the dynamic range of a 16mm projector, taking into account an average size projection or cinema room. Since the experience of sound is dependent on frequency and the space where we are, no two screenings will be identical.

Control seems out of reach - experiments need to continue without hesitation.