by Tarab -Eamon Sprod- *
Having read many of the posts on The Field Reporter recently which might go under the heading of “debate” (although I have not followed the “discussion” elsewhere not being a facebooker etc) I am more than slightly disturbed by what seems to be an increasing interest in the creation of a “genre” and perhaps more alarmingly, with it a set of orthodoxies. Yiorgis Sakellariou‘s recent posting mentions a discussion elsewhere on the uses or misuses of volume, and this I can understand, people discussing and arguing about what the hell it is that we are all doing. However I find the fact the someone feels the need to post an article upon a site such as this to defend their choice of volume levels used in concerts against “group disapproval” to be a worrying one indeed. Surely if the volume choice is relevant to whatever is attempting to be achieved then that is the volume it needs to be. While Yiorgis states that he feels that his use of dynamic range “motivates the audience to listen more acutely”, given the same circumstances another person might choose a totally different method in an attempt to achieve the same result. Or simply decide to do something totally different altogether. To me this is what makes art interesting; each person (or group of people) finding their own ways and means to express or explore what ever it is that they feel is necessary to them. The creation of self imposed limitation can be a useful creative tool. For example George Perec writing a book with no E’s in it or Eric La Casa’s air.ratio constructed from many 2 minute air conditioner recordings. But the tendency to create or adhere to a musical or artist style, within something as open ended as what might simplistically be described as the exploration of sound and the effect it has upon it’s location and inhabitants seems to be alarmingly reductive. Surely the choices we make for one project will not be the right ones for another, from compositional strategy to the choice of sounds and indeed choice of dynamic range or volume (to name but a few) will change to fit the nature of the project and its desired effect?
John Grzinich, in his response to Yiorgis’s article posted on his website, mentions some of his issues with volume, ideas on amplified and acoustic sound and the concert hall format in general. However rather than suggesting that any particular path be taken in response, he outlines how he has attempted to responded to or resolve these issues within his own practise and how this process has lead to various avenues of further exploration. Surely this is the point? There are many things that concern me about how what quite plainly has developed into a set of clichés within “field recording based composition” and how what I call the current “orthodoxy” is further entrenching those clichés. (I am not arrogant enough to claim to successfully avoid them, though I try). And of course there are many musical choices that others make that I don’t find particularly interesting. But rather than air them here or suggest to anyone else that they should or should not do whatever they like (really, who cares what I think?? Far too many have already heard me lament the over use of what Simon Whetham termed ‘ambient drone with random field recordings’ in his comments in post 227), my response to the things I find problematic in the work of others is to question myself and my own work, to tackle things head on or to attempt to explore other avenues, to find other ways and means etc. I am more often influenced by what I do not like rather than by what I do. The things I choose to avoid inevitably shape the things I do choose to do. Everything raises more questions and I don’t think that there are any answers. Well I don’t have any anyway.
Field recording or art making in general is for me much more interesting as an activity; as a means to explore. Whether it be a specific location, whatever is bouncing around in my head at that particular point or simply whatever I stumble across. The things I produce are the artefacts or by-products of this activity, rather than a chance to tell others what it is that I think that I know. Of course these can also function as a form of communication, most often with other artists, but if we are all saying the same thing then this quickly becomes a fairly uninteresting conversation.
Many of the views expressed in this “debate” regarding the purpose or potential uses and interpretations of “field recording” have almost nothing to do with my own interest in the activity of collecting existing sounds from my environment. Which is what I would expect and to a large extent want. After all who wants to be surrounded by people who all think the same as them? I know it is somewhat of a human trait to seek the comfort and safety of the group, but what I see as the increasing desire of many people to find a clearly defined space to slot themselves into, is what makes so much of the sound work that uses the term field recording to define itself so uninteresting to me. As John Grzinich has pointed out already elsewhere in these pages, surely field recording is a method or activity. Not a musical style or genre. Not something for critics or curators to define, impart meaning upon or somehow grant validity to. To my thinking the only validity you need is your own, which you give yourself by doing whatever it is you need to do. There are so many more interesting and varied things that can be done around with these activities and their results that I am simply puzzled as to why there seems to be a desire to narrow the possibilities by constructing a collective container to put ones self into.
Nothing is true.
Everything is permitted.
* Guest editor and sound artist.
* The Field Reporter only claims authorship and responsibility for the material written by its editorial team.
** Top photo courtesy of Forepaw
[Photo by John Grzinich]