The Preternatural Experience of Field Recording

Preternatural: that which appears outside or beyond the natural; exceeding what is regular.

Industrialisation often seems in opposition to the act of deep listening, nonetheless the production of affordable microphones and audio software has granted us an appreciation of the [sonic] world that wouldn’t be possible otherwise. With these tools we are able to surpass the limitations of the human ear and move towards preternatural possibilities.

A microphone focusses upon the stridulation of a cricket in the city of Perth.

In both urban and rural areas our listening experience may be compromised by an over-abundance of sound events. Breaking through the sonic mass in order to hear more subtle sounds is quite challenging. With the aid of field recording equipment this problem can be overcome, enhancing our listening experience and sense of location. Carefully placed microphones amplify peripheral sounds into a central position within the soundscape; what was previously unnoticed now commands an audience.

The movement of time aligns itself with the pace of geese as they wade through a flooded field.

The process of field recording can also alter our sense of time. As our engagement with the sonic environment increases the clock adjusts its flow to the movement of sound. In the book Sinister Resonance, Toop describes this repositioning of time and space stating I have to allow every part of myself to slow down, to forget what happened earlier and what might happen later … it’s like descending in a slow lift, moving down through the basement of hearing, where the tiniest sounds seem amplified. Once down at this level, sounds that are normally considered quiet are a shock to the system. … microsonic listening can ground us in the sense of being in the moment, open us to a form of concentrated attention.

Experimental Soundscapes: the manipulation of the previous field recordings creates an artificial world which triggers the imagination.

Audio-software further enhances the listening experience. Filters and equalisers intensify desired sounds; recordings may be slowed down to hear details otherwise missed by the ear; field recordings can be recontextualised by combining them with recordings from different locations. This manipulation creates new worlds that delve into the unrealised potential of the original sound.

By recording what lies before us we awaken our senses, becoming active participants in exploring beyond the visual. Our notion of time and place is challenged, creating a more sympathetic response to our surroundings. In these respects field recording privileges us with a uniquely preternatural experience.

7 thoughts on “The Preternatural Experience of Field Recording

  1. I love the composite piece, and the idea of creating new sonic worlds from combinations of field recordings. It’s as if the field recordings were your paint or the core constituents from which you build or mould a new sonic experience (yet which will always relate to original recordings). In doing this you can explore and investigate alternate sonic terrains which is something that really interests me.

    For me, when I go away or visit somewhere new – I like to take a collection of recordings and then have a go at mixing and transforming these into a single piece which stands, I suppose, as a response or momento to that trip / experience. Listening back to these pieces later on almost serves the same purpose of looking at a collage of holiday photos – and I suppose this aligns itself somewhat with Des’ sentiment when he draws parallels between his recording work and street photography. I think sound recordings are a great way to document ones own personal exploration in life.

    The ability to construct new and immersive sonic worlds using digital editing software is also something that really excites me as it holds limitless potential.


    1. Thanks for the comment. I’m looking forward to establishing a distance from what I’ve recorded so that I can listen to them again with fresh ears, like the aural photo album that you described. In the meantime I really enjoy listening to other people’s mixed work, including those on your site.


  2. This is a nice article about the different aspects of listening and awareness of the sonic environment – however, it needs to be emphasised that industrialisation, which incidentally is generally acknowledged as being the activity of human beings and as such is part of the natural ecosystem; does not necessarily hinder deep listening – it depends upon what the listener is trying to hear! We no doubt have all heard the deafening cacophony known as the ‘dawn chorus’ when in full-swing – it’s amazing how well the different species have adapted to a similar approach of deep listening by the use of narrow-band selective filtering in order to communicate with each other – unlike human beings!
    I sense a touch of ‘musique concrete’ creeping into your post! 🙂


    1. Yes, you’re absolutely right re: industrial sounds being part of the environment. I suppose my concern is how unbalanced this has become. Interesting about animals and narrow-band filtering, I wish I had that sometimes. Thanks for stopping by.


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