Handrail: Audio - matthew piers robertson • photography writing creative toronto

The audio for Please Hold Handrail, like the photos, was entirely recorded from TTC escalators. Like the photos, getting usable results was challenging, and like the photos the end results are a mix of the reasonably-faithful and the unrecognizably modified. The final track is somewhat grinding, unrelenting, and monotonous – again, much like the photos.

I am unsophisticated and unpracticed with audio, so I offer this explaination not as a how-to, but rather as a how-did. I claim no skill, but want to be able to remember what I did for the time when I know how to do it better. All of the audio was recorded using a Sony PCM-D50 with its onboard mics.

The first three tracks are all from the same sound sample. One is a time-stretch that provides some high-frequency variety, which helped after I had to do a low-pass on everything to filter out a lot of hiss and hum. The next two tracks are a loop that provide the brr-brr-tik repetition; #2 is the natural sound, while track #3 gradually mixes in heavy reverb. This was recorded from the escalator at the eastbound platform of Chester station.

Tracks 4 and 5 are the thrumming keytone, and were recorded from the southbound escalators at Dupont station. They repeat as longer samples rather than looping short ones to let a little organic variety creep in. Tracks 6 and 7 are extreme time stretches to provide a bit more ambiance – six is just one singe brr-brr-tik that has been expanded to run the entire duration, while the final track is about eight seconds of the Dupont escalator. These two tracks were done with the Paulstretch tool in Audacity, while everything else was edited and assembled in Reaper.

As usual for me Handrail was a project of photos first, with audio being added toward the end of the process. I don't think musically or in narrative – just in case that wasn't already obvious – so I look to create emotive sound that will reinforce the images but can also stand independently from it. As always, success is a mixed and subjective achievement, but I'm happy with these results and now I can move on.


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