Tag Archives: sound

Sound and Memory: field recordings and temporality

pied currawon gould 1848

The pied currawong, John Gould (1848).


The return of the liquid tones of pied-currawongs in the eucalyptus tree outside my kitchen window is a sound marking the change of seasons. Each year, as the cold teeth of winter lose their bite, the mornings are often punctuated by the sudden call of 15-20 currawongs. What I love about the currawongs is the way in which they appear from nowhere and, for a brief period, rule the the garden’s soundscape, only to disappear as quickly as they arrived.

What is it for something that endures to remain? (Ricoeur. 1984)

Listening to my archive of currawong recordings from previous years it is surprising how clearly the sound transports me back into the past. This experience is shared by many others.

Personal field recordings act as a portal to distant memories, triggering the ghosts of long forgotten thoughts and emotions. The process of recording sounds embeds subjective temporal memories within them. Upon subsequent listenings field recordings tunnel their way through our auditory system and unlock the resonance of the past. The dominant sound of the recorded object thus becomes secondary to the psychological layers present at the time of the recording. 

It has been a year since I last ventured outside to record the currawongs at a local creek. I remember being sick at the time, feeling the guilty pleasure of not going to work, realising that my illness had granted this tranquil moment.

Listening to the currawongs I am also reminded of an earlier walk through snake-infested waist-high grass in order to record the birds’ mercurial calls in a small grove of trees. It was windy that day and I imagined the sound of snakes with the movement of each stalk of grass swaying in the breeze.

And this recording? It too will capture something of the essence of today, the experiences of this present moment to be unfastened in some distant future.

In Defence of Modified Sounds – 2’30”

Since I began working in the area of field recording I have been surprised at the level of disdain that modified sounds can raise. There seems to be a strong belief that field recordings should be left unedited; that those who manipulate their recordings are presenting an impure, or at worst dishonest, sonic experience.

While I believe that any modifications such as the layering of sound should be declared by the field recorder, I don’t think it is fair to impose value systems upon the way we create and listen to Sound.

What strikes me as ironic is that even the most “unedited” of field recordings still require a measure of artifice. Before a recording is presented decisions have to be made as to how to emphasise the focal point for the listener. Carefully choosing when to begin and end the clip in order to frame the desired focus, using filters or graphic EQs to accentuate sounds are all common techniques in the construction of a “natural” field recording – each with its own level of manipulation.

As someone who works in “raw” field recordings and soundscapes I would like to think that my engagement with both forms enhances my ability to listen. Consequently this active listening stimulates an appreciation of place. In an age when so many natural sounds particular to specific locales are being smothered by the noise of the industrial world, shouldn’t our role as field recorders partly be to guide others into the same joy of listening without imposing a prescriptive hierarchy?