My current field recording practice does not involve recording technology in the sense of a microphone and a recorder. It is not an act of recording and playback, but an act of listening and transcription. The listening is pretty lo-fi, simply my ears, the transcription happens on the computer, in the form of a blog that is written after the listening, sometimes quite a while after.

Due to this delay and also due to the interpretative act of transcription I lay no claim to authenticity or reality of what it is I am describing. The limitations of my hearing, of my memory, of language, and the prejudices of my personal listening investment and expectations, make this a very subjective and potentially unsharable act of field recording.

The recording, in words, on a computer screen, of what I heard, invite not recognition, but a further act of interpretation, re-invention: The production in your auditory imagination of what it possibly was that I heard, and which you might remember to have heard too, or might go on to hear.

You read it in silence, in your own head, without a sound.

Our exchange is tenuous, fragile, maybe never takes place at all.

The transcription of an event heard is not an invitation to recognise but an invitation to listen, to listen to your own field rather than mine. Mine is a particular sonic field to me but becomes a mute generalisation on-line until it becomes a sound again in the particularity of your listening environment.

This process mimics and emphasises how I understand the technological act of recording and reproduction to work, and produces what I like to call a sonic subject. A listening subject who is at the centre of what he/she hears and who hears him/herself in the process of hearing of whatever it is he/she hears.

This sonic subjectivity that I want to evoke at the basis of any field recording, with technology or without, is the subject as listener, who hears a recording of the field, or hears the field, or imagines to hear the field. In any event the heard starts from the listener and includes him/her.

This simultaneity of the “I” with the field that is being recorded and listened to, counts for all sounds, but is most apparent in silence. Silence produces an actual and a metaphorical position of self in sound.  It is in silence that I become aware of the correspondence of my sounds with those of the soundscape that surrounds me and that I inhabit.

Silence makes me hear even the almost inaudible, that which possibly does not sound at all and thus might not be there, but is generated nevertheless in my auditory imagination from the smallest speck of sound. When there is little to hear you start hearing things, and the relationship of the heard to what sounds becomes tenuous, invented, fantastical and the only certainty of having heard it at all is on my body and then on yours.

In the plentiful nothingness of silence the rumbling of my stomach morphs with the gurgling of the water pipes and my breathing shares in the quiet humming of the house. The outside soundscape morphs with my inner soundings: I am in the midst of all that sounds, and all that sounds sounds on my body. The field is not a thing over there that I record, it is the sphere that surrounds me, and so when I bring you my recording I do not bring you the field alone, but myself, inside plonked right in the middle of it for you to hear too.

In this sense my field recordings sound me, and you listen to my field in which you now sit with me.

This inhabited field of sound is perspective-less. There is no distance, what I hear and record is not the distance between things that sound, but the thing that sounds as distance. The recorded field is not about the over-there, but about itself and how I hear it here, in my ears, on my body, and how you re-generate it on your body that listens and hears in this soundscape itself.

My field recordings produce not, however, a hearing of myself alone, but transcribe the social-relations of my listening processes. My field recording blog demonstrate a hearing of myself in the social context of the soundscape. In other words listening to the field I hear myself as a social subject, defined and generated through my interactions with the acoustic environment understood as the listened to world.

The world heard, its sonic space and time, form not the solid infrastructure that exists with or without my presence. It is not a pre-formed container but is built continually as the fleeting (timespace) place of my present listening. It does not provide recognition but invites curiosity and even doubt, (in the place perceived and in myself). Listening generates place, the field of listening, continually from my hearing of myself within the dynamic relationship of all that sounds: the temporary connections to other listeners, things and spaces.

My hearing hears connections not the things connected and thus always includes me as the agency of connecting understood as the motion of building a field, temporarily, invisibly, from all that sounds at the time of my audition. This involves my responsibility and agency and ultimately yours.

The sonic engagement in the field, recorded, transcribed or life, is in this sense a socio-political engagement, producing a social and political sensibility towards connections and actions between things, people and spaces, building transient relationships, places and finally communities.

The world as sonic field is a socio-political thing whose agency lies with the listener who is part of its soundtrack, and whose willingness to engage, and to take part in the process of hearing, listening, transcribing, interpretation, and making sound, makes it the sonic field it is.

The exchange produced about what I listen to and hear and then transcribe for you to imagine and listen to, is tenuous, fleeting and any understanding thus created is greatly in doubt. But it is through the doubt that an authenticity of listening if not of hearing can take place.

This is not about the authenticity of the heard but of listening. Your listening, invited by what I said I heard, and my insistence to remain present in the transcription as a socio-political positioning that you subsequently find yourself in in your heard. And so in the end we might hear entirely different things from the same sounds, or signs, but we understand our relationship to the heard, our agency, our responsibility, our socio-political sonic subjectivity. 

images copyright David Mollin

20 slides in 20 seconds for:  CRiSAP | The uses and abuses of field recording | 09.06.2011