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Field recording compositions - Timothy Cooper

Updated: Apr 23, 2023

This was an interesting project for me, part composition, part field recording. So it was probably the closest combination of my work as a composer and a recording engineer I’ve worked on.

I’ve enjoyed working with field recordings since I started composing in the studio during my undergrad. Many of my earlier pieces have field recordings like skate ‘n’ shuttle/roll and smash which has recordings from the Kelvingrove skate part juxtaposed against recordings of racquet sports and Postcards from Blast Beach which is an audio-visual work exploring sound and image from Blast Beach in Seaham. More recently I collaborated with Laura Bissell to make Tide Times which a site-responsive work made on and for the island of Cramond. Sonia and Alice’s project felt like a really nice fit in terms of the kinds of sounds I really enjoy working with.

Alice and Sonia had strong ideas about the overall shape of the programme and wanted to connect the violin and cello pieces with recorded sounds of water. We talked about different kinds of water sounds and how they wanted them to fit into the overall arc of the concert programme, with field recording appearing in or linking together the three big sections. My normal approach to field recording is to pick a place and record what I find, but this project needed a more targeted approach. Planning field recording trips became an important – and fun – part of the project.

The Burn

The idea of following water from Source to Sea made me think about ways I might be able to track water back towards it source and I spent quite a bit of time looking up waterways on googlemaps with two key goals. Firstly, finding riverlets that looked like they could be small enough, because even small rivers can create more sound that Alice and Sonia were suggesting (a very small, trickly burn). Secondly, they needed to be far enough away from main roads that the recordings wouldn’t be affected by traffic noise.

I settled on a visit to the Lowther hills where the source of the Clyde can be found at Daer Reservoir and other tributaries feed into the Clyde. The confluence of these is delightfully named Waters Meeting. My plan was to visit the reservoir and to follow a tributary as far as I could back into the hills. The first part of this was ok, there was a fishing point at the side of the reservoir, and I went fishing for sounds (see image below), the tributaries proved trickier. The ones I attempted to follow were too difficult to walk, especially carrying mics and cables!

Pictures clockwise from top right:

1. Hydrophone (submersible) mics running into the reservoir.

2. From the reservoir the river became much wider and stronger very quickly.

3. Getting good recordings of running water, mostly involved getting into reasonably precarious positions while trying not to drop expensive equipment. Advanced recording involves selfie taking.

4. Intriguingly drippy sounds, that didn’t make it into the piece.

The Estuary

This piece was made from older recordings I’d made at Blackwater Beach in Arran. These sounds have made appearances in a couple of pieces already and it was nice to return to them. We’d talked about making gentle, lapping tidal sounds and these recordings fitted perfectly.

The Waves

This was the most difficult piece to make and needed a couple of trips out to make recordings. For this piece I was at the mercy of tidal systems, Alice and Sonia wanted to create the sound of waves crashing, so I needed to make the recordings on a day where the waves would be strong enough. I got rather familiar with surfing conditions websites, even considering a trip to Aberdeen at one point. In the end I recorded these sounds at Belhaven Bay. Looking at the surfing conditions there were apparently excellent conditions on a Friday evening. It looked like the beach should be accessible even in the dark, so I took the risk and drove through. There was quite a long walk-in, and I could hear the sea, but couldn’t work out how to get close enough to record as the tide was right out – recording fail! The next morning, I went back through and discovered an interesting beach and some excellent surf. Belhaven bay has an interesting, beautiful bridge in the middle of the beach. On the way out to the water, the bridge was seemingly redundant. But by the time I was heading back a small river had formed underneath the bridge!


1. I placed the mics, then let the tide come in with the waves sounding gradually stronger as the water came in.

2. Less precarious recording selfie. The cables needed a good clean when I got home!

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