Field recording is often described as any audio recording that takes place outside the studio. This a relatively new artistic area, and might be sub-ordered under the field of sound art; if it is necessary to make such a definition. It is an art form that, to a great extent, relies on available audio technology. Obviously, in order to do a field recording, you need portable recording equipment, which have been around since the 50s. By the pioneers you may mention reel-to-reel-recorders from the German brand Uher, and of course the state-of-the-art machine, that is Nagra from Switzerland. At the time, these machines were quite expensive for the most, particularly Nagra, which limited the number of practitioners considerably. These conditions changed in the 70s and 80s when portable cassette recorders became available. Eventually, when digital DAT-recorders were introduced, the whole chain of recording-postproduction-distribution could be held within the digital domain, which changed the production conditions for field recordings. The advent of pocket recorders and smart phones, cheap but good microphones, and mixing software, have in the last 10 or so years made it accessible for almost anyone to become a sound artist.

Question: can you think of other categories of field recording, and when it is not a field recording anymore?

Listening modes

Without going deeply into this topic, a slight introduction is necessary. For long, listening and hearing was neglected by researchers, however since the World War II a number of theories have seen the light. The pioneer is the French Pierre Schaeffer who did present a phenomenology of listening, and introduces a number of concepts, notably ordinary listeningacousmatic listening, and reduced listening. His taxonomy of ordinary listening modes takes subjective and objective qualities of the perceived sound into account, while acousmatic and reduced listening connect to electro-acoustic music practices. Post-Schaefferian composers and theoreticians such as François Bayle, Michel Chion, Simon Emmerson, Rolf-Inge Godøy, Denis Smalley, Lasse Thoresen, and Trevor Wishart have further developed Schaeffer’s concepts, presented as new theories, and/or explanatory discussions regarding his ideas. Schaeffer classified ordinary listening modes are:


  • ListeningTaking the origin of a sound into account. 
  • Hearing. The basic order of perception; listening passively without paying attention to specific features of the sound. 
  • AttendingThe perception of particular features of a sound. 
  • Understanding. Semantic perception wherein the sound is treated as a code or sign.


Acousmatic listening is a situation wherein a listener only perceives sound, and cannot see the origin of that sound. The term acousmatic listening originates from Pythagoras lecturing behind a curtain; his disciples listened to their master without seeing him. During sessions of repeated listening, Schaeffer discovered that the physical cause and significance of a sound disappeared; only the phenomenon of the sound itself was left. He called this listening mode reduced listening.Shaeffer also introduced the concept of soundsonorous, or sonic objects. According to Jacques Poullin: “The possibility of arbitrarily selecting a fragment of sound, by cutting it out and over and over again as many times as desired, makes it possible to consider this fragment as an acoustic ‘object’ which may or may not be broken down into still more elementary objects”. A sonic object is not an instrument, nor a piece of magnetic tape, nor the groove on a shellac disc; it is a perceptual intentional object.

Michel Chion defines, in his book Audio Vision, three modes of listening: causal listeningsemantic listening, and reduced listening. Causal listen is ordinary listening where you gather information about the cause of a sound; semantic listening refers to a code or language, which means a listener seek to de-code the underlying meaning of a sound; reduced listening is about to cancel out both the cause, and the meaning of a sound, rather to listen to its physical properties.

Field recording artist Francisco López, in his article Profound Listening and Environmental Sound Matter, prefer matter to object, and profound to listening, since the word reduced connotes simplification, which it is not.

Another important publication mention worthy is Auditory Scene Analysis (ASA) by Albert S. Bregman. From the abstract:


Auditory scene analysis (ASA) is the process by which the auditory system separates the individual sounds in natural-world situations, in which these sounds are usually interleaved and overlapped in time and their components interleaved and overlapped in frequency.


Handbook for Acoustic Ecology:

Schafer, R. Murray: The Tuning of the World (The Soundscape)


Hildegard Westerkamp: / soundwalking

Michel Chion: Audio Vision

Audio Culture Readings in Modern Music (2004), editor Christoph Fox and Daniel Warner

-   López, Francisco. Profound Listening and Environmental Sound Matter.

Åsa Stjerna Currents:

Question: What is your view on objectivity vs subjectivity in art, particularly in fields dealing with documentary?

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.

Question: what is the role of technology in art production in general, and in field recording in particular?

Objectivity vs Subjectivity

Field recording do have some similarities with documentary movies. At first, one may think that the camera is documenting reality; it is the objective reality we see. Nothing could be more wrong. For, let say the last 30 years or so, it has been a debate about documentary movies concerning the role and the intentions when film makers making film There are dozens of choices to be made: camera angles, zooming, fixed or moving camera, color or black & white, not to talk about what you can do in the studio, such as editing and cut & paste. Without going into this discussion, I will just say that even the shortest film shot can never be objective, it is all up to the film maker to decide what we see and hereby influence how we perceive and understand what we see. It is like literature: a famous Swedish author, Per Olov Enqvist, has claimed that in every narrative it is all about the perspective or viewpoint of the author, the narrator. This is also true with respect to field recording; it is all about the viewpoint and intention of the one who record, edit and put together the recordings.

Appendix: From Soundwalking by Hildegard Westerkamp 

Try to move
Without making any sound.

Is it possible?

Which is

the quietest sound of your body?

(If, however, you cannot hear the sounds you yourself produce, 

you experience a soundscape out of balance. Human proportions have 
no meaning here. Not only are your voice and footsteps inaudible but also your ear is dealing with an overload of sound).

Lead your ears away from your own sounds and 
listen to the sounds nearby.

What do you hear? (Make a list)

What else do you hear?

Other people

Nature sounds

Mechanical sounds

How many

Continuoussoundscontinuous Continuoussoundscontinuous 

Can you detect

Interesting rhythms

Regular beats

The highest

The lowest pitch.

Do you hear any

Intermittent or discrete sounds





What are the sources of the different sounds?

What else do you hear?

Lead your ears away from these sounds and listen

beyond-----into the distance.

What is the quietest sound?

What else do you hear?

What else?

What else?

What else?

What else?

So far you have isolated sounds from each other in your listening and gotten to know them as individual entities. But each one of them is part of a bigger environmental composition. Therefore reassemble them all and listen to them as if to a piece of music played by many different instruments. Do you like what you hear? Pick out the sounds you like the most and create the ideal soundscape in the context of your present surroundings. What would be its main characteristics? Is it just an idealistic dream or could it be made a reality?

Assignments for the week

During the project week you have to do two assignments. In terms of equipment you will need a portable recorder, and a simple audio editing software. In addition to read texts listed.


Practice task 1, listening: Monday 13 – 16

  • Go to a place in the immediate vicinity where you are. Listen and notate everything you hear during 5 minutes. Make a recording while you are listening. 
  • Use Westerkamp’s soundwalking in the appendix as guideline for your notes.
  • Share your notes on ZOOM while presenting their perceived soundscape.
  • Follow suit a common discussion of everyday sounds around us, and how we may perceive them and give them meaning.


Practice task 2. Audible Postcard

Your main task this week is to make a field recording work that can been viewed as an audible postcard (sound card?) from where you are at the moment. The final work will be presented as of Friday September 25, 13-16h in a Zoom-session. The sound file should be between 5 and 8 minutes in duration, and should be accompanied with a text containing your own analysis, reflection and thoughts of the recording, as well as applied concepts from the literature provided. Time for working is scheduled Thursday all day with some supervision, and Friday before lunch. Presentations Fri afternoon.

Soundscapes and other concepts

The sounscape is any acoustic field of study (R.M. Schafer). In field recording a number of concepts may be used as descriptors, which facilitate communication and understanding of a specific field recording. Mention worthy is two pioneers who made research in environmental sounds, that is Richard Murray Schafer and Barry Truax from Vancouver Canada, andtheir Handbook for Acoustic Ecology. Examples of such concepts, are soundscape and soundmark. A soundscape is:

An environment of sound (or sonic environment) with emphasis on the way it is perceived and understood by the individual, or by a society. It thus depends on the relationship between the individual and any such environment. The term may refer to actual environments, or to abstract constructions such as musical compositions and tape montages, particularly when considered as an artificial environment.


And a soundmark is:


A term derived from 'landmark' used in soundscape studies to refer to a community sound which is unique, or possesses qualities which make it specially regarded or noticed by the people in that community.

Other examples are keynote sounds, and figure - ground.

Field Recording Project


Walter Ruttmann (28 December 1887 – 15 July 1941) was a German cinematographer and film director, and along with Hans RichterViking Eggeling and Oskar Fischinger was the most important German representative of abstract experimental film. He is best known for directing the semi-documentary 'city symphonysilent film Berlin: Symphony of a Metropolis. His audio montage Wochenende (1930) is considered a major contribution in the development of audio plays.

Jana Winderen is an artist who currently lives and works in Norway. Her practice pays particular attention to audio environments and to creatures which are hard for humans to access, both physically and aurally – deep under water, inside ice or in frequency ranges inaudible to the human ear. Her activities include site-specific and spatial audio installations and concerts, which have been exhibited and performed internationally in major institutions and public spaces. Recent work includes The Art of Listening: Underwater for Audemar Piguet at Art Basel, Miami, Rising Tide at Kunstnernes Hus in Oslo, Listening with Carp for Now is the Time in Wuzhen, Through the Bones for Thailand Art Biennale in Krabi, bára for TBA21_Academy, Spring Bloom in the Marginal Ice Zone for Sonic Acts and Ultrafield for MoMA, New York. In 2011 she won the Golden Nica at Ars Electronica for Digital Musics & Sound Art. She releases her audio-visual work on Touch (UK). Bandcamp:

Hanna Hartmann: Having developed her very own language, the Swedish sound artist and composer Hanna Hartman creates compositions that are exclusively made up from authentic sounds which she has recorded around the world. Sounds are taken out of their original context and thus perceived in their purity. Hanna Hartman seeks to reveal hidden correspondences between the most diverse auditive impressions and in new constellations she creates extraordinary worlds of sound.

Pierre Schaeffer, (born Aug. 14, 1910, Nancy, France—died Aug. 19, 1995, Aix-en-Provence), French composer, acoustician, and electronics engineer who in 1948, with his staff at Radio-diffusion et Télévision Française, introduced musique concrète in which sounds of natural origin, animate and inanimate, are recorded and manipulated so that the original sounds are distorted and combined in a musical fashion.

His writings include novels, short stories, and essays, as well as theoretical works in music, such as À la recherche d’une musique concrète (1952; “In Search of a Concrete Music”), Traité des objets musicaux (1966; “Treatise on Musical Objects”), and the two-volume Machines à communiquer (1970–72; “Machines for Communicating”). (Encyclopaedia Britannica)

Hildegard Westerkamp (born April 8, 1946, in Osnabrück, Germany) is a Canadian composer, radio artist, teacher and sound ecologist of German origin. She studied flute and piano at the Conservatory of Music in Freiburg, West Germany from 1966 - 1968 and moved to Canada in 1975. She received a Bachelor of Music from the University of British Columbia in 1972 and a Masters in Arts from Simon Fraser University in 1988. She taught acoustic communication at Simon Fraser University from 1982 - 1991.

Rune Lindblad (1923-1991) was born in Gothenburg, Sweden and after extensive art studies started teaching painting and graphic arts. He also graduated in chemical engineering. He first began composing in 1953. Lindblad was the first composer in Sweden to work only with electroacoustic sound material. This was a time when Cologne and Paris were fighting over the aesthetical differences between oscillator tone music and musique concrete on tape. Lindblad however did not see those genres as mutually exclusive. In fact he extended his work to incorporate other media besides music. In 1957 at Folket Hus in Gothenburg, he gave a public performance of his earlier works. Critics slated him brutally and described his concrete music as a "fad" and "pure torture." Rejecting the concert hall, Lindblad began experimenting with optics and sound. The following three years, he produced five works on 6000 feet of film. The last of these was Optica 2. Until the original release of these recordings on the Radium and Pogus labels there had been only two recordings of Rune Lindblad's compositions ever available. One was the single side of a 7" record released in 1957. Rune Lindblad taught at Gothenburg University, and numbered among his students Rolf Enstrom, Ake Pamerud, and Ulf Bilting. (

Luc Ferrari

Presque Rien no 1: This piece is regarded as a classic of its kind. In it, Ferrari takes a day-long recording of environmental sounds at a Yugoslavian beach and, through editing, makes a piece that lasts just twenty-one minutes. It has been seen as an affirmation of John Cage's idea that music is always going on all around us, and if only we were to stop to listen to it, we would realize this.

Francisco López is an avant-garde experimental musician and sound artist.

He has released a large amount of sound pieces with record labels from more than fifty countries and realized hundreds of concerts and sound installations worldwide; including some of the main international museums, galleries and festivals, such as: P.S.1 Contemporary Art Center (New York City)London Institute of Contemporary ArtsParis Museum of Modern ArtNational Auditorium of MusicReina Sofia Museum of Modern ArtBarcelona Museum of Contemporary ArtBuenos Aires Museum of Modern ArtInternational Film Festival RotterdamSónarDarwin Fringe festivalKitakyushu Municipal Museum of Art.