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.
2 thoughts on “Sound and Memory: field recordings and temporality”
Hi, I just heard a bird out my window at 12am and im really curious what it is. It kind of sounds like a puppy attempting a really bad bark. Ive done some looking and it sounds a little bit like its a sooty owl but by the looks of it on the internet it says we dont have them in Australia? I thought we did. Also it was making this second noise of it sounded like a duck being killed, i hear it almost every night so i kinda figure it might be a night bird moreso then a fox killing something? Could you help me at all please. Thank you for your time.
It might possibly be another type of owl. Try listening to the recording of owls on the birds in backyards website. They sound very screechy.