The Pump Shed – Essay

The aesthetic framework for my soundscape was initially conceived as an isolated rural rhythm. The pump shed once supplied water to the irrigation systems on the property as well as moving water to the poultry sheds, stables, house and to a second holding dam. It stood solitary in the middle of the main paddock next to the main paddock dam. The rusted, corrugated iron represented solid, reliable, and perpetual rhythm that formed the basis for conceptual framework – the looping pump and irrigator sounds continuous, reliable, unending. The removal of the shed evoked a desire to convey demise, hence the inclusion of the haunting synthesizer sounds. The inclusion of David Porteus’s butcher bird-lennox head allowed me to evoke the bird-call of one of the many species that would stop by the property on migration routes to drink from the dam and play in the water jets of the irrigators.

The concept was to convey the reassuring nature of the pumps in full swing with a literal interpretation of their sounds whilst overlaying the haunting minor key synth chord progression to evoke a sad demise.

The production process was initiated with the decision, earlier in Semester 2, to choose the Wymondley pump shed as my “lost Place”. Once my lost place was established, I logged on to the ABC Pool site to find suitable audio files to help convey the literal interpretation of the place as well as the emotional narrative I wished to evoke. I downloaded several files and was moved by butcher bird-lennox head which I opened in Pro Tools along side the field recordings I had produced in and around the RMIT University campus.

I arranged all the recordings into individual tracks and placed butcher bird-lennox head in an individual track also.  I then created a master fader. The glitchy sound I recorded in a computer lab of air-conditioning and fluorescent lighting was looped and affected to imitate the sound of rotary impact sprinkler heads. Water from a fountain, and a bathroom washbasin was compiled to imitate the gurgling dam and feeder channels. I adapted then looped the sound of an echoey underground car park to imitate the sound of the whirring pumps. Once I had arranged the sounds, I overlaid butcher bird-lennox head and edited it so that the chords and bird calls would match the timing and context of the track.

I then attempted to bounce the track from Pro Tools as an MP3 file, however, the computers in 06.04.06 computer lab do not allow this due to an expired license. I then bounce the file as a .WAV then opened it in Logic, from where I was able to bounce as MP3.

Once I had my MP3, I attempted (unsuccessfully) to upload to Soundcloud for some hours. Eventually I uploaded it and then uploaded to Pool as well.

The feedback I received from others suggested that I had imitated the sounds exceptionally well, though some commented that the overall composition was fundamentally simplistic. I suggested that this was the aesthetic interpretation of a pump shed, and they agreed hesitantly.

In order to get an overview of sound recording techniques I interviewed Timothy Bright, chief sound designer for the Australian Shakespeare Company, HoyPolloy Theatre Company and Feedback Loop Media.

“Soundscapes construction is fascinating in that it will often be more effective to use a less authentic sound”. “I might want to give the impression of near silence, but I will record a series of complex sounds and manipulate them. I might want to give a sense of distance, but I will record the sound close up then manipulate it to suit.”  (Timothy Bright. Interview, 2010.)

Tim showed me some techniques for growing more aware of the potential of sound. He encouraged me to wear my headphones with the mic switched on and to simply listen to the input rather than interpret what I believe I am listening to.

British film sound designer Harry Wall said in 1949, “Their huge, exciting, hard country has never been used by them at all. So I set out to find an almost 100% exterior subject.” (Richards, 2007)

This notion of the almost endless Australian landscape inspired me to capture something from beyond my preconceived notions of what sound should sound like. This combined with Timothy Brights lessons allowed me to convey the sounds of the irrigation system using sounds from the city. Fiona Richards study of Australia as a soundscape quoted Bill Bryson in 2001 as saying that “This is a country that is staggeringly empty and yet packed with stuff to be found”. Richards agreed and compiled works that included discussion of the irony of “western sound design” arranging “native sounds”. (Richards, 2001)

I realized that the composition contrasting the native birds with the introduced technology of irrigation could comment neatly on the situation in post-colonial Australia

Arnold Whittall determined that “In essence, twentieth century composition is seen as the result of continuing, intensifying dialogue between modernism and classicism”. (Whittall, 2003)

This determination sowed in me a seed of though regarding the dialogue between pre and post digital sound design, particularly in soundscapes and concrete editing. I was determined to capture something purely organic and quaint (such as the mechanical irrigation pumps) and yet create it in such a way that the very composition itself becomes a comment on the media. A “farmscape” composed completely from city noises and internet downloads – an intensifying dialogue between modern and classic.


Doughty, Ruth. Sound and music in film and visual media: an overview. New York: Continuum, 2009.

Lars Nyre, Sound media: from live journalism to music recording, New York, NY: Rutledge, c2008

Whittall, Arnold, Exploring 20th Century music: tradition and innovation. New York, Cambridge University Press, 2003.

Richards, Fiona. The soundscapes of Australia: Music, place and spirituality. Ashgate, Burlington Vermont, 2007


2 Responses to “The Pump Shed – Essay”

  1. […] ‘sound signals’… Lake Learmonth – how recorded spaces colour the final sound. The Pump Shed – including interviews, and an attempt to reflect on broader […]

  2. […] Blog A pirate of Penzance – witha a pen. « The Pump Shed – Essay Annotated Bibliography […]

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