In the Field: the Art of Field Recording

Cathy Lane & Angus Carlyle, Uniformbooks

By Morgan Quaintance

In the specialist discipline of sound art no occupation is shrouded in more mystery and myth than that of the field recordist. The enduring romantic image is of a lone individual poised, microphone in hand, to record the exquisite sonic output of some rare natural event. Contemporary field recording, however, is a varied, international practice as broad and idiosyncratic as the environments and eventualities each artist seeks to capture. In The Field, a neat collection of eighteen interviews with a roster of international sound artists, presents a compelling oral survey of current approaches.

Edited by Cathy Lane and Angus Carlyle, co-directors of the London-based organisation Creative Research in Sound Arts Practice (CRiSAP), their chosen interviewees include established figures like German-born Hildegard Westerkamp and New Zealander Annea Lockwood, alongside younger artists like the Japanese micro-sound enthusiast Hiroki Sasajima

Throughout the book Lane and Carlyle use a collection of set questions to kick-start each conversation before moving towards more particular modes of enquiry. This is a risky technique that leads to coverage of familiar territory – the indexical nature of recording, the presence or absence of the recordist within resulting soundscapes. But repeating preliminary lines of enquiry also serves to highlight the diverse responses and radical differences between each artist. There is, for instance, a world of variance between the software aided approach of Andrea Polli and the more traditional anthropological methodology of Steve Feld.

Although the art world’s slow embrace of sound art has wrapped its arms around the dotty excentrism of Susan Philipsz and the slick, hi-fi minimalism of Carsten Nicolai, field recording has so far been left out of the huddle. Curiously, as a discipline that demands stillness, solitude, and close listening, the fact field recording is at odds with the accelerated spirit of our modern age might mean its best placed to reflect on it. In The Field provides an insight into the back-stories and motivations of the artists most likely to fulfill that potential.