5. Sound Tells

Every now and then the world turns into a sound installation, only waiting to get noticed. During the 1960s, when reel-to-reels became portable and affordable, field recordists, musicians and artists began to open up their ears – on the hunt for special sounds.

These days, employing environmental material for documentaries or to simply tell stories with field recordings is common practice. When visiting the Indonesian islands Bali and Java during the mid nineties, composer and gamelan enthusiast Loren Nerell was intrigued by the soundscapes that he encountered there. His recordings of single occurrences like morning rain, evening insects, the blessing of a house or scenes from an airport and a market fall into place to a personal portrait of the region. 

Listen to your world. It may be more interesting than all the things you buy to escape from it.

While exploring the showroom of a gamelan maker with his microphone, Nerell recorded a mix of sounds from visitors testing the instruments and craftsmen working in the room next door building them. Over time, the documented space gains shape, different sound sources seem to interact in rather musical ways, and it almost appears as if the recorded everyday soundscape actually might have been scored. 

Captured sounds of an urban environment played a role when Detroit based house producer Theo Parrish was paying homage to the city’s black music traditions with the track Somethin in 2008.

Spoken memories of the Motown era, when the fusion of soul, doo-wop, rhythm & blues and pop was underway during the sixties, are embedded in a highly rhythmic soundscape of city sounds, singing, and music recorded on location in the streets. 

There’s a three-minute making-of showing Parrish at work, recording the sounds of his city with a microphone mounted on a boom pole. Between the scenes, he also explains some of his ideas about listening and sound. Although the clip is presented – and thus paid for– by Adidas, the brand can only be seen briefly in the first and last seconds of the flick.

The poetry of pure nature was in the focus of attention for the English recordist Chris Watson during numerous visits to The Holy Island of Lindisfarne. The former member of the industrial band Cabaret Voltaire was fascinated by the idea that what one is seeing and hearing now hasn’t changed in hundreds of years – back to the days when the place was an important centre of Celtic Christianity under Saints like Cuthbert, who was active there in the 7th century.

Located off the northeast coast of England, the island is an area of great transition all year round and known for its variety of wildlife – birds from both Arctic regions stop by there on their migration routes. 

Watson has captured the scenery of this magical sounding place with microphones over many years. Structured by the seasons, he arranged the recordings in 2013 in his studio into four sonic landscapes.

“Listen to your world. It may be more interesting than all the things you buy to escape from it.” US-American writer Sasha Frere-Jones’ observation from 1999 came thirty years after composer R. Murray Schafer and the soundscape movement were introducing sound as a fascinating element for understanding aspects of human cultural history.

Sounds Central’s thematic mix Filed Recordings – Miking the World presents a few more ideas about sound and listening – from an artistic perspective. It features record producer Eckart Rahn’s discovery of imaginary rhythms in a pachinko parlour in Tokyo, a moment from musician Geir Jenssen‘s audio diary of climbing an eight-thousander in the Himalayas, and the sound of waves breaking on rocks along the northeast Australian coast that made artist Bill Fontana think about analogies between field recordings and photography.

Being affected by misophonia doesn’t necessarily mean to be excluded from pursuing such pleasures in listening. On the contrary, a trained ear, capable of listening consciously, might help people to understand the nature of their disorder and its circumstances in better and profound ways.

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