The discourse

In a recent essay, Australian sound artist Lawrence English (2014) enquired of the current flux of field recording practice, ‘Why has it become a substantial presence in the contemporary sound ecologies? Merely two decades ago it was a somewhat uncharted realm lacking vigorous and pluralistic investigations.’ To answer this question, I draw attention to the condition of contemporary media art since the dust of the digital era has settled. I argue that, following the advent of digital technology in the late 1990s, widely available and easy-to-handle digital sound recording devices, applications, and facilities made various options and formats available to contemporary sound practitioners. Field recording, as a sprawling field in the realm of contemporary sound art practices, facilitates the recording of sound on location with greater detail, deeper depth of field, and wider dynamic range of frequency, resulting in more precise, controlled, and accurate documentary evidence of the site. These recording capabilities allow for a closer listening to and more accurate sonic documentation of uncharted territories, including underwater and underground locations, in the Amazonian forests, arctic landscapes, and even in outer space. Contemporary sound practice is marked by conditions where the digital saturates itself to give birth to a new context of ‘post-digital’ (e.g., Cascone 2002; Chattopadhyay 2014; Cramer 2014) practices, intensifying technological convergence, aesthetic inclusivity, a sense of democratisation, and artistic freedom. In this post-digital era, field recording is amply supported by the development of kits with multitrack recording options, offering greater flexibility, access to the farthest corners of the location, and applications with precise control over each recorded audio clip. Multiple options for saving numerous tracks open up possibilities for recording a larger number of sound elements and working with multiple layers of sound captured from a location. In the studio scenario, there are ample choices for processing sounds (digitally or with retro-aesthetic means, e.g., analogue synthesisers) for spatialisation and multichannel composition. But it is not the availability of the tools of music technologies and the way in which this has affected the proliferation of field recording in sound-based artistic production that I focus on in this article. My interest here lies in examining the nature of the site-specific sound contents that are recorded and used in field-recording-based sound artworks and the ramifications of the post-digital approach on the handling of audible evidence derived from sites or landscapes that are environmentally and climatically endangered within rapidly emerging economies, such as that of India – landscapes that are underrepresented in popular mainstream film and media productions.

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