sound observations: critical listening and reflection on field recording

Sound Observations” was a 3 day workshop hosted by the Warsaw Center for Contemporary Art in September 2015.

The workshop focused on the analysis and reflection of sounds that we hear, particularly recorded sounds from everyday locations in the city. We used various tools such as dialogue, text and drawing to develop a language to process the sounds that we collected and then listened to. In doing this we also attempted to address such questions as; what kind of meaning do sounds carry? what associations come though listening? how does listening affect creativity? what are the creative uses of field recordings? how do our recording methods affect what we hear? how does listening affect our attention?, and so on.

To collect material we made short trips to specific locations to record sounds, both as individual and as a group. Our recordings were then used to look at how sound relates to space, materials, temporal experience and the complexity of activity in the environments we inhabit.

So what happened? The first day was centered around a discussion to analyze and think about how we listen that started with sharing of personal memories of significant listening experiences from the past. Then we considered how we developed associations to sounds from an array of positive and negative listening experiences which led into more practical exercises of understanding what we hear. This was done with a common guessing game of field recordings I played that were not heard by the participants beforehand. When working with such free associations the gap between clearer ‘concrete’ sounds and ambiguous unfamiliar sounds is apparent, with responses ranging from group consensus to individual and highly subjective.

At the end of the day everyone was given a ‘simple’ task to collect one or two recordings to present on the following day for analysis. This would be done using the framework we set up on the first day. To start everyone off, I suggested the following guidelines for each person to focus the subject of their recordings on: environments, acoustic spaces or effects, narrative sequences, material studies and interventions. Its always interesting to see what one comes up with in one evening and while there is limited time, people always seem to find something, even in their domestic environment.

Day 2, group listening and excursion. The morning session was spent on listening back to the recordings made by each participant. With eight participants this takes time (I limited the size of the group). However, with a good listening space (black box theater) and a PA, its not too hard to keep the focus. A healthy variety of recordings were made along with responses of what people heard. By lunch time a proposal was already on the table for our afternoon excursion. Several demonstrations were planned in Central Warsaw concerning the recent immigration situation for the EU with two larger ones both pro and anti-immigration. Using that as a backdrop we decided to make a creative document through sound. As a sort of performance, the score would read like this:

field action, durational walk from multiple perspectives:
7 people, each with a recorder
synchronize the recordings at the beginning with a clap
each is free to wander and explore
meet back at the starting point after 40 minutes

And that’s more or less how it unfolded. We started at the university gate, a known location and each wandered between and among the demonstrations. Different recording techniques and equipment were used to throw some diversity into the mix. The following morning we met again, synchronized all the recordings, and listened back to what we got. There wasn’t any time to mix the recordings by adjusting levels so we played it straight through, as is. An excerpt of the action is below, with 7 tracks layered together simultaneously.

As you can hear, there’s a lot going on as you can imagine with 7 people at 7 different locations, but its hard to find a clear focus in the mix. If you listen to each track individually the location and what’s happening becomes more clear. With more time then, it would be necessary to adjust the levels on each track to pull out details, shift the focus, enhance the dynamics etc if you wanted to create a unique document/piece. Below is just one of the tracks (my own recording) separate from the other tracks.

I want to thank Andrzej Zaleski of CSW for having me and to the participants, Robert, Laura, Pawel, Isabella, Gustav, Edita, Jacek and Anna for their time and energy.

Following the workshop, there was an evening program dedicated to screening two of my recent films, Listening in Context and Curonia. Additionally I presented a new ‘field recording monologue’ entitled:

With an Ear to Poland: A Sonic Ontology

With this work, I presented a personal journey of some of my experiences throughout Poland over the years using text and field recordings. The result is a wandering narrative woven from stories and reflections drawn from my interest in how people, places and memory affect the environments they create.

…and of course a gallery of analog photos, Canon Canonet QL19 with Kodak Tri-X 400


Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Time limit is exhausted. Please reload CAPTCHA.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.