Aesthetics and the Art of Audio Field Recording

From Aesthetics and the Art of Audio Field Recording:

When listening to sounds we can choose to focus on the perceptual qualities of the sounds, or on the meanings that the sounds convey.

One of the hardest things about teaching a class on sound is establishing how to talk about it. My course next semester, The Nature of Sound / The Sound of Nature, is designed to explore the relationships between human hearing, sound technologies, and the idea of “nature” from the late nineteenth century to the present. While I’m excited that both the English and Music departments here at Penn State have decided to cross-list the course, I’m also concerned that students coming from one of those areas might not have a lot of experience talking to people coming from the other. I think one of my tasks right from the beginning will be to help develop a shared language for both the “close listening” of sounds and the “close reading” of texts.

One of the problems is that the majority of contemporary nature sound practices—from the scientific project of acoustic ecology to the informal communities of sound artists and advocates—have been slow to explicitly develop their own language or working set of principles. In fact, as Caleb Kelly has been pointing out on his blog, most field recording practices are woefully under-theorized. One of the goals of this class, and of my larger work in general, is to put some of these practices into deeper intellectual and historical contexts.

I recently came across this article that attempts to bridge some of these divides by proposing a set of qualities by which we can start to establish an aesthetics of field recording: perspective, density, texture, and motion. While I’m not sure that these are perfect, I think they are an interesting starting point, and I’m thinking about using that article’s many examples in class to see how my students might respond.

I’m in the process of developing a website for the course where some of these issues will hopefully play out in a public way. I’ll post a link and more information once I sort out all of those details in January.

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