Instant Journal

Table of Contents:
The Concept of Situated Composition
Symposium Presentations (including following Brainstorming Session)
Creating Situated Compositions (Audio and Discussion from Workshop)
Echoscape Performance


This Instant Journal gathers together ideas and sounds that were generated during the Situated Composition symposium/workshop on 6 May 2016, part of Lancaster Arts’ OPEN 2016. The day was extremely productive, with 18 participants from all over the UK and beyond sharing thoughts on relationships between sound, mobility, technology, and place. In the morning there were seven presentations from researcher-practitioners whose work resonates with the idea of situated composition. In the afternoon the group brainstormed principles and practices for situated composition inspired by the morning’s presentations, and then went out to create their own sound works, many of which are included below. After regrouping, participants shared their pieces, discussing their approaches, and the positive, challenging, and interesting aspects of working with sound in the way they did. Created spontaneously on the day of the event with minimal subsequent editing and organising, this instant journal presents the material from the day largely in the raw rather than offering a finessed finished product. While inevitably missing the full richness, detail and depth of what took place at the symposium/workshop, the journal aims to provide both a document of the event and a variety of suggestive ideas and sounds that can be drawn on as something of a tool kit for approaching situated composition.

The journal has been produced collaboratively by workshop participants: Ximena Alarcón, Ollie Bradley-Baker, Monika Büscher, Owen Chapman, Andrew Deakin, Jane Dudman, Lucy Frears, Fiona Harrison, Ron Herrema, Lipeng Jin, Bethany Morgan-Davis, Linda O’Keeffe, Jen Southern, Katerina Talianni, Johanna Taylor, Samuel Thulin, Steve Varden, and Hayley Wanless. Sam Thulin has acted as editor.

Many thanks to Lancaster Institute for the Contemporary Arts, the Peter Scott Gallery, the Centre for Mobilities Research, and Lancaster Arts.


The Concept of Situated Composition

Situated composition highlights the way in which sound production and compositional activity are always situated in multiple ways, occurring under particular conditions in specific circumstances. Like the growing field of studio studies, situated composition seeks to understand “how cultural artefacts are brought into the world and how creativity operates as a situated practice” (Farías and Wilkie, 2015, 1). As tools for working with sound become increasingly mobile and easy-to-use through developments in mobile devices and apps, the contexts in which sound production and composition occur have the potential to expand (are expanding). These developments make the situatedness of composition evident in compelling ways. At the same time, rather than positing that such developments usher in completely new conditions for working with sound, the idea of situated composition stresses that all sound work is situated. Situated composition is not restricted to particular technologies or practices. Rather it is a way of approaching any technology or practice with an ear to how it unfolds in relation to a situation. In this view, what constitutes composition is not defined a priori, as the boundaries between listening, performing, improvising and composing are purposefully blurred. The three categories of dictionary definition for composition – a product (a composition), a process (the act of composition), and a mode or relationality (the compositioin of something) – are also brought into resonance. Situated composition, then, recognizes composition as open, collaborative and emergent, a co-composition of practitioner, sound, tool and place, and of material, social, virtual and digital relationships. The morning presentations that kicked off the symposium/workshop elaborated a variety of projects that provide fruitful ways of considering different approaches to composition and ideas of situatedness. Very brief summaries are provided below. – Samuel Thulin


Symposium Presentations

  1. Samuel Thulin began with an introduction to the concept of situated composition and briefly discussed his current research project, which involves a combination of artistic practice and interviews with sound artists, musicians, composers, producers etc. who use mobile devices and apps in their work.
  1. Ximena Alarcón presented her work exploring collaborative, telematic sound performances dealing with themes of migration, dislocation, and in-betweeness, particularly through language and the voice.
  1. Owen Chapman shared reflections on his concept of situated nostalgia, subtly weaving connections between the recent passing of his grandfather, his early field-recording experiences, and his time in Morecambe and Lancaster as a Visiting Fellow at the Centre for Mobilities Research.
  1. Linda O’Keeffe presented a recent project she carried out with students in Singapore, exploring the sound of the city through contact microphones and developing sound maps and graphic scores that were subsequently used in performances.
  1. Ron Herrema presented on his app Infinity (currently in development), which generates meditative visuals and sound in real-time based on users’ gestural interactions with the device’s touch screen. Herrema is currently user-testing the app, and shared initial responses from participants.
  1. Jen Southern used Umberto Eco’s concept of the ‘open work’ to consider the idea of situated composition in relation to her art practice, focussing in particular on her and Sam Thulin’s most recent work, Homing, in which audience members compose a sonic experience by moving around the town of Preston’s Harris Museum and Flag Market.
  1. Lucy Frears presented on her work exploring locative media and landscape, reflecting on some of the insights and challenges that arose during the process of creating her locative audio app Hayle Churks, which offers a non-linear oral history of the post-industrial town of Hayle, Cornwall.

In the afternoon session, these presentations were plumbed for ideas on what it might mean to carry out situated composition in a reflexive way – that is, to concentrate specifically on the situatedness of practices and to consciously incorporate that situatedness into the process of creating sound works.

We divided ideas into two strands: principles and practices, meant to indicate more conceptual approaches on the one hand and concrete methods on the other. However, while that distinction is maintained in the way the material is organised, we found that, unsurprisingly, it is not always easy to separate a principle from a practice as the two often mutually influence each other. The following lists are left in their raw form, as evocative prompts.

Principles/Ideas/Conceptual Approaches

Working with the idea of surfaces & under the surface, inspired in part by the device itself, touching, glass screen/code etc. (Ron Herrema), and by recording sounds of the city by probing surfaces with contact microphones (Linda O’Keeffe)

Challenging the idea of landscape as ‘flat’ and ‘over there’; approaching it as what is around you, something you are in, as in Lucy Frear’s locative audio app Hayle Churks.

Immersion vs engagement. Different levels of activity and passivity on the part of a user experiencing a work (drawn from Ron Herrema’s discussion of his app Infinity, and the work of Douglas and Hargadon (2000))

Different kinds of dislocation and in-betweeness: “what does the in-between sound like?” Ximena Alarcón asks. Being situated through migration. Being in multiple places at once. Feeling out of place. “I am not here, I’m …..”

Situated in travel

Situated in language

Resonating with memories and nostalgia: ‘You had to be there’

Situated nostalgia (Owen Chapman)

Being there, being then, being now. How do they all work together?

Close and distant

Connection – past & present  / physical & virtual

Removal of the body

Situated: to be changed by a situation // Composition: makes change in a situation (Jen Southern)

Declaring your situatedness / where your approach comes from / social/political etc.

Tension between Haraway’s situated knowledge and situation as place, different ways of thinking about situatedness.

Phenomenological situation


Smell, materiality, juxtaposed with voice and memory – trigger for past experience


Embodied composition

Kinaesthetic knowledge




Metaphorical scores

Graphic scores

Sound maps


Contact microphones / making contact

Gentle play


Not being shy

Haptic interfaces

Physical interfaces

Prosthesis – attachments


Beneath the screen

What sound is on the surface

What sound is under the surface


Audience as composer within parameters

Body & removal

Embodying space and then voicing it back; listening and voicing

Transforming the space with a device

Connecting voices between spaces; telematics

Gathering sounds together

In the moment

Listening together, talking together

Deep listening


Meditation / energy


Listening walk – using all your senses

Translation between senses/entanglement of senses

Bringing something back that connects with a sense of sound – (sound of a gorse bush on fire through evidence of it having burned) – bringing back objects (Andrew Deakin)

Microphone as an altered set of ears

Recognising something moving

Because something is moving it must be making a sound


Creating Situated Compositions

After the initial brainstorming session, participants were provided with a range of tools for working with sound, including mobile recorders, various microphones (binaural, contact, hydrophone, wireless), and iPads loaded with audio apps.

Drawing on the principles and practices discussed above, the goal was to go out either individually or in groups and create a situated composition in under two hours.

A number of these compositions are included below, along with notes from the discussion that took place as we listened back to the pieces afterwards.

Fiona Harrison
Approach: Walking around campus reading out signs as they were passed and recording into the app Audioshare, then mixing in the granular synthesis app Borderlands.


Owen Chapman
Approach: Recording on the phone while cycling, then beat-tapping in the app Beatmaker 2.


Steve Varden
Approach: Recording while travelling around in search of sounds, finding industrial sounds that aren’t immediately obvious, such as generators; making sounds through the physicality of the microphone (ex. repeatedly dropping the hydrophone into the pond).


Andrew Deakin
Approach: Walking and recording using binaural microphones, following sources of sound in one take. Composing live by the route that is taken. Techniques include walking, pausing, and spinning in place to create panning effects.


Lucy Frears
Approach: Exploring apps and techniques that are unfamiliar. Using Audiomobile to generate resonances between images and sounds and their varying trajectories; using Borderlands and Audioshare.


Katerina Talianni
Approach: Sensory postcards and digital ethnography. Using Audiomobile to create sound sensory postcards from Lancaster University.


Hayley Wanless and Bethany Morgan-Davis
Approach: Sitting still on the steps in Alexandra Square and recording the sounds of activity in the immediate environment. A composition composed by the environment. Subsequent mixing in the app Borderlands.


Ollie Bradley-Baker
Approach: Recording sounds of motion, then carefully mixing them using panning effects to situate the listener.


Ron Herrema
Approach: Situated improvisations done on the terrace of Cafe21 on campus working with the materiality of audio tools and nearby objects. The first, a vocal improvisation, was recorded with a hydrophone in a glass of water.


Another approach, suggested by Jen Southern: recording and layering the sounds of a place over time.


Thoughts on the Experience of Creating Situated Compositions

Challenges and Negotiations

Wind on the binaural microphones caused distortion, but decided to accept it as part of / a layer in the soundscape – which tells the listener more about the environment and the weather.

Remembering what you’re doing and why you’re doing it. Not tryng to get the perfect recording but concentrating on the activity.

There is value in the things that you would usually avoid; setting aside assumptions about how you “should” record and compose.

Challenge of making something in limited time meant that you had to go with it.

Binaural microphones allow you to record without other people knowing – can cause you to feel guilty for hearing too much – like eavesdropping

Limitation of short workshop means that what can be produced is limited – there’s just what is within easy reach. Not enough time to explore areas farther away.

Not knowing the campus makes it difficult to know where to go and how to get back

Not knowing the software makes it hard to experiment

Its hard to find files on different devices

Difficult to transfer files between devices

File types and compatibility issues

Problems with connectivity and compatibility between devices and between apps within one device.


Positives and Surprises:

Due to small size of phone interface, thinking you’ve switched something off and actually its on, so you’re still recording. And the accidental recordings are great.

Going out with a recording device means that we listen differently – both through attending to it, and through its amplification.

Amazed at how much more one hears through the headphones – and using the hydrophone

Experimenting with iPad apps

Audioshare app really easy to use

Time constraint makes you do things you might not try otherwise

Having smaller more mobile devices is liberating and quicker – like sketching

Audiomobile is amazing! Easy to use, liked that you can log in and that there is social aspect

Finding things from the past

Having the windscreen meant you could actually record things



Is there an online audio editor that could be shared and files uploaded from various devices

What are the opportunities for collaboration?

Working in a group to share experiences and learn from each other.

Makes us want to go and buy an iPad! Ambivalence on the part of workshop organisers – we don’t want to be Apple sales people.

Working with chance

Your contribution to a place through the recording

Spinning and people walking past

Unusual behaviour


Echoscape Performance

Following the symposium/workshop, Owen Chapman gave a live improvised performance using his Echoscape application, drawing on sounds recorded in Morecambe during his workshop a week earlier. Sounds soon to come…