Wednesday, 18 April 2012

Listening underwater

One of the wallpapers which featured in the Sonic Wallpaper interviews has fish on it. These are some of the things people said about the wallpaper design:


It’s very sweet… they look like they’re having a good time.

Bathroom. It’s in the bathroom, definitely. I know it’s difficult to put wallpaper in a bathroom, but it would look great.

I really feel… whenever I look at it, I would be very happy. The fish just have such funny little expressions on their faces; they almost look human - like they’re talking to each other and telling each other stories. And it’s just so vibrant as well, with the weeds in the background being very abstract and sort of splattered all over the place… you can just imagine them swimming around, darting around and playing with each other.

That is such fun. And the detail! I love the colours… I just think that is so playful. I would love that in a bathroom. Or a cloakroom.

Do you think they’re mackerel? I think they’re mackerel or sardines.

I think it would be really funny to have it in your living room, because it would be like having a huge aquarium. Even though the fish don’t move.

Listening through to these interviews, I felt that one recording required for a Sonic Wallpaper piece to accompany this paper must be the sounds of fish. Where better to start with recording the sounds of fish than in the Horniman Museum, lowering hydrophones down into the amazing aquarium tanks there, in order to listen underwater?

I had always assumed or imagined that you would be able to hear fish moving underwater, but I was completely wrong in this assumption, because fish are in fact very quiet. Luckily, Jamie Craggs - who is the curator for the Horniman Museum Aquarium - knows more about fish sounds than I do, and he was able to point me in the right direction re: listening underwater. He explained to me that the noisiest two tanks would probably be the Fijan Reef tank and the British Shore tank. There are different varieties of wrasse in both of these tanks, which make a clicking sound with their jaws.

For making my recordings, I used a pair of JrF C-series hydrophones with a FOSTEX FR-2LE.

The first recording was made in the Fijan Reef tank. There are some very tiny blips and blops which you can hear; I am not completely clear whether these sounds are produced by the fish, or by the filtration system which manages the conditions inside the tank. I think it is most likely that when the fish were fed, the food landing on the surface of the water produced these nice, watery sounds.

The sounds of wrasse clicking are very subtle, but I think that is what you can hear in this recording, which was created in the British Shore tank. This tank contains Goldsinny wrasse and Cuckoo wrasse, and the fish below, which I have been unable to identify!

I also noticed whilst at the Horniman Museum, that there was an extremely fine lobster in one of the tanks. Apparently she has just moulted - hence the amazing, pale blue colour of her body in this photo.

I had to put my hydrophones into the tank with her, just to see if it was possible to hear anything, but in spite of her formidable pincers (she did look at one stage a little bit too interested in the hydrophones) she was very quiet and most of what you can hear in this recording is just the burblings of the water filtration system, and the water feature which simulates the tide rushing in and out of a rockpool in the tank.

Finally, I just left the hydrophones inside the Fijan Reef tank for a while, to see what could be heard if the fish were undisturbed for a long period of time.

I discern some tiny blips and pops in this recording, which I think might be created by the fish in that tank; what do you hear?

Thanks to the Horniman Museum for all the help with recording these aquatic sounds!

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