Couple crafts an audio visual journey through Hong Kong

Published:  October 28, 2015
Jamuna Raj

Traveling is about escaping the routine, the everyday and discovering something new through the people you meet on unfamiliar streets, the cultures you immerse yourself in, through the food you eat and of course, through the sights and sounds of the city you’re in.

It’s a whole new journey of discovery; an experience unique to each and every individual. That is, if a traveller were to gaze at the majestic Taj Mahal in all its white marble glory, his travel companion may instead notice the raggedy children of the streets, running barefeet with wide smiles on their faces. 

The individual experiences may be different, and each may tell a different story but when put together, like pieces from a jigsaw puzzle falling into place, one might just be able to show a deeper, clearer picture of that city.

Melbourne-based photographer Nicole Reed and her musician partner Leigh Ryan, also known as, Plutonic Labs are trying to achieve just that through their project Field Notes – a book series that features not only Reed’s stunning photographs of the cities the couple have travelled to but also a 10″ vinyl record of music and soundscapes of those places recorded by Ryan. It’s a seamless blend of the audial and visual.  

The couple is kickstarting the series with the first installment by featuring the city of Hong Kong and the production of the book will be well underway very soon, considering their Pozible campaign to raise funds for the production was a great success. They had exceeded the amount that they had initially targeted for the crowd-funding campaign and now stand at  $15,050 worth of pledges with 70 more hours left on the clock. 

desktop catches up with the couple as their crowd-funding campaign draws to a close to learn more about Field Notes. 

desktop: Field Notes blends the visual and the audio together – all packaged in a hard cover book with a vinyl. How did you come up with the idea for this project? 

Leigh: We originally wanted to present the idea in an online/digital approach, but felt that because our passion and history have been in physical media, that would be what could set our project apart and represent ourselves properly.

Nicole: My main motivation for doing almost anything is whether or not I will be able to take photos. I have so many images of places I have travelled over the years and never really done anything with them. When Leigh and I decided to take our first trip together we thought it would be a great opportunity to combine our skills. Once we had the collateral from the trip (photos and sounds) we thought it was way too good to just put on the Internet. I come from a print background and Leigh as a musician loves vinyl, and it was Leigh who thought it would be a good idea to make something physical instead of just digital.


Credits: Nicole Reed

desktop: Why did you choose Hong Kong as the first installment?

Leigh: I’ve always had a fascination with the place, and I suppose our creative characteristics are never really taking a break.

Nicole: Hong Kong was our first trip overseas together. We have since travelled to other places, but there’s something about Hong Kong that really inspired the both of us. As a photographer, more then any other city I have been to, (and I have been to nearly all the majors) I was incredibly visually inspired.

desktopTake us through the creative process of this project…

Leigh: Initially it involved keeping a keen ear out for any sounds I felt could be manipulated into the soundtrack, which also meant covering as much ground as we could. I used a Rode ixy microphone and software, that turns your smart phone into a field recorder. It was great to have a mobile device that produces such quality; so good for traveling. When we returned to Melbourne, it was a matter of making music in my home studio with the files.

Nicole: I just took many many many photos! I had just bought a new camera, an Olympus EM-1, as I was getting over carrying the camera I use for commercial use around when I travelled, it was far too heavy and cumbersome. The features of the EM-1 really opened up a whole new way of traveling with photographic gear, and it lets me take photos (especially at night) which I wouldn’t have been able to take otherwise. I have many more images taken at night then I usually do, and Hong Kong is absolutely stunning at night!
At the moment we are at the end of our Pozible campaign, which has had an incredible result, and once it has finished we will start working with a designer and printer to put the book together. We both have very strong ideas on how we want it to look and feel, and as we hope it will be an ongoing project, the masthead and identity of the project needs to be something that will carry over to future editions.


Credits: Nicole Reed

desktop: This is a question to you Leigh. How did you tailor the music to set the mood for these images that Nicole had taken?

LeighThe sounds I’ve captured and manipulated range from the ‘Suona’ (Chinese horn), chanting, crowd banter, taxi radio chatter, dialogues, the sounds of the ocean, boat engines, electronic subway signals and so on. These sounds have been mixed and manipulated with synthesizers drums and other sounds from my home studio. Once we were back home it was a matter of using my own “filter” in the music process; Nicole’s images and my own feeling for the place guided my ear. It was always going to be our individual take on the city and hopefully both our work informs the other. Having Nicole’s visual reference was a great way to work. I often use photographs or film when making music. I find it can pull a record together tonally. I also sampled music from 60′s Cantonese Pop vinyl I collected in Sham Shui Po in Kowloon

desktop: What were the challenges you both encountered when putting this project together?

Leigh: The main obstacle was monetary and tailoring the work to fit the format specifics. A 10” vinyl record can only fit a certain amount of music.

Nicole: We discovered that because it’s such a limited and specific project and we want quality, that the printing is quite expensive. We have had a few hurdles because we are getting the book printed offshore and our dollar is under performing at the moment, that we really underestimated the costs involved on our Pozible target. We are very lucky that we have superseded our budget, which was a huge and very pleasant surprise to us!


A mock up of the finished book, Field Notes

Nicole: We both have a tendency (as a lot of creative people) to be a little self doubtful. So we are absolutely flabbergasted at the support we have received from our friends, and people we don’t even know! We weren’t even sure we would reach our target, let alone exceed it! It’s an amazing feeling that people have so much faith in our project to spend money on something they can’t see yet. For me personally it’s definitely boosted my confidence in my work. As mentioned, we had underestimated the printing costs. Our original quote for printing is under almost $1,500 now, and we hadn’t counted on so many people choosing the book and print reward, so anything “extra” we get we will put towards the printing of the book and the photographic prints. Other parts of our budget will go towards mastering of the tracks, pressing of the coloured vinyl record and the design of the book and masthead, and a launch party next year at Union Heights.


A mock up of the finished book, Field Notes

Leigh: We are still at the design and manufacturing stage of the project, so we think it’s coming together exactly how we would like. We want to present a quality product, to set the standard so to speak for our other inatalments.

desktop: What’s that one city that the two of you would want to feature in the coming installments?

Leigh: We are still debating locations, but we are very keen on South America and Eastern Europe.

Nicole: I want to try to go to locations that are a little less travelled, and present something unique that we don’t see everyday here in Australia. We both have the same ideas on travel (luckily!!) and South America or an Eastern Block country would be ideal. I like big sprawling urban landscapes and have a fascination for high density living (Hong Kong was a perfect place to start!).


Field Notes website -
Plutonic Lab website -
Nicole Reed website -

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