Recording 'The Sound of Iceland'
When one thinks about Iceland, normally the first thing that comes to mind is the Northern Lights or Aurora Borealis. Those of you who have visited Iceland will also know about the stunning landscape and the ever changing weather. However, one thing that is often overlooked is just how amazing Iceland 'Sounds'.
Below is an interview with Thomas Wing-Evans and Michael Perkins, who embarked on a sound and photography project in Iceland. All of the sounds they captured were using a Shure MV88 with an iPhone. They have also been kind enough to share their sounds with us (you'll see them at the bottom of this post)
Please can you explain your roles within this project?
T: We're both Architects and photographers. We have a passion for exploration, but 'exploration' is different in today's world where most of the world has already been navigated. Apart from the depths of the ocean, there are very few places in the world yet to be discovered. For us, exploration is more about the ways in which you can experience a place rather than how remote it is, although that definitely adds to the fun.
You mentioned to us that the James Phillips Foundation (who provided the grant for your project) aims to create opportunities for young designers in the field of architecture to travel, pursue research interests, and document their experiences through photography, sound and film. Is there anything else you'd like to mention about the Foundation?
T: The James Phillips Foundation was created by the Phillips family following the death of their son James from Sudden Adult Death syndrome, whilst running a charity marathon in 2014. His passion for architecture, photography and travel defined him and defines the excellent work of the foundation today. They really made this project possible. The travel award that we won is built on the notion of adventure and exploration and we have endeavoured to stay true to that driving concept in the work that we have produced.
Can you explain to us in more detail a bit about your trip to Iceland – was it specifically a 'sound' trip or are there other elements to your project?
M: Our Iceland expedition was an exploration into the theme of 'migration', which was proposed by the James Phillips Foundation. Thomas and I produced a proposal to explore and research glaciers and their migration throughout the variety of Icelandic landscapes they create. Initially this was planned to be primarily through photography, but as we immersed ourselves in these environments we realised that the soundscape would be intrinsic to the representation of the theme.
T: Yeah, I would say that we initially underestimated the quality of sounds that we might encounter. Iceland is an incredibly visual place, so it's easy to forget that it also has a rich sonic landscape. The more we thought about it, the more apparent it became that sound would play a huge part in experiencing the photography and film once we returned to London. The different elements of the project are really connected together by the audio, which we have tried to weave throughout.
Primarily, the trip focussed on the glaciology of Iceland. Our aim was to cast a light on the glaciers and the environment and cultures that they have dramatically influenced. We covered approximately 30-35km per day on average over 10 days and forwent shelter for the entire trip. We used lightweight bivouac shelters in order to remain shooting on location for as long as possible, making the most of Iceland's long days . This exposed, nomadic attitude permeated every aspect of the expedition. All food, supplies and technical gear was carried in packs on foot. Luckily, this meant our packs got lighter as the trip went on.
Why did you choose Iceland?
M: We ended up choosing Iceland because of the variety different landscapes that we could access and explore over the 10 days we planned to spend there. The numerous glaciers, lagoons, volcanoes, rivers and waterfalls, all in such close proximity to each other, also gave us the best opportunity to take photos and recordings of the different conditions that this creates.
T: There isn't much to dislike about Iceland. Like Mike said, the variety was key for us, since our aim was to build a narrative around the different states that the ice takes as it makes it way to the sea.
There is a phrase in Iceland – 'If you don't like the weather, wait 15 minutes' - did you find the weather to be ever changing as the quote suggests?!…
M: We were reasonably lucky this trip with the weather. That being said it does change quickly to create some truly otherworldly atmospheres. Whilst hiking over the glaciers on top of Eyjafjallajökull volcano the super fine rain produced an almost monochromatic light-room where solidified black lava flows fold up between the snow and ice.
T: It may also be that we are slightly looking back at the expedition with rose-tinted spectacles! I remember one day it was really foggy and rainy and we were hiking up this snowy incline. I was so exhausted and hot, but I couldn't unzip my coat because of the rain, so I just had to fester inside my jacket. I definitely didn't feel like getting my camera out at that point, but it probably would have made a great photo. We were worried that the heavy fog we were experiencing would limit our ability to capture big vistas. It did, but it actually created a totally unique atmosphere that gave the photographic subjects a strong focus.
All of the sounds you recorded in Iceland were captured using the Shure MV88. What are your thoughts on the mic now having used it extensively?
M: Couldn't have been better for this trip. Compact, lightweight, easy to use and the results sound great. When we were hiking around shooting on three other cameras the simplicity of plugging in the MV88 to the iPhone and pressing record, letting it do its thing, was ideal.
T: I cannot sing this microphone's praises more highly. It was the one piece of technical gear we could rely on to work in all conditions. When we were at high altitude the cold would stop Mike's camera from firing. When we were out on the boat taking photos of the icebergs my lens kept steaming up. The action camera we brought had a habit of running out of battery at inopportune moments. In all of those situations we just plugged the mic in and it would work, rain or shine.
You also used the Shure Motiv App. Tell us a little about how you used it?
M: At various points during the trip there was quite a lot of conflicting audio sources and being able to isolate these by adjusting the stereo width was really useful. Certainly the wind reduction setting was important when standing on top of the volcanic plateaus or flying along in a boat between icebergs on the glacial lagoons. Again just the option to be able to adjust the mic gain to really capture the more subtle sounds has achieved some really good results.
T: The build quality of the mic is great, which helped, but having the advantage of the deadcat and wind reduction controls built into software meant no irritating hiss. We were carrying a lot of heavy technical gear, so we had to make some trade offs like not bringing a hot shoe mic for the SLR. The inbuilt SLR mic wasn't really up to the job, but we were able to adjust the settings in the Motiv app to create bullet or omnidirectional audio depending on what the video subject was.
Is the MV88 the kind of thing you may use for other projects/interests in the future?
M: For sure! Its such a compact mic that produced such great recordings on this trip I'm definitely going to be using it more regularly than just the occasional research expedition.
T: I agree, this is our new go to mic.
I have listened to the sounds you have provided a few times and the Bubbling Geothermal Vent seems particularly otherworldly. What is your favourite sound from this collection, and why?
M: There's a few that came out particularly well but one of the ones that I enjoy listening back to is small chunks of melted icebergs hitting the bow of the boat at Jökulsárlón. The glacial lagoon was such visually rich environment but the boat coasting through a dense patch of small icebergs created such a cool sound that I had the MV88 out in seconds.
T: The Icebergs cracking and breaking under the bow of the boat sound awesome. I think my favourite is the recording of water running along a glacial rill and down in to a crevasse. Some of these crevasses are so deep that you could throw a chunk of ice down and never hear it land. When water runs into them the concentrated echo creates a kind of humming like a violin which sounds incredible.
Do you plan to embark on another expedition of this kind again in the future?
M: Yes, the next one is already in the pipeline.
T: We're currently editing the footage, audio and photography for an exhibition in London. After that, we'll be plotting our next adventure, so stay tuned.
We think the sounds Thomas and Michael collected in Iceland perfectly illustrate one of the overlooked uses for the MV88 – Field Recording. As you'll hear below, you can achieve a lot with just an iphone and a MV88 microphone.
NOTE: All of the sounds are directly from the MV88 with no mastering, additional compression, reverb or EQ.
All of the Iceland pictures are used with kind permission of Thomas & Michael.
You can listen to the sounds below
For more information on the Shure MV88 microphone click here
Search Instagram for @wingevans and @michaelperkins_ for further photography and updates on their forthcoming exhibition.