Conceptual ideas – models
There is no such thing as a single type of field recording, obviously there is a great variation. Different artists, and different works, display a great variety of approaches. Here is a proposal for one possible way to divide different types of field recordings/compositions: documented reality, staged or composed reality, enhanced reality, reflected reality, and sonification. I’m keen to point that these categories are mine, and are not commonly used within the field, rather an idea how to approach a field recording project.
Documented reality is a recording made from a fixed or moving (such as walking) viewpoint, were no or very few edits are made post recording. It’s about to push the record button and then listen to the result. This kind of works might be transmitted in real-time. A similar phenomenon is the so-called “slow-television”: in Sweden we have the moose television; cameras that in real-time filming a river in the north of Sweden where mooses are passing on their way north in the spring. There is a producer, however, that chose among different cameras what to be showed.
Staged or composed reality deals with field recordings that are cut and edited in a studio before made public. It is mostly about cut & paste, and possible “cleaning”, like EQ-ing and such, may occur as well. It is mostly about selecting recording, and the consecutive order of them, which might not be the same as they were recorded. A typical thing to do is to make the soundscape denser than in reality.
Enhanced reality is about, in addition to cut & paste, to mix recordings on top of each other, making loops of particular details, make use of sound processors, and even to bring in sounds that not have its origin in the original material. The purpose is to enhance the perceived reality, a way for the artist to emphasis certain phenomenon in a soundscape. But the soundscape should still be able to be recognized as an existing one.
Reflected reality is a subjective audible interpretation of a place. It may be based on a straight field recording, but the sounds can be heavily processed in the studio. I claim that the majority of sounds employed should have its origin in a field recording from the very place, concrete sounds. Here we deal with a category that may pass the border of being a field recording, into an electroacoustic musique concrete piece. A variation on this theme is to mix a voice-over with a documented reality recording, where the author reflects and comments the recorded soundscape.
Sonification, finally, uses sounds in order to make a (non-audible) structure in the real world audible. It is commonly used for monitoring a physical phenomenon, simply because our hearing is very sensitive, more than our vision, particularly for changes. There are however artists who have been worked with sonification; one example is using weather data such as wind, humidity, and rain to create a sound art piece, which may consist of field recordings, however structured by data from weather measurements. In this group one might place recordings of vibrating phenomenon a human cannot hear, such as infra and ultra sound, with frequencies below and over human hearing limits. With the use of audio processors however, such as pitch-shifters, it is possible to transform these recordings into audible frequencies.