I consider that yesterday’s recording is satisfying. It means that a little later I will take some time for a montage, shrink down to a few ‘significant’ minutes one day of sound recordings. Yet a little later, these few minutes will become phonographies that will be shared, played to others, one way or another.
On my computer, a chronology of recordings starting from 2006, the time when I purchased my hard-disk recorder. For older recordings I would have to dig in the chaos of my digital audio tapes. Most of the time, when I search in my magnetic or digital archives, I am oscillating between the excitement of discovering forgotten sound materials and the frustration coming from the gap between the recording and what I remembered. I am calling it a reserve for potential listening. Until now, I never let anyone else activate these moments of listening.
That recording is mainly a hurly-burly of old ladies speaking in Taiwanese and Hakka, languages that I don’t understand. Outdoor recording, we hear continuous tchak-tchak-tchaks everywhere in the stereo space. Most of the little events are pointing at a farming activity, noises of manual work, a panel truck, a few birds’ chirps… Nothing explains nor describes, it’s only a matter of motion, sounds appearing and disappearing in the speakers. The sound medium is a poor choice for documenting this activity: the attention wanders, focuses or is intrigued, but we don’t understand what is going on.
Later, a new sound gets the attention: groups of regular flap-flap-flaps. The same voices, in a semi-open space. The same details, recalling of the countryside, now tinted with a hint of reverberation, some walls nearby the sound sources. Suddenly, the scene switches around, very close breaths and male cheering voices are heard, crackles and rustles. The sound environment of an open space is flatten, we are reduced to hearing only details. Excessive proximity and confinement. Then the previous space reappears and the flap-flaps start again. Focusing on that recording, I have no images coming over the aural feeling. It’s my body that endures the transformation of the space. Voices are not carrying words, only fluxes of phonemes, scattering and triggering other sounds, of mechanical nature. The sound of my footsteps does not provide any indication about the quality of my soles or the geography of the place, but the feeling of a texture, rather. The landscape and the actions that fill it do not make much of a representation, it’s the morphology of sounds that is taking over, communicating another kind of information.
That day spent in the south of Taiwan was an opportunity for recording the harvest of tobacco leaves, then sorted and disposed on drying racks. It is the encounter with the inhabitants of the region that conducted me to document that activity with sounds. After a series of educational sessions in Meinung, I was suggested to record the snap that is produced when the stem is broken. That sound had to be recorded ‘before the all thing would disappear’. The plant, and the harvesters just as well, because the region is renowned for its ‘shared labor’, an organization of mutual aid between farmers. The harvest is a moment of gathering during the winter in the fields, which the rest of the time are dedicated to rice growing. The recorded sound does not tell anything about international trade, about the evolution (or disappearance) of a socio-economic context. It would have to be accompanied with visual, verbal or textual explanations.
I am more accustomed to the animal voices, which have their intrinsic expressiveness, to the almost geometric organization of an amphibian choir, to the flow of sound particles coming from collective phenomena, such as a stream or the wind brushing a bamboo forest. But this context (Taiwan, a rural environment, winter 2012) requires for me to become, for an afternoon, an audio journalist, a sound anthropologist or a recordist of sound ‘alone’ (as they say in movies). That status allows me to stand very close to an orality, to pretend I am recording a leaf snapping while listening to a mouth. Following for one afternoon the life of a group of farmers, from half a meter away in between the rows of tobacco plants, trying to avoid the large leaves. I wish I could disturb as little as possible, but my foreigner’s body doesn’t go unnoticed. Yet we are sharing this absurd encounter with a smile, not that of politeness to a visitor, but that of humor (the goofy look of the very focused sound recordist helps). The clothes these old ladies wear are their scuba-suits, covering them from head to toes, a protection against the sun, the dust, the sticky sap of the plants. My equipment is giving me a reason for being with them, it grants me the access to a proximity that otherwise would be unimaginable. The movement of my boom-pole seems to provoke a choreography: I fix myself in a corner and the men carrying beams of leaves ready for drying go around, wait for me, sometimes exaggerates their movements without a glance. Listening to the sounds produced by each one of them implies to move the microphone around. Nobody there was hearing the gestures as I did, with an unusual magnifying effect and depth of field. The listening induces a posture of the body, it involves me in a game of relations with the people around. Nothing of the richness of that interaction will appear in the recording. Yet I still find myself thinking that the listeners will hear it from my point of view, through my microphones and ears. There has to be something that remains, which would elude images, which would be felt through the proximity of sounds and their distribution in the course of time.
[text: Yannick Dauby – translation: PM]