In the Field: The Art of Field Recording
by Cathy Lane and Angus Carlyle, Editors
Uniformbooks, Axminister, UK, 2013
240 pp., illus. 19 b/w. Trade, £12.00
ISBN: 978 0 9568559-6-1.
Reviewed by John F. Barber
The Creative Media & Digital Culture Program
Washington State University Vancouver
From its origins in wildlife sound and ethnographic research, contemporary field recording is a diverse range of practices that explore and investigate aspects of the lived environment through the medium of recorded sound. Despite this long and varied history, there are few collections of artist aesthetics or insights. Filling this void, In the Field: The Art of Field Recording is an important collection of conversations with contemporary sound artists who use field recording in their work. These conversations explore fundamental and recurring issues underlying field recording: early motivations, aesthetic preferences, the audible presence of the recordist, and the nature of the field.
The editors interview 18 contemporary sound artists working with field recordings: Andrea Polli, Annea Lockwood, Antye Greie, Budhaditya Chattopadhyay, Christina Kubisch, Davide Tidoni, Felicity Ford, Francisco López, Hildegard Westerkamp, Hiroki Sasajima, Ian Rawes, Jana Winderen, Jez Riley French, Lasse-Marc Riek, Manuela Barile, Peter Cusack, Steven Feld, and Viv Corringham. Each is asked the same questions, but as might be expected, answers sometimes coalesce and sometimes drift apart, with individual artists adopting personal, particular problematics. A recurring theme, however, is the emphasis on listening conducted alongside recording.
Careful listening may function as a preliminary auditory investigation that informs choices for microphones and their placement, inspiration for future compositions, a concurrent monitoring of the recording in progress, as well as the labeling, classification, production, and distribution of recordings.
This, in fact, is one of the questions asked each sound artist, “How do you use and distribute your sound recordings?” Concert venues, installations, CD releases, audio visual augmentations for films and other media, sound maps, and online forms are among the answers provided. There is also the choice of letting the audible nature of the recordings themselves provide an acousmatic referential frame that is at once technical, creative, and conceptual.
Each sound artist is asked, “When you recorded there what attracted you to that place, to those sounds?” The answers reveal much that is important about field recording, and provide fine-grained details about the development of particular pieces. They revel much that is important and original about field recordings, but at the same time, these answers are limited as the artists frequently assert a kind of knowledge about their works, and the sources for their recordings that can only be acquired through a process of listening.
“Why field recording?” is another question asked each sound artists and forms the basis for the research focus that forms the wider context for this new book. Again, the answers vary, but, as many of the artists point out, field recording is becoming increasingly widespread, both in practice and consumption. Concurrent with becoming more extensive, field recording is also more diversified, with artists finding new approaches to recording, production, and distribution.
The real value of field recording, according to the editors, lies in its ability to provide insights into the world unmatched by any other medium. This insight comes through attentive listening to the sounds encapsulated in field recordings. Their complexity, and the pleasures they bring are powerful justifications for the practice of field recording, for both these sound artists and their listeners.
Reading In the Field: The Art of Field Recording may convince you to seek out the numerous works cited for each artist and listen carefully. Doing so will raise awareness of listening, issues in the world soundscape, and place you inside a world of sound where you relate on a perceptual, sensual level through your ears, which become more and more aware. This book is good reading. The upshot is good listening.