Sounding Out Stories
Eugene Soh, the audio engineer behind Estate Frequencies, details his process in developing the soundscape of the podcast by translating his experience of Tiong Bahru into sound and story.
When you think of Tiong Bahru what kind of sounds come to mind?
There are three prominent soundscapes that I've discovered. The first is the Tiong Bahru market and hawker centre on an early Sunday morning. Families from all over Singapore come to have breakfast and shop for groceries for the coming week.
The second is the stillness of the streets on weekday evenings, with fewer cars and residents out for an after-work jog or walk. If you're in the right spot, you might hear a distant bouncing of basketballs from the community centre.
Lastly, there's the lively chatter of people from diverse demographics on weekends. It's unique to see Europeans, Americans, English and locals all gathered in close proximity in a HDB estate. The low density of Tiong Bahru plays a part in making this possible.
How do different spaces in the estate yield different sounds?
There are two main factors that contribute to the soundscape of a place: size and sound sources.
When you pay close attention to your surroundings, you'll notice that the materials and physical space play a significant role in what you hear.
For instance, if you walk by kitchens in narrow back alleys with low ceilings, sounds tend to be more pronounced compared to hawker centres where sound bounces around and creates a wall of echo. In such situations, you need to focus on what you're hearing.
Walking by first-floor apartments, you might hear dogs barking, cat collars ringing, and faint sounds from TVs or radios. Outdoor chatter can also create reverberations that bounce off building walls with 3 to 5-second delays.
How did you go about translating the architecture of Tiong Bahru into a sonic landscape?
The specific location within Tiong Bahru that we're walking through influences the soundscape in different ways.
For instance, at the Monkey God Temple, the environment feels sparse, and any musical elements I choose to use would reflect that. I might focus on just 3 or 4 notes, bouncing back and forth randomly. Warm tones can help create a feeling of quiet prayer.
On the other hand, at the basketball court I would use a stronger percussive control to match the sounds of the bouncing ball and shuffling feet.
Tell us about the equipment used in recording the interviews and the b-roll.
I’ve been recording the interviews through the Universal Audio Volt 476p. It’s portable and has very reliable preamps that I trust.
In the interviews we are using Audio Technica BP40 for the interviewees and the ATS99 on Marc. He also recorded the main dialogue on the ATS99. We reached out to AT and they also gladly sponsored us with M20x headphones for monitoring and the BP4029 microphone for capturing environmental sounds.
I can always trust AT mics to have a low noise floor and their headphones to provide a good translation to what is being recorded.