sound recording

Macallan Distillery - Riba Stirling Architecture Prize

The fourth of Jim Stephenson’s Architects’ Journal/Riba Stirling Prize nominee films looks at the Macallan Distillery in Scotland, designed by Rogers Stirk Harbour + Partners.

Nestled in the hills near the River Spey, the Macallan Distillery looks a bit like a Bond villain’s lair. On the outside the shape of the undulating 100m long roof resembles the rolling hilly landscape that surrounds the structure. On the inside, high tech industrial equipment, lit dramatically, produces premium whisky, with one bottle in particular costing over £500,000.

Tuning in to the production process using contact microphones, I uncovered a hidden world of sound. The hiss and pressure of the stills and pipes, deep industrial drones and wind ‘playing’ the structure itself.

Photograph by Jim Stephenson

Photograph by Jim Stephenson

Of all the Stirling Prize nominees, this was the richest for the senses. The contrast of the internal industrial sounds and the external natural sounds, the strong, sometimes overpowering smell of whisky, and inside the production area, the stifling heat, made for a challenging, but ultimately rewarding recording and filming environment.

There will be an alternate version to showcase the hidden sounds picked up by contact microphones coming soon.

The Riba Stirling Architecture Prize winner is announced on the 8th of October. Find out more here.

London Bridge Station - Riba Stirling Architecture Prize

The third of Jim Stephenson’s Architects’ Journal/Riba Stirling Prize nominee films looks at London Bridge Station, designed by Grimshaw Architects.

As well as the recognisable sounds of a busy station in a major city, I was able to record the hidden sounds using contact microphones to pick up the deep rumble of the escalator mechanics and the other worldly friction of the escalator handrails, and electromagnetic microphones to uncover the wealth of electronic waves pulsing through the station. These sounds don’t make it in to the main film (apart from the escalator rumble), but an alternative version with these as the focus, is planned.

Photograph by Jim Stephenson

Photograph by Jim Stephenson

The Riba Stirling Architecture Prize winner is announced on the 8th of October. Find out more here.

Goldsmith Street - Riba Stirling Architecture Prize

In the second of Jim Stephenson’s films for The Architects’ Journal, we visit Goldsmith Street in Norwich, the first council housing project to be nominated for a Stirling Prize. UPDATE: I’m really pleased to say that Goldsmith Street won the Riba Stirling Prize, the first council housing project to do so. Proving that well designed, climate friendly social housing is possible. I hope this is the beginning of a shift towards more projects like this.

These environmentally friendly passivhaus-standard terraced houses were designed by Mikhail Riches and Cathy Hawley.

Photographs by Jim Stephenson

The Cork House - Riba Stirling Architecture Prize

The first of Jim Stephenson’s Architects’ Journal/Riba Stirling Prize nominee films explores The Cork House, designed by Matthew Barnett Howland with Dido Milne and Oliver Wilton.

Sometimes you enter a space and struggle to hear any sound that might be worth recording. The Cork House was one such space, the density of the building’s material creating a warm cocoon, shut off from the nearby sounds of Eton and the Heathrow bound aircraft passing every few minutes. These situations require a stillness physically and of the mind, to begin to pick out what is present.

Photograph by Jim Stephenson

Photograph by Jim Stephenson

The beautiful garden offered a rich setting and opportunities for sound recording that provided a contrast with the stillness inside. I also used contact microphones inserted in spaces between the cork bricks to capture the sounds of the cork itself. These creaks and squeaking are used sparingly within the film.

The Riba Stirling Architecture Prize winner is announced on the 8th of October. Find out more here.

Shanghai 1933 Soundwalk

One of the buildings that I created music for as part of the Musicity project, was the Shanghai Slaughterhouse, 1933. This pre brutalist brutal building was designed to expedite the killing of animals to provide meat for Shanghai’s residents. It is now a space for shops, galleries, restaurants and a theatre, but the history is hard to shift, as the design is so striking it makes it impossible to forget its intended purpose.

I spent a couple of days at 1933, recording sounds to use in my piece of music (which is now finished and will be shared soon) but I’d forgotten I also recorded a sort of guided walk during one of Shanghai’s famous downpours. It was interesting to listen back to myself (and also weird) trying to navigate the maze of passages and bridges whilst taking in everything in the space. I’m sharing this as a personal audio journal/sound walk. It isn’t a definitive audio guide.

Shenzhen Electronics Markets

The electronics markets in Shenzhen are famous. It's easy to assume they are full of fake iPhones and other brands, but there is much more to Shenzhen than that. Shenzhen is the place to go if you are designing new technology, because you can get prototypes built in a fraction of the time it takes anywhere else. You can also buy pretty much any electronic component you can think of. 


I spent two hours exploring 7 floors of electronics, using my LOM Elektrosluch electromagnetic microphone to record the hidden sounds that the circuits, LEDs, components and gadgets emit. The LEDs in particular were a rich vein of sounds; the colours, patterns and movements creating a beautiful minimal techno album 12 hours a day, hidden from human ears. Recordings coming soon. 

Ambisonic Recording in Scotland

I had the pleasure of recording on the East coast of Scotland last week for a project for Salesforce Trailhead. I used the brilliant Sennheiser Ambeo microphone, which records 4 channels and allows for post processing in to various stereo microphone configurations, binaural and most versions of surround. Whilst the technique has been around since the '70s, it has gained in popularity in the VR world recently as the positioning can be linked to head movement within a virtual reality environment. It is one of the only microphone systems that records vertical as well as horizontal, and captures a truly immersive sound space.

Below is an excerpt of a longer recording I made in the rock pools near Dunnottar Castle. (you can just make me out in the image below) The microphone was placed so that water was bubbling and moving all around it and lapping against the rocks. This version is encoded in to the binaural format, which requires headphones to fully appreciate the 'surround' effect. 

What is so exciting about this recording technique, is the amount of flexibility once back in the studio. If I wanted to, I could choose to encode this same recording in any number of stereo mic configurations (and directions) or full surround. I'm seriously considering creating some library collections and I'm already planning another trip to Scotland to spend an extended period recording on the West coast. 

Photo by Clive Howard/Blue Canary

Photo by Clive Howard/Blue Canary