UnionDocs Workshop: Creative Field Recording 2020

In February 2020 I organized a workshop at UnionDocs exploring field recording as a way of practicing knowledge.

From the UnionDocs workshop page:

In 1992, the anthropologist Steven Feld coined the term acoustemology, a combination of acoustics and epistemology to argue for “sound as a way of knowing.” In doing so it inquires into what is knowable, and how it becomes known, through sounding and listening.

In this three-day intensive workshop, lead instructor Zach Poff will use field recording to explore sound as a way of knowing that embraces phenomenology, relationality, and reflexivity. We will practice knowing through sound, listening with an ear toward the relationships between humans, non-humans, and processes that surround us. We will practice knowing with sound as we contribute our own gestures back into the network of sounding subjects through domains like radio, sound art, music, and film.

This workshop features listening sessions, hands-on recording demonstrations, introductions to novel sensors like contact microphones and hydrophones, and participatory and performative group work. Each session is anchored by a presentation from an invited guest artist: Viv Corringham, Bonnie Jones and Monteith McCollum.

Sound disrespects boundaries and connects disciplines so this workshop is open to anyone with a passion for sound: filmmakers, sound artists, podcasters, musicians, writers, or simply curious listeners.

Participants will get in-class experience with an array of professional recording equipment, but it will be beneficial to bring your own. Each day will conclude with opportunities for participant work-in-progress critiques.

Day 1:

Viv Corringham helped us to open our ears and create a community of intentional listeners connected to the spaces around us. She introduced us to her “shadow walks” soundwalking practice, emphasizing that “knowing where you are is knowing who you are”, and led us in one of Pauline Oliveros’ sonic meditations.

Later we discussed notions of the “field” and the many ways to “record” it (with microphones of course, but also through writing, singing, drawing, etc). I introduced sonic vocabulary, recorder fundamentals, and practical mike techniques before we went outside to make our first recordings in the field.

Day 2:

Bonnie Jones explored the potential of field recordings in performance. She led group improv sessions using recordings we had gathered throughout the weekend, and encouraged us to explore alternate performance strategies that combine sound with text, video, and other media.

My afternoon session focused on how we can open our ears to the listening of others (people, animals, geology, the inanimate). We learned how unconventional sensors like contact mics, hydrophones, light-listeners, and electromagnetic pickups can expand the field recording encounter.

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.

Inspired by the morning session, we put theory into practice with a culminating set of experiments in sound/image pairing. Monteith distributed postcards which we “scored” using our field recordings and other media.