I gave a short presentation at SoundFjord yesterday as part of their event celebrating World Listening Day. I decided to use the opportunity to talk about all the non-sonic reasons why I make field recordings; i.e. the reasons for recording sounds which are not to do with the supposed interestingness of sounds.
After a couple of centuries of taking photographs, we understand that photography is not only about light, and that the practice of taking photographs is about more than merely taking pictures. Different photographic practices – what one takes photos of, how one takes photos, where one takes photos, etc. – are now read as ways of seeing, experiencing, and exploring the world, and not as a study re: the abstracted interestingness of light. To my mind, phonography, too is not only about sound, and the practice of making recordings is about more than merely collecting sounds. Making field recordings – like taking photographs – is a practice of exploration and discovery; it is an act which is social, political, imaginative, and non-abstract. Even the decision to be a phonographer is contingent on more than one’s fascination with aural phenomena. Ears are connected to hearts, mouths, hands, language, imagination and the other lenses through which we encounter this world which we live in.
In spite of my assertions, however, there remains a persistent love of the abstract sensuality of sound within the world of sound art; an interest in “amazing” sounds; an interest in the “musicality” or the “interestingness” of certain sounds; and an interest in sound-for-sound’s sake. I am not interested in these things; I am interested in sound for the sake of its relationship to life; sound as the evidence of our lived moments and our valued relationships to each other, and to the places and times in which we live out our lives.
I record sounds to celebrate the insignificant things which will one day dissappear, like the sound of shaking a blown lightbulb to check whether the tungsten inside it really did snap.
I record sounds to play in my kitchen; to reinvent my relationship with the everyday; to make mischief and to try and find a way of describing myself, with a sound, where one might otherwise use a picture.
I record sounds to hear familiar things (say, a fizzy bathbomb in the bath recorded with hydrophones) in a totally new way.
I record sounds as a way of listening more intently to the things which surround me in daily life… the banal soundscapes which are the backdrop to my everyday life. Sometimes those sounds are the sound of the boiler in the kitchen…
…sometimes those sounds are the sounds of vehicles shuffling carefully around one another in the road where I live, which is narrow, and where many people try to park their cars.
Sometimes I record something because I cannot believe my ears! Because I want very badly to be able to share it, to show it to someone else socially and say “listen to this! Can you believe it?!”
…and sometimes I record people talking, singing, laughing, goofing around… because I love those people and I want a record, a document, of the time we spend or spent, together.
So there are many non-sonic reasons for making field-recordings, and many ways to link sounds – and listening – to the story of a life. Right now I can hear the television, Mark’s boys talking and the slooshing of the dishwasher. I can hear the pacing between living room and kitchen which accompanies Mark’s checking on the pizzas in the oven, and the decision to listen to all this is not so much because it is “sonically interesting”, as because I want to be present to this excellent life I am living, and to the people whom I share it with.
I record sounds to share them socially; to remember events; to change the way I think about or witness my everyday surroundings; to reinvent such banal things as the ongoing sound of my boiler; to celebrate the everyday; to have a different imaginative relationship with the world around me. Making art is about seeing the world in different ways… I use a recorder and the discourses of sound rather than oil-paints and a canvas, but the process is the same. These are the sounds and the perspectives which I presented at World Listening Day; this is how I like to hear and record the world.