Feb 01 | Contact Mics & Installations | Recordings Due

Read Before Class


In Class

Recording exercise due.

Bring $5 (for contact mic parts) and a resonant object.

Examples: Something that “sings” when you hit it (bowl, sheet-metal, etc). Something with stretched strings (a guitar, rubber bands wrapped around a box), anything that sounds good!

  • Did everybody get the welcome email from the class list?
  • Collect files from the “Recording 101” exercise.
  • Build contact mics.
  • Introduce basic audio signal flow (mic level / line level / speaker level).
  • See the excellent Acoustics and Vibration Animations – Dan Russell, Grad. Prog. Acoustics, Penn State
  • Discuss resonance.
  • Introduce the basic vocabulary of sound (Frequency, Amplitude, Spectrum, Dynamics) via analysis plugins inside Reaper audio editing software. (The oscilloscope was s(M)exoscope . The spectrum analyzer (MAnalyer) and tone generator (MOscillator) were from the MFree effects bundle. The spectrograph was a built-in Reaper plugin called gfxspectrograph.)
  • Introduce the installation equipment available from Dan in the editing room (players, amps, speakers, etc) and set up an in-class installation with amplified contact-mics.


  • Bill Fontana’s “Harmonic Bridge” at Tate Modern
  • Toshiya Tsunoda’s intense and subtle field recordings of banal places
  • Rob Duarte’s “MOVEMENT” … a machine performance that documents the activities of a heap of small contraptions and mundane mechanical movements
  • Tomomi Adachi’s Tomoring instruments made of springs and other objects, amplified by contact mics.
  • Steven Conner’s recorded essay about  Resonance.

Further Research

  • “Soundings” by Gary Hill
  • “The Queen of the South” by Alvin Lucier
  • In class today we used a subwoofer driver to vibrate a tray of water to explore cymatic phenomena. There are special drivers called “tactile transducers” (AKA “bass shakers” or “aural exciters”) that are designed to vibrate surfaces instead of air. Parts Express sells a wide variety of them. You can also use a piezo buzzer element and a small audio transformer to turn lightweight rigid surfaces into speakers. (See book Handmade Electronic Music by Nic Collins)
  • German artist Markus Kison used tactile transducers to hide sound in a metal railing overlooking a river in Dresden. In “Touched Echo”, listeners put their elbows on the railing and cover their ears. The sound conducts through their bones, revealing aural artifacts of the WWII bombing of Dresden.
  • “Wavetable” by veteran sound and media artist Liz Phillips
  • A very geeky Chladni plate Youtube video from Edwin Wise, also featured in MAKE Magazine. (Subscription required to view article. Ask me and I’ll print it out for you.)
  • In this extremely corny PBS video, you can see an alligator rippling the surface of water using only its low voice.
  • Richard Lerman’s “Travelon Gamelon” bicycle piece and his guide for contact-mic construction
  • David Dunn shows how to build a hydrophone, tubular contact mic, and ultrasonic “probe mic” in this pdf.
  • Open Music Labs has a very helpful page about piezo products (including the discs commonly used for contact mics.)
  • In his “Rainforest” series, David Tudor attached contact mics to suspended objects to created resonant feedback loops.
  • Annea Lockwood did a performance in 1966 called Glass World where she played resonant glass objects with fingers, mallets, etc.
  • The Music of Sound blog has a great list of favorite contact mic field recordists, in particular Toyisha Tsunoda.