The Engine Room

by Ted Westwood

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about

A series of ambient compositions constructed from many heavily manipulated field recordings, creating a hyper-reality. Allow yourself to experience the listen in any way that you wish. Give it your full attention or play it in the background. I hope you enjoy.

“As the Western world becomes faster, more complex, more rife with nervous energy, the joy of listening to instrumental music that expresses both our external environment (both man-made and natural) and our inner spaces (both emotional and mental) is now more popular than at any other time in the history of recorded sound.”
Mike Watson


The Engine Room is a reflective work that I created in early 2016 exploring the area around Scalegill Mill, a watermill in Malhamdale in the Yorkshire Dales; it experienced a number of different industrial functions before being converted into a series of apartments. For around fifteen years I lived in an apartment named The Engine Room, that not surprisingly hosted the turbines for hydroelectric power and a waterwheel. A number of the original turbines and relevant machinery are still present and are a feature in the living room. On the site of Scalegill is the mill, a mill race and mill pond, a section of the river Aire and a beautiful area of woodland. This is all within close walking distance of the beautiful Malham Cove. This EP was my way of saying goodbye to a significant place in my childhood that I was very happy to call my home.

Each piece comprises almost entirely of field recordings that I captured around the site, with the odd sample from my collection of studio recordings. The field sounds captured represented my day-to-day association with the place to create a “figurative environment” influenced by Brian Eno’s approach for “Ambient 4: On Land” capturing the place as one might with a painting. Whether these sounds are literal to what the listener may experience at Scalegill for instance underlying field recording on “Hanlith Bridge” or are hidden under immediate 'surface' of the place the water recordings captured using a hydrophone on both “Water 1: Mill Race” and “Water 2: The Engine Room”, I intended to create selective realities. By this, I mean layering field recordings from different periods in time into single linear events to maintain the interest of the listener and create an intense experience. Natasha Barrett creates a selective reality in her work “Microclimate – III. Glacial Loop” where she captured the “electrical sparking, sucking, squeaking, whistling, burning and clicking” of a glacial lake.

Barrett explains in the notes pertaining to Microclimates III-VI that her recordings ”already contained the essence of temporal, spatial and contrapuntal development. In the end, composing involved editing, montage and subtle spectral enhancement. The results are hyper-real scenes, evoking the force and delicacy of the places I visited.”

In contrast to Barrett’s approach, I heavily manipulated my recordings to further exacerbate each selective reality, creating ideas that are symbolic and representative of place but to suit the loose narrative that I intended for each piece. Production techniques include but are not limited to spectral enhancement, extreme EQ, distortion, bit crushing, reverbs, delays, compression, time stretching, filtering, pitch manipulation, etc. Most sounds heard are not how they were originally captured, and the work is by no means intended to be sonically perfect. I was vibing while composing these pieces and cared mostly about effect rather than fidelity. In my view within an ambient context, audio fidelity is a creative decision rather than a necessity.

While there are those that can hear works like this without any context, there are others who want to identify with the context surrounding the work in order to experience and like to understand the environmental and historical references.


1. Water 1: Mill Race

At the rear of the mill is situated the mill race; a mostly still, deep body of water that once ran down into the mill, pushing the waterwheel around before flowing into the River Aire. The water now flows directly into the river through buried piper where the water can at times be turbulent. It is filled with plant life and the occasional area of pond life. Due to the close relationship between water and the mill, I used a hydrophone to explore sounds that are less immediate to the human ear, “peeling back the layers of environment” (Jez Riley French). Through exploring these sounds, I started to hear subtle pitch fluctuations that I have picked out and exacerbated using spectral manipulation. Almost every sonic layer originates from a very small stretch of the mill race near the pipe that leads the water down into the river. The piece echoes the historical context of the mill and contrasts to Water 2: The Engine Room due to the emphasis water sounds originating from outside.


2. Water 2: The Engine Room

The piece relies on the heavily manipulated recording of the washing machine in the utility cupboard to symbolise industrial use of turbines in the building whilst alluding to its new function as a home. The cyclic sounds are mesmerising, turning constantly throughout the composition. The water sounds that are heard were captured inside entirely using baths, sinks and showers; the pumps and drains can be heard to further symbolise the mill’s industrial history. Underlying sounds of doors and kitchen sounds further infiltrates the piece with homely sounds that I associated with the house.


3. Hanlith Bridge

This is perhaps the most sentimental piece in the work revolving around a field recording captured as I was leaving Scalegill for the last time as an inhabitant of the house, with a car filled with boxes, instruments and bits of furniture. I stood and captured the sound of the birds and the river Aire at the end of the driveway, an area known as Hanlith Bridge. The piece fell together relatively quickly and naturally when a short segment of a seemingly unrelated piece I was mixing looped in Pro Tools by accident. A number of days previous, I had been asked to record a piece commissioned for an ensemble led by a bass oboe. Naturally I jumped at the opportunity as the instrument has rarely been recorded nor has had pieces commissioned for it. When mixing the piece, the short segment heard in the piece started to loop. I sampled it and experimented with GRM’s Shuffling tool to create overlap and repetition between portions of the sample. This resulted in a beautiful yet simple combination of pitches played in the bass oboe and flute that sounds almost like an accordion. With time stretching and pitch manipulation came the basis of the composition.


4. Above Alleyways

A number of weeks after moving to the new house, I was at home alone on a grim late winter night. Instead of living in the middle of nowhere, with no perceivable rumble of civilisation, we now lived in the middle of the market town Skipton just away from the high street. From the windows and on the balconies you overlook alleyways and roads. Strong gusts of wind were causing water pipes and railings to whistle, it was rather spectacular to hear from my bedroom. As a result, I got my handheld recorder out and captured it. The selective reality that I created with segments of this recording and extreme manipulation is intense and the resultant resonating song is created entirely by the wind in an urban environment.

credits

released October 25, 2017

Special thanks to Rob Bentall for encouraging me to debut an ambient work. Additional thanks to Jez Riley French for a half day exploring and inspiring field recording techniques around the time of the EP.

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Ted Westwood Leeds, UK

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