Useful at the Moment: Recordings Around the Ethnographic Inquiry


JL: I was also curious about the recordings of the radio operator. Because it's obviously not really for the purpose of the inquiry. Do you know if they had a way to actually listen to what they were recording on site? Would this sound have been just a kind of memorandum for the team?


EK: I guess so. They certainly had what was needed to listen back to the tape on the headphones. And he was doing that in the tent. He would be in the tent, recording new introductions to the things that he had recorded, so a lot of listening-back was happening in the field. Sometimes you'll hear rain on the tent, on those parts that are spliced in and where he's saying: “Cut number one will be …” or whatever. So I was wondering about that. My guess is that maybe because the radio operator is difficult to understand, they would record it and then could listen back to double-check their understanding, maybe as a safety. Or maybe for other people who couldn't be there at the time, as you just said, maybe that's another reason.


JL: Yeah, to my ears, it was really like the kind of notes you make on site, during your fieldwork. It's not part of the inquiry, you just need to keep a record, for the money, for instance, really at the border of the inquiry or the shooting. These things, from the perspective of ethnography, are pure rubbish; there is absolutely no use to put that in the transcript.


EK: It is a great point that you make, Jonathan, about that material being, in a way, only useful at the moment, but not as part of the overall project. It is utility stuff that becomes rubbish. Just like radio transmission itself: you only need to hear it once, and then you don't need it anymore.


JL: And we have, as ethnographers, or at least I have, a lot of these recordings, just to have the information in the moment or on demand.

A recording of the radio operator (Michael Rockefeller audio archive).