What is field recording?

This is a question I’ve been asking myself ever since I realized that “field recording” was something of a viable genre for many working with sound. Before hearing the term “field recording” (and I’ll throw in Phonography), I never thought much in making a distinction between working in or out in the field. I recorded what I wanted and where I wanted (and still do).

While some view it as a recording technique for any place other than the studio, others seem dedicated to the cause and strive to reach new levels of purity. The spectrum of approaches is wide from scientific ‘nature recording’, and commercial ‘relaxation environments’ (some may know the interesting ‘environments’ series from the 70s) to weekend hobbyists who simply like to get our and record sounds they like.

Like any term, the definition is open to interpretation. The artist Jez Riley French has opened up the discussion with his ‘four questions’ series regarding sound artists/musicians and their use of “field recording” in their work. Below is the current list of artists Jez has included in his survey which I feel is more than worthy to help promote. I’m sure more are on the way, but this should be more than enough to start with:

Yannick Dauby makes and important point  in his description of “Field recording and phonography” as to why we who record sounds in the field are shaping the sound as much as we are simply capturing it:

“The couple microphone/headphone acts as a filter and an enhancer for perception. The use of these tools is absolutely not neutral : the choices of the place and the moment, the gestures, the technical limitations and the zoom/macro effects of the microphone affect the result of the recording. The recordist makes a series of decisions in his practice, and these decisions are related to his own subjectivity.”

Numerous other in depth perspectives on the practice have emerged in recent years, I suspect due to the availability and ease of use of digital technology. People like Aaron Ximm (Quiet American) and Patrick McGinley (murmer/framework) have been long term proponents of creative uses of filed recordings and seem to have inspied many through their output. As the “field recording” bug spreads I suspect we may see ever more variations and mutations on what this is about. As for listening to field recordings it’s a fertile matter for another