Welcome to Sounds of Europe, a platform for field recording. The blog of the website will travel to a different European country every month where a local organisation or artist will be responsible for maintaining it. Each country´s particular context and practices with regards to field recording will be explored and presented in a personal way.
What (else) is Field Recording?
03/13/2012 · Pali Meursault

Even if during these last few years, what we call ‘field recording’ has became legitimate among the sound arts, it seems to be impossible to reduce the theories and practices it represents to one and only homogenous thing. We could actually be arguing forever about the most appropriate term for defining practices that certainly have something in common, but which are just as well very different from each other. Field recording, phonography, microphony, acoustic ecology, soundscape art… all these notions have their pros and cons, their supporters and enemies.

One might consider that the words are not so important and that we don’t need them to be interested in these emerging forms using sound recordings and making of the sonic environment, as a matter as well as an object of study. Indeed, each one of these words and concepts taken alone are probably unfit to understand what is going on on a larger scale, because they are all very specific: while ‘field recording’ would be a technical understanding (field work as opposed to studio work), ‘phonography’ would have an aesthetic meaning (like other forms of -graphy), ‘microphony’ would imply the question of specific practice using recording tools, ‘acoustic ecology’ would define a moral position toward the world, and so on… Not only this short list would already sound a little ill-defined for people who are claiming the use for one or a few of these terms but, moreover, nobody would ever agree to say that what he is doing is only technical, or purely aesthetic, or just a practice, etc.

When I chose to involve other french sound artists to help me produce a reflection for Sounds Of Europe, most of them felt the same about the preeminence of ‘field recording’ that was coming with the project. It felt too specific, it felt like we had to be sure that field recording was exactly what we were doing. Right from the beginning, we felt that we had to broaden the space for that reflection, to re-enunciate the question of field recording into the many questions of our respective works, to confront one specificity with many singularities.

Of course, for artists as much as for producers (like those involved in Sounds Of Europe or like Q-O2 who invited some of us to their ‘Field Fest’ in Brussels), this question of field recording is only a pretext. It is a way of marking up a spot on the map of ideas, from which aesthetics, problematics, practices and theories will radiate in every possible directions. This is how we understood the importance of the Sounds Of Europe platform and this is how we decided to expand the landscape of the issues at work, from the already very different perspectives of a few french sound artists.

Of course, it would have been impossible to be exhaustive in portraying a french ‘scene’, of which the boundaries and many connections to other genres as well as to other countries are probably impossible to draw objectively. Instead of working at this impossible map of french sound art, I decided to sketch out an incomplete but already rich landscape. There could have been many other artists involved, as well as people from the world of cinema or creative radio, audio-naturalists or sound diarists who are not claiming for their work to be an art form. This landscape is not only incomplete, it is also very subjective… But I am confident enough that the references and influences that the 7 seven artists I discussed with were happy to share are paving a good way to take a good look around at what is going on in the french sonic world today.

Rather than asking everyone the same questions over and over, I wanted to explore specific issues with each one of them, to start from one problematic that seemed especially relevant to their work. The ‘episodes’ I will post this month on Sounds Of Europe will be made of these:

A conversation with Marc Namblard
about practices and knowledges.

A conversation with Cédric Peyronnet
about geography and topography.

Éric La Casa will share some of his thoughts
about the act of recording.

A conversation with Manu Holterbach
about tools and techniques.

Thomas Tilly will reflect
about subjectivity and representation.

A conversation with Yannick Dauby
about listening.

A conversation with Éric Cordier
about composition and musicality.

These titles and topics are merely informative, reflections went as e-mailed interviews, bar discussions, short essays… they might not look exactly the same in the end. In addition to that, all of these good people had the very good taste to sometimes go off-topic, to change their mind, to wander a little further from the initial problematic and to think out loud.

These last few months, I’ve been organizing the reflection, asking for more, sending many emails, spending a lot of time translating all of this into english and working the best I could as being a smuggler for their thoughts. Yet this little collection of sound theory wouldn’t have been possible without their kindness and generosity for sharing ideas and the work they did writing them done. Many thanks to them.

In addition to that, this month in Sounds of Europe will also feature 4 ‘Sounds of the Week’ from other french sound artists: Emmanuel Mieville, Christophe Havard, Guillaume Beauron and David Bouvard; as well as two theoretical contributions for the ‘Writings’ section by two of the very few french scholars dealing with field recording and sound art in their respective researches: Pauline Nadrigny and Jérôme Hansen.

Lastly, I will try in a conclusive post to list as many links as I can think of for the work and activities of other french sound artists, organizations and ressources that are worthy of our attention.

Have a good month,
Pali Meursault.