Bush House Soundscapes

The closure of Bush House, home to the BBC World Service since December 1940, has provoked two wonderful soundscape projects.

Firstly, World Service studio manager Robin The Fog used recordings made in Bush House at night to create The Ghosts of Bush. “Here, atmospheric noises are slowed down and looped, with the help of some of the World Service’s ancient reel-to-reels, to form a piece of beautiful, warm spatial exploration. Chords swell and harmonic patterns emerge out of the building’s crepuscular creaking or Robin’s whistling, using the labyrinthine Portland stone corridors of the building, at one time the most expensive in the world, as a giant reverb tank.” (The Quietus, 2012).

Secondly, Creative Director of the re-launched Radiophonic Workshop Matthew Herbert created a soundscape for the BBC Radio 4 Today programme.

Listen to Matthew discussing his Sonic Tribute To Bush House here
Listen/download The Ghosts of Bush here

Ludwig Koch and the Music of Nature

Ludwig Koch was once as famous as David Attenborough, as pioneering as ‘Blue Planet’ and as important as the BBC Natural History Unit. They all owe their existence to this German refugee who first recorded the music of nature. Through his archive and new field recordings the poet Sean Street tells the story of Ludwig Koch.

When Sean Street was recording in a store-room at the Science Museum for a Radio 4 archive programme he came across a grey crate, stencilled, as if it belonged to a band on tour, with KOCH on it. This was the disc-cutting machine which Ludwig Koch used for a decade to make the recordings of birds, mammals and insects that led to a new field of study, of broadcasting and the creation of the BBC’s Natural History Unit.

Sean and his producer then began investigating and discovered that Koch made the first ever wildlife recording, of a bird, when he was eight, in 1889 – and that it still exists in the BBC’s archives.

Koch was an effusive man and this led to several confrontations with Nazi officials, whom he despised. There is an extraordinary recording of him telling the story of a Berliner whose bullfinch sang ‘The Internationale’. He was carted off to prison and the bird ‘executed’. “Under dictatorship,” Koch observed, “even songbirds suffer”. He came to England, worked with Julian Huxley on theories of animal language, and recorded birds from the Scillies to Shetland.

In 1940 he joined the BBC and soon became a household name, beloved of comedians (there’s a great sketch by Peter Sellers parodying him at work) because of his resolute pronunciation of English as if it were German.

As well as being wonderful radio in itself his work was of great significance. It inspired producer Desmond Hawkins to start ‘The Naturalist’, (using Koch’s enchanting recording of a curlew as its signature tune). Sean Street uses his recordings and contributions of those who worked with him in what becomes a natural history programme in itself, with Koch the subject and Sean exploring his habits and habitat.

There is also an attempt to record curlews as he did so successfully, to shed light on the achievements of this courageous, influential and loveable genius. Today sound-recordists use tiny digital machines and sophisticated microphones. But there are other problems – traffic, planes, people – and fewer, shyer curlews.

Listen to the programme here
Producer: Julian May.

Out of Silence

Curiously, the word silent is an anagram of the word listen! In this edition of Something Understood the poet Seán Street reflects upon what can be heard in silence and the difference in its nature from stillness – the difference, perhaps, between doing and being.

Using poetry, prose and music, as well as some extracts of innovative international radio, Seán explores the positive and negative aspects of the subject, the ‘magic silence of possibility’, the peace and calm it brings in a noisy world, the silence of loneliness, alienation – and when keeping silent is sometimes tantamount to complicity. ‘The words “Silent” and “Listen” are anagrams of one another,’ says Seán. ‘That is perhaps very significant. I want to explore as far as I can the poetry that lies in silence, the point where sound and silence come together, as in the tolling of a bell, the place matter and spirit merge.’

With reference to the words of Rupert Brooke, John Berger and Rachel Muers and music by John Cage, Bob Chilcott, Jonathan Harvey, Erberhard Weber, Pink Floyd and Miles Davis.

Listen to the programme here
Produced by Alan Hall
A Falling Tree Production for BBC Radio 4

Chris Watson: A Masterclass In Listening

2 months after Iceland’s ash cloud grounded global air transport, leading sound recordist Chris Watson reveals the secrets of one of Iceland’s more literary but no less famous volcanoes.

A boyhood Jules Verne fan, Chris will retrace the steps of Professor and Axel Lidenbrock from Reykjavik to his favourite place in the world – Snaefellsjokull – the glacier that contains the passage to the Centre of the Earth in Verne’s 1864 seminal work of Science Fiction. Along the way he’ll encounter communities affected by the 2010 eruptions of Eyjafjallajokull, talking to people who live within this geologically charged environment and meeting artists and musicians who have been inspired by their volcanic landscape.

Tying in with Verne’s theme of geographical exploration, to reach Snaefellsjokull – known to locals simply as Jules Verne’s Volcano – Chris will travel through one of Iceland’s most beautiful National Parks and will use his extraordinary recording techniques to reveal the natural sounds of this unique environment. The sounds of bubbling mud pools and sulphurous springs mirroring Jules Verne’s deep connection to the physical world.

Revealing interviews with leading figures from Iceland’s vibrant arts scene: including the keyboardist of Sigur Ros and best-selling Icelandic author Andri Snaer Magnason will combine with Chris’s recordings as he creates his own sonic adventure in the shadow of Jules Verne’s novel and Iceland’s volcanoes.

Producer: Rose de Larrabeiti
A Whistledown production for BBC Radio 4

Listen here: Jules Verne’s Volcano


A recent question in Sound On Sound asking about the best freeware plug-ins available has inspired me to write my first post for the blog. This is not meant to act as a comprehensive list of all the freeware plug-ins available, but more of a pointer to some of the superior or more well-known freeware plug-ins out there.

Windows Only

There are a number of VST suites available including:

ReaPlugs VST FX suite– a package of FX that includes many of the plug-ins that come with REAPER (http://www.reaper.fm/reaplugs/index.php).

Antress Modern –This includes a variety of signal processors including an EQ, Compressor, Expander, Exciter and Limiter. They also produce clones of the LA-2 compressor, 1176 compressor, Fairchild compressor and Pultec EQ ( http://antress.er-webs.com)

Bootsy (http://varietyofsound.wordpress.com/downloads)

GVST – (http://www.gvst.co.uk)

Pushtec EQ– this is based on the old Pultec EQP-1A and the Pultec MEQ-5. Both EQ’s are famous for their “musical” sound and still used in high-end studios around the world. (http://www.producerblog.net/2009/11/free-pultec-eq-emu-pushtec-5-1a.html)

Buzzrooms BuzMaxi 3 (http://www.x-buz.com)- Hard compressor, multi band Hard compressor, Digital linear compressor, Digital Linear multi-band compressor

Silverspikes Rubytube – RubyTube is a real time, digital tube amp simulator. RubyTube simulates the saturation effect that can be found in audio equipment with vacuum tubes. This effect is usually hardly noticeable but it is responsible for the classic tube sound. (www.silverspike.com)

The interrupter –a number of Dub influenced plug-ins, including delays (www.interruptor.ch)

OSX and Windows

MDA (http://mda.smartelectronix.com/)

Voxengo.com– Tube Amp AU and VST plug-in that can be used to add a slight valve warmness or a stronger overdrive to audio material (http://www.voxengo.com)

Camel Audio Camel Crusher CamelCrusher is a free ‘colouring’ multi-effect plug-in. It offers two characteristically different distortion sounds, which can be blended together to create a wide variety of tones and textures. Great for guitars, drums and plenty more! (http://www.camelaudio.com)

Ohm force Fromage -a worldwide acclaimed resonant filter, which have been described by top producer Stuart Price (2 Grammys awards on his shelf + remixed/produced Coldplay, Madonna, The Killers, and many others) as “still the most original and best sounding filter”. It delivers a unique palette of sounds, combining low pass filtering and analogue crunch with a bunch of special features (www.ohmforce.com)

GSIs Watkat -WatKat is a digital “clone” of a Wem Watkins “Custom” Copicat. It sounds very lo-fi, noisy and irregular. When you turn it off and leave the tape loaded, the tape bends in proximity of the capstan, and this turns into a periodic pitch fall during echo playback; plus, it gets hot and the background hum gets worse in time… you should turn it off every now and then; the tape is never completely erased, and the capstan motor flutters… and it gets worse if you touch it while it’s spinning; heads tend to get dirty very soon, in fact you should clean them often. This is true for the actual hardware unit, and for the digital simulation as well! (www.genuinesoundware.com)

George Yohng W1 compressor– W1 Limiter is a clone of Waves L1, with identical output. ( http://www.yohng.com)

Brainworx Dynamic Range Meter (http://www.brainworx-music.de/en/download)

For more information on The Dynamic Range meter, check out this article (http://productionadvice.co.uk/how-to-avoid-over-compressing-your-mix/)

Fluxs Stereo tool-Stereo Tool features ultra precise control of input gain and individual pan for left and right channels. A phase inverter is available on each channel. Global stereo pan and stereo width settings are also implemented to complete the management of the stereo signal.  Stereo Tool also offers accurate visual feedback reflecting the signal content. A vector scope display, PPM meters for both inputs and outputs, and a phase correlation meter permanently monitor the signal. (www.fluxhome.com)

BitterSweet II-Turning the central button to the sweet side decreases the transient’s amplitude. To the bitter side, the transient’s amplitude is magnified. BitterSweet also features a control for processing the signal. When the main position is selected, the process affects the stereo signal. If Center is selected, only the M signal of the internal MS matrix is processed. If stereo is selected, only the S signal from the MS matrix is processed. Three transient detection modes can be selected. Varying periods of integration for transients can be accessed. A Link function is available to compensate the output gain with respect to the transient processing setting. (www.fluxhome.com)

Brainworx BX Solo (http://www.brainworx-music.de/en/download)

Muxers Instant Sampler Instant Sampler because it does what a simple ‘normal’ sampler does (playing audio fragments by MIDI notes), but it takes its samples (instantly) from the audio input whenever you hit a specific MIDI note for the first time. Every consecutive time you hit the same MIDI-note, it plays back the recorded fragment (or shorter, depending on the note’s length).

So, is this plug-in an instrument (as the name ‘sampler’ might suggest), or an effect? Technically, it is an effect, but one that is controlled using MIDI. But, in Logic for instance, it is considered to be an instrument, played with MIDI, while having an audio side-chain input. The bottom-line is: It needs both audio – and MIDI input! (http://www.muxer.nl/instant-sampler)

A particular favourite of mine are the TAL plug-ins.  TAL does a great line of free plug-ins for both OSX and Windows. These include synths, such as the TAL Bassline, (a SH101 emulation) the U-NO-62, (Juno 60 emulation) and the Noisemaker. Other Plug-ins include delays, bit crushers, filters and tube saturation etc and is well worth checking out (http://kunz.corrupt.ch/?Products)

There is a huge amount of freeware out there so if there is something specific you are looking for it may be worthwhile spending the time to search on KVR Audio (http://www.kvraudio.com/get.php) or VST planet (http://www.vstplanet.com/)

If you think that there is a freeware plug-in that deserves a mention, add it below and hopefully we can develop a good database of freeware. Think of all the time you’ll save not having to look for cracks…