UnionDocs Workshop: Creative Field Recording 2018

In March 2018 I organized a workshop at UnionDocs on the theory and practice of field recording for various forms of sound design.

From the UnionDocs workshop page:

This three-day intensive and immersive workshop considered the path from listening, to recording, to designing sound for various project forms. Covering topics and techniques from listening to Deep Listening, soundwalks and sound recording in the field, the relationship between the soundscape and sound design, and what is carried and created on the path from recording and recordings, to sound art, performance, and design.

Day 1:

Andrea Williams introduced Pauline Oliveros’ Deep Listening bodywork exercises to open up the ears for listening. She gave us an overview of the history of participatory art walks and shared her techniques for creating a soundwalk. We took a soundwalk together in pairs, taking turns being the listener (with eyes closed) and the guide (with eyes open).

Benjamin Tausig asked us to listen interpretively; that is, for layers of meaning that can be coaxed out of sound as it circulates and encounters different bodies. He discussed strategies for the interpretation of sound, and for translating audition into other kinds of commentary about people, communities, art, and politics.

Day 2:

In my session we screened examples of artists who use unconventional sensors (binaural mics, contact mics, hydrophones, light-listeners and electromagnetic pickups) to expand and complicate the field-recording encounter. Then we took those transducers outside to explore the soundwalk route from Andrea’s session.

Bonnie Jones explored the line from recording to composition and performance techniques with an emphasis on improvisation. She screened examples of her performances incorporating text, visuals and other elements.

Day 3:

Monteith McCollum used practical examples from his work to introduce differing approaches to creating sound for film, installation, and performance. He emphasized cinematic sound that blurs the lines between sound effect, soundscape, and music, as well as a workflow where production and post-production are never separate.

Jacob Kirkegaard joined us from Denmark (via Skype) to introduce his carefully crafted listening experiences, which he hopes can provide a corporeal understanding of complex or invisible processes (like calving glaciers, nuclear fallout, the folly of border walls, or the sound of one’s own hearing).

From my wrap-up email:

Andrea helped us walk with ears on our feet, listening with our whole bodies even as we sleep. She introduced Acoustic Ecology and challenged us to consider radical listening as a tool for practicing empathy. Ben’s interpretivist approach highlighted how subjective sonic experience can be: All ears are shaped differently and the sounds they hear are further shaped by their culture. What sneaks past the “thin description” of sound if we fail to acknowledge how our presence changes the space? I focused on capturing sounds that were normally trapped inside objects or lurking outside the limits of our biology; teaching our ears to appreciate other voices. Bonnie introduced improvisation, composing in the perpetual present tense with one foot in the recorded past. She challenged us to transmit our own listening to an audience. Monteith shared details of his sound-centric film-making process (featuring surround sound by us!) and his nearly heretical refusal of the production/post dichotomy. Jacob traced his personal journey to create spaces for understanding through sound, transposing geological events into human scale. We ended the workshop back inside our ears, listening to (our) listening of (his) listening. I guess if there’s one simple message from this whole weekend, it’s that Marcel Duchamp was very wrong when he wrote that “one can look at seeing; one can’t hear hearing.”