23 Apr 2022

Sound Blog: Sound Portrait of a Buddhist Shrine



Today’s blog presents a minimally edited field-recording1 of a small makeshift shrine dedicated to Guanyin 觀音, on the way up to Hushan 虎山 in Taipei. This post is partly inspired from re-watching a documentary on acoustic ecologist Gordon Hempton [2]. The film highlights his method for capturing sound portraits, the aural equivalent of unedited landscape photography, with the “lens” being our microphone [1]. He argues against ’sonically Photoshopping’ such works, drawing on the analogy of a fabricated landscape photograph that haphazardly employs elements from different parts of the world. Hempton suggests that mixing different sounds together in a studio to make the perfect portrait would not effectively communicate our surroundings, and our relationships therein. For today’s post, I tried to keep this kind of attitude in mind, experimenting with microphone positioning and timing. The recording presents a soundscape of a hiking trail, wherein sounds of nature, people and ’electroacoustic’ religion permeate and help index one’s sense of place. In the snapshot we hear, for example, the continuous nianfo 念佛 emerging from a small Buddha-name recitation device (nianfoji 念佛). This then becomes layered with other electroacoustic sounds, such as those from the nearby Zhenguang Zen Temple 真光禪寺. In terms of edits, I reduced the original recording from seven minutes to five, together with adding slight compression and filtering.



[1] Gordon Hempton. Earth Is a Solar Powered Jukebox. Quiet Planet LLC, Port Townsend, 2016. [ bib ]
[2] Gordon Hempton and Nicholas J. Sherman. Soundtracker: A Portrait of Gordon Hempton. Fou Films, 2010. Format: Digital Download. Total Time: 83 minutes. [ bib ]



Equipment used: Zoom H5 + 2x Clippy XLR EM272 (mics ~25cm apart).

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