A few months at the Smithsonian

Category : Sound

A few weeks ago I arrived in Washington DC to start a two month project at the Smithsonian – specifically at the National Air and Space Museum. This is for a Smithsonian Artist Research Fellowship (wonderfully shortened to SARF), which means I am embedded in the museum until early December.


My general aim is to explore the sounds of aircraft, and in my first few weeks I have been focusing on military planes in particular. I managed to record a number of WWI-era planes at the fantastic Old Rhinebeck Aerodrome…if you’re ever in the Hudson Valley area in the summer or fall I would highly recommend going to visit! The staff was wonderful and they put on an amazing show, complete with dogfighting planes, pumpkin bombs, a rascally neighbouring farmer, and dastardly villains. Before all of that got going they very kindly ran a number of their planes just for me to record, which resulted in some excellent recordings. Have a listen:

I’ve also managed to record some WWII-era planes, which their considerably throatier 12 cylinder radial engines.

I’ve found it really interesting to make spectrograms of these recordings. This one, for example, is of the Fokker Dr.1 Triplane (the plane most strongly associated with The Red Baron). You can see the distinctive harmonics created by the air whistling through the braces of the wings – as well as the general ambient noise created by the leaves in the trees rustling above my head, and the high frequency whooshing of the air being moved by the propellor.

fokker dr1 spectrogram

Over the next few months I’ll be making more recordings and also dipping into the museum archives to see what kinds of sounds I can find. I’m really looking forward to seeing where it all leads.

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