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Internationally acclaimed sound designer and naturalist Douglas Quin [US] talks about his sound practice and what he’s up to in Australia.

BY Madelynne Cornish | 12-Mar-2019
Background: Quin’s practice includes soundscape compositions, public radio commentator and music composer . He is renowned for his groundbreaking work in Antarctica where he travelled to explore and document its varied, sonic environments – from seals communicating beneath sheets of ice to the shifting and cracking noise of the ice itself. A career highlight was creating the sound design for and mixing Werner Herzog's Academy Award–nominated documentary film about Antarctica, Encounters at the End of the World. Quin is currently in Australia as a Visiting Fellow at the UTAS. In July Quin will work alongside Philip Samartzis and lead Bogong Centre for Sound Culture’s 5 day winter masterclass, which runs from July 1 to 5, 2019 at Howmans Gap, Victoria. #bogongsound @bogongsound #douglasquin #philipsamartzis #howmansgap
Internationally acclaimed sound designer and naturalist Douglas Quin

[Quin] I came to sound design and field recording through music and long-standing interest in natural history and wildlife from the time I was a child. My father was a diplomat. We moved around a lot and lived in North Africa and Europe mostly and I had the fortune and privilege of being exposed to different cultures, languages and musics growing up. These experiences opened my ears to worlds of possibilities. I attended Gordonstoun School in Scotland. The emphasis on a holistic and well-rounded education included opportunities for developing and honing wilderness and outdoor skills and that certainly helped to instil in me a valuing of the natural world. I never underestimate the power of formative experiences in childhood and their impact in shaping lifelong enthusiasms and passions.

My work and current endeavours include an eclectic mix of music and soundscape projects, including an ongoing collaboration with Lorne Covington in developing an interactive sound installation and gestural instrument called Paradise which draws on thousands of sounds--mostly from field recordings and studio recordings I have made of choral singers. The project has been realized several times including at the Venice International Performance Art Week. Participants move through the installation where their movements and gestures are tracked by multiple motion cameras. These data are then used to manipulate sounds through a network of signal processing and an array of loudspeakers. Visitor motion, individually and as a collective "organism," mixes remixes these sounds into a unique and ever-unfolding soundscape.

Recently I was contacted by Ben Gottesman who is organising an exhibition called Depth at the Science Gallery in Detroit, Michigan in the US that examines differences between healthy and degraded aquatic ecosystems. The exhibition will feature some of my underwater recordings from the Arctic and Antarctic. What I find intriguing about Ben's project is that sound lies at the heart of the visitor experience.

I arrived in Australia at the beginning of December and spent a wonderful month in rain-soaked Queensland making field recordings in the Daintree area. I then spent a few weeks recording in the sun-baked central highlands of Victoria. This is part of an 8-month visit to Australia and a Visiting Fellow appointment at the Conservatorium at the School of Creative Arts and Media at the University of Tasmania in Hobart. This opportunity evolved out of a series of collaborations and conversations with Dr. Carolyn Philpott, a musicologist and Associate Head of Research at UTAS. Dr. Philpott and Prof. Elizabeth Leane and I will be collaborating on a number of research projects involving Antarctica, the arts and intersections between art and science in the human experience of the continent. I will also be teaching and lecturing on various topics including sound design for film and television, music composition, soundscape and sound art. My Australian time wra ps up in July and one of the last things I am doing is leading a 5 day intensive masterclass titled The Art of Field Recording at the Bogong Centre for Sound Culture with Philip Samartzis (July 1-5)

The Bogong Centre for Sound Culture masterclass is very exciting and something new for me. Philip Samartzis and I have known each other for many years and we have both had extensive polar and extreme condition field recording experience but have not conducted a workshop like this before. The opportunity to connect with those interested in winter and polar work will be special as it will give us the chance to share our experiences and expertise in what is a pretty esoteric and rarefied field of endeavour. It will also give us a chance to tailor the experience to what folks are interested in--from arts-driven projects to scientific data collection to connecting with those who share a passion for the cold and snow. Our hope for the workshop is that participants come away with both technical knowledge about how to work in trying conditions as well as a deeper appreciation for the often quiet and nuanced soundscape of winter.

Click here for more information about the The Art of Field Recording masterclass.