Sounds from Sabah – Borneo

Summer Trip 2011 – Part 3

Approaching our last destination late at night, we saw what looked like a fire burning on the sea as we flew into Koto Kinabalu, capital of Sabah (A Malaysian part of the island of Borneo). It was an off shore oilrig, and a sight that set the table of mysteries and atmosphere for the unknown we were to encounter. I didn’t take a picture of the oilrig from the plane at that moment, as the plane was bouncing around violently, although I wish I had had the presence of mind to record the exuberant and terrified screams that ensued.

Mt. Kinabalu seen from the kitchen indow

Mt. Kinabalu is known as the Mountain of Spirits and is a majestic presence in the area. The sounds of KK and Sabah were calm and more natural than the urban sounds of Seoul and Hong Kong, being out of a city and on the coast. We explored the secondary forest and coastline, looking into the bays that lead to the mangrove swamps.

Walking to breakfast

[audio:|titles=beach walk]

Houses on stilts

The swamps are mostly mangrove trees and a few islands. The people have evolved different houses for the places they live, houses on stilts here in the swamps, boat houses on the sea shore, long houses in the primary forest and so on. They live in the nature and with the wildlife that lives there too.

[audio:|titles=Investigating the mangrove]

We made our way in a small boat through the mangrove, and came after a while to a burial site where the family bring the deceased in a boat to this island. Instead of head stones or plaques, type of person: young, old etc is commemorated by different coloured cloth.

Burial site

Traditional instruments – gong or talempong, drums – tambor and gendang, and 9 note metallephone like a simple version of the Indonesian gamelan instruments. The recording was done in a rather reverberant hotel foyer, and with out the rest of the band.

Traditional instruments

[audio:|titles=KK trad music bounce]

Secondary forest

Exploring the secondary forest and courted by the cicadas, squirrels and snakes. Luckily our guide alerted us to this Spitting Cobra, a dangerous snake, obviously put out by our tramping through his territory. A member of our party had a noisy camera, and I wondered what this creature thought of these digital beeps.

A meter and a half away from the Spitting Cobra

[audio:|titles=Holding our breath]

We flew home over miles of unknown terrain, back thought the night and day, altering watches, changing daily diets to a chilly UK. Even though I am now many thousands of miles away, and months down the line from my visit, the recorded moments in sound fill my head with my travel experiences: the substance of the ground under my feet, the physical spaces around me at the time, the sun on my back and even the exotic smells.

Sounds from Hong Kong

Summer Trip 2011- Part 2

Hong Kong is a place of stunning water and islands, where the old and new coexist. The skyscrapers, a veritable crowd of high-rise giants lean together with their toes at the waters edge. Sounds ricochet out between them, like an amplifier, especially when the fireworks show is happening. Here are snap shots and sound bites from the second part of our three-part trip to Asia.

Veiw from Hong Kong Island to the main land

[audio:|titles=Street level hubub ]

I was interested to find an interview with Yang Yeung, a Sound Artist, resident of Hong Kong and director ‘Sound Pocket’, describing the way sounds are perceived from high up the buildings, ‘I remember going up to a 20-storey factory building with some friends in Aberdeen, south of Hong Kong Island. It used to be a fishing village and now a vantage point for getting boats to outlying islands. We stood on the rooftop one sunset and the birds were playing around. The traffic noise from below was audible, but not disturbing. It’s like it is suspended on the 18th floor or something, forming a “cloud,” hanging.’

View from my brothers' flat - 30 stories up!!

30 stories up, the ground seemed like another world away, and quite quiet. The sky seems to move and the buildings actually do sway about especially in a high wind and especially typhoons that are quite common. My brother, who lives with his family in Hong Kong, described the improvements done to the design of the foundations of the high buildings so that the surplus rain does not damage their stability. Even now, during the typhoon storms , the movement from the tower blocks’ is quite dramatic, especially the higher up you are. To warn you of an impending typhoon, and especially the boats in the harbour, a signal is sent out. Historically it would have been a gun or explosive so ships would and still do take cover by the shore, although now it is broadcast over TV and radio.

Commenting on sounds representing Hong Kong nowadays, Yang Yeung says in an interview with Pandie Ho ‘I wouldn’t say it is representative, but the “doot” of Octopus cards dominates the everyday soundscape. But I miss the sounds of the coins going through the slots on public vehicles.

I didn’t get a recording of the Octopus cards, (equivalent of our Oyster card) but did get the omnipresent pedestrian crossing beeps.

[audio:|titles=pedestrian crossing]

Ignoring the beeps - on neighbouring Lan Tau Island

In a side street – Qingming or Ancestors day – observed here by office workers in their lunch hour by burning money to be carried in the smoke, up to their ancestors.

Ancestors Day

[audio:|titles=Qingming ceramonial music]

Aficionados for the Qingming ceremonies

Still working daily down on the water, the Star Ferry takes passengers from the main land Kowloon, to Hong Kong Island for a mere couple of Hong Kong dollars. The Star Ferry Company, dating back to 1888, still has its 1933 diesel electric engines. The top deck is still the first class and the bottom second class, and climbing on especially the lower deck you hear the lovely diesel engine and smell of oily fumes, and the vibration goes through your bones.

Weighty rusty anchors on the Star Ferry

[audio:|titles=below decks -Star Ferry]

Start Ferry - late night crossing

Sounds from Seoul

Summer Trip 2011 – Part 1

Asia was noisy and busy and amazing! Here are the sounds from the first part of our three-part journey this summer. Listening again to my collection of sound snapshots of the places has reminded me how even a short sound bite can put you spatially, geographically and sensationally right back to where you first heard it. We touched down first in Incheon International Airport -South Korea. We took the metro from the airport to the city.

View out of the train window on to wild terrain on the way into town

With the archaic landscape outside, the inside was a contrastingly ultra modern experience with air conditioned sped along with alternating western style trumpet fanfares and traditional music motifs as the doors opened. Voices announced directions in multiple languages while screens kept you amused – if at the time you weren’t taking advantage of the all-available Internet!

[audio:|titles=blog metro soeul bounce 2]

View inside the train

In the city there are stark contrasts with old and new culture. Young people form all over Asian look to Seoul for their contemporary culture. These two BBoys (pictured) were telling me how the Koreans are leading the International field in dance where BBoying is concerned.

Above ground in the centre of the city at Gyeongbokgung Palace, is evidence of an older culture, and the traffic sound coexisted strangely with the conch shell bugles and shell rattles of the changing of the guard. (And my recorder battery ran out at this point!)

The changing of the guard at Gyeonbokgung Palace

Away from the centre however, the extraordinarily loud noise of the cicadas could be heard in the city streets.

[audio:|titles=seoul cicadas bounce]

Seoul city streets

Here’s the street where we heard, the equivalent of the rag and bone man drive up and down in the rain in his battered truck calling on his mega phone for unwanted electrical goods.

[audio:|titles=seoul trader bounce 2]

The presence of the rain (there was unusual city wide flooding as we visited Seoul), the heat and the solid rock of the mountains gave me a feeling for the ‘elemental substance’ of the place. At the Asian Art Museum, the beautifully restored house of a highly renowned teacher of the ideas of Confucius, we were shown and played the traditional instruments, gongs, cymbals and drums, that represented the elements: thunder, lightning, dancing, rain, sun and wind.

[audio:|titles=wind gong seoul bounce]

The calm 'kitchen courtyard' of the Asian art Museum

At the other side of town by the port were the familiar thrills and spills of the fairground.

Fairground near the port

[audio:|titles=fairgr seoul bounce]

Koreans felt to me to have toughness in their genes judging by their history, ability to survive, their fitness and their inventiveness. It’s a popular national pastime to walk in the National Parks, so we joined in, took the metro and explored the nearest of the parks, Bukhansan National Park, climbing 739 metres to a peak over looking the city.

At the top of the mountain with a couple of cool cats

On the way down, with light fading, we came across a temple built over a spring and heard as we descended the temple bell through the trees

[audio:|titles=temple gong bounce]

The Cheonchuksa Temple

Getting The Vibes

Back in the summer I went to visit a friend who kindly said she would come and experience the sound from the ground, from a mic in the ground playing through a sub woofer in my car, and let me write down what she thought about it. Gemma’s experience was going to be different from mine as she is profoundly deaf.


Gemma and Willow

We put a geophone (microphone) 30 meters from the car into the grass in the park and sat in the car and watched the people go by. We felt the vibrations of their feet, and the vibrations of the traffic from the road being picked up by the mic and playing through the subwoofer (speaker).

There was road works about 150m away so after a while we went on to another park away from the main road, and that was quite busy with people walking, children playing, bird song and dogs barking. I attempted to record Gemma’s reactions to the subwoofer’s vibrations, and ask questions that would help me imagine what is was like to experience the world without sound, but visually and through the experience of vibration.

Connecting to the mic in the ground

Shirley. In the ground there is sound \vibration from the city: a low din going on. So even without drills and traffic, there’s quite a lot of noise. What is your reaction to this sound?

Gemma. It’s surprising what noise is there to be amplified – but it’s not obvious here.

S. Have you heard/felt vibrations like these (from the sub) before?

G. Yes.

S. Do you know where the sounds/vibrations are coming from?

G. If I see visually then yes – other wise no.

S. Do you notice, or are you ever aware of vibrations when you don’t know where they are coming from, and is that usual?

G Yes – If  I’m around hearing people, I ask what that noise is!! Usually I have to describe what I’m feeling to match what it sounds like.

15″ sub in the car

S. When some one asks me to ‘listen!’ I am aware of lots of sounds I don’t usually tune into. Is this the case with vibration?

G Yes. But only if it’s loud enough for me to feel!!

S. Is there a whole series or gradation of vibration you can identify?

There are some vibrations I do recognise if I don’t see it – e.g. a ball bouncing on the floor and something being dropped or a glass smashing on the floor.

S. Is it  (the vibration from the subwoofer) different if I close the car door?

G.  A bit.

S. When the drill isn’t drilling, can you feel the traffic rumble from the road?

G. Yes a bit –

S. How do you feel the vibrations? For example – in your bones or through your skin?

G. In my diaphragm and through my feet.

S. Wow – How did you come to realise this was happening? When you were younger did you remember becoming conscious of it?

G Well, I never really had any hearing after the age of 12, so from the age of 12 I became more conscious of vibrations and since then I’ve made lots of effort to learn and recognise more vibrations.

S. Are you influenced by different vibrations?

G. Irregular vibrations are irritating – man made – gets annoying. Regular rhythms are better nicer.

S. Do you think other deaf and partially hearing people you know feel the some as you?

G Well, I know my family is the same as me, and some deaf people too. I think most deaf people and partially hearing people have some sort of hearing therefore they are more oblivious to vibrations.

S. Do you ever talk about the quality of the ‘vibes’ to other deaf and partially hearing friends?

G Yes – If I’ve seen a band or at a gig that I really enjoyed the vibes from, I try to spread the word!!

S. Do you have a preference to big or small vibrations? Will you get as close as you can to a speaker at a festival – for the excessive experience – or is it uncomfortable – or are you happy to just have a small amount of the vibe?

G Well.. That depends!! Most of the time I do try to be right next to the speaker, but there has been a few places where it’s really overwhelmingly LOUD and it does get too much for me!

S. Do you know musicians or DJs who are deaf?

G Yes! There are a few – Mostly in London.


S. Have you ever come across the percussionist Evelyn Glennie? Yes

As a deaf percussionist, she is very interested in the way we ‘listen’ through our bodies. She became deaf at 8 years old, can hear a bit and lip reads well.

She describes hearing as a form of touch. Would you say touch is a form of hearing?

G Yes, Everything speaks volumes through touch and vibrations. E.g. Visually a guitar does not make any sound to me but when I touch it while it’s playing – it’s amazing!! So many vibrations and rhythms etc…


S. Do you go dancing and dance to the vibration of the beat in the music?

G. Yes- like a lot.

S. What are the best beats to dance to?

G. House, reggae, pop – Not complicated Latin rhythms though.

S. Is there anything you can add about the experience of vibration and how it is helpful or pleasurable?

G. Makes me feel heavy.  Sometimes I go through a whole host of vibrations every day, and when it gets too much I do want some peace and quiet!! Bit like you having a particularly loud day?? I can feel the bumpy road but the smooth road is quiet.

S. Can you hear or sense that bird? (Black bird singing very loudly close by).

G. No not at all.

S. Do you match up the visuals you are seeing and the vibration you are feeling?

G. Yes it happens all the time. It’s important and alerts me to danger.

S. I wonder how this differs from a hearing person? We all use our hearing to alert us to danger – from crossing the road listening for traffic, to keeping safe from dangerous people like muggers and burglars!! How much do partially and profoundly deaf people depend on vibration for personal safety?

G We don’t – We rely on our eyes for alerts to danger. Vibrations are difficult to judge for danger.

S. Do you feel your own hart beating/vibrating?

G. Yes but I’m used to it. It is alarming when it’s racing and I’m out of breath.

S. What other vibrations alarm you?

G I can’t think of anything – one might be someone running towards me as it gets louder with each step and when I recognise the vibration I do look around to make sure I’m safe.

S. Are there any other internal vibrations from your body that you are aware of? My bones click sometimes. Can you feel that? When you have a thumping head ache, are you sensitive to small vibrations?

Yes! And Yes… I like to stay in bed when I’m hung-over or ill,  as I know it’s very very quiet there!!!

S. Can you feel high sounds at all, and if so what are they?

Not really – Maybe a glass smashing as I know that’s high, but not much.


S. There’s a sound artist\musician, Kaffe Mathews, who has made a sound piece that’s bed you lay on that vibrates – sounds saucy!  People lie on it and hear the sounds but also become aware of the vibrations. Ooh!! I wanna try that!!

‘Ever felt music through your back? Or slide up and down your legs as it spins round your arms to your fingertips? A Sonic Bed will let you do just that .’


G. I am enjoying thinking where I feel vibration. No one talks about this usually.

S. What else would you like to explore or point out in regard to vibration?

G Personally, there’s so much more music I’ve not listened/felt yet, and it’s limiting when I need a bass box! It’d be amazing if someone invented speaker gloves that I can attach to an I-Pod and listen to music when I’m out and about!!!

I haven’t been dancing for ages. It’s a great freedom.


S. Can you hear of feel your dog Willow?

G. I can’t feel my dog bark, but I can closer up- about a meter away I can.  Growling- only if I am touching him can I feel that. I mostly use visual body language to understand my dog – and the others I look after.

G. It would be good if you, and the car subwoofer system, came to the festival with us (deaf group of friends) and we could dance to the bands without having to go up front right next to the speakers – and I could have my dog with me.


S. When we came to the quieter park, I remember you described the small vibration being like the ‘wind’ or the ‘rain’. Inuit have hundreds of words for snow. Have you any other descriptive words for vibrations?  Maybe describing strong vibrations…

G.  Yes – we describe it easily through sign language and make the vibration visual to help describe it to other deaf and partially hearing people. It’s hard todescribe it in English!!

S. Well thank you- for this fascinating insite into the world of vibration! I am now thinking of more and different questions as I begin to put myself in your place.


G. Thanks to Shirley for an amazing experience of amplified everyday sounds! It helps me to understand more about hearing people and what they listen to and experience the differences in sounds!!