what does sound recording mean to me?

In my experience field sound recording is capturing an indoor or outdoor environment with at least one microphone and focusing on either a mass bed of sound (ambience) or ‘zooming-in’ on individual events (I like to call these sound spots). The purpose is to accurately capture the sound for future re-production, re-arrangement and playback. I had often thought that sound recording – in the field recording sense – that is, outside of the studio, could be compared with photography. However, the more I think about it, a photographer constructs an image based on a number of factors which include lighting, framing, camera placement, image composition and more. It is also subject to personal choices, ideas and methods. In this sense each photographer can apply their own unique stamp on a photograph.

I now think that a photographer is more like a sound designer because by using a range of tools (methods to construct the image) the final outcome is a result of such layering, artistic choice.

I think that field sound recording is more scientific than creative. It is in its very nature methodical. Surveying which is “the science of accurately determining the terrestrial or three-dimensional position of points and the distances and angles between them” (Source:  Wikipedia (Surveying)) has a similar method to sound recording. Is this method the same as field sound recording except with the use of different equipment ‘recording’ equipment?

I intend to find answers to the following questions

  • Is field sound recording a sustainable vocation?

There are already thousands of recorded sounds available to purchase either separately or in packs that can also be freely distributed, e.g under Creative Commons licences. How does a sound recordist justify doing this again. I think some of the following reasons apply:

  1. They couldn’t find the sound that they were after.
  2. They wanted to record the sound rather than paying for it.
  3. It will form part of a sound pack that they could monetize.
  4. The quality of the recorder wasn’t the right fidelity.

This leads into my next question:

  • What happens when all the sounds in the world are recorded? Why do field sound recordists continue to record what has already been recorded?
  • What are the personal aims of sound recordists ? Is it for financial gain (e.g. creating a sample library) ? Or is it for the experience, experimentation etc.? (*examples*..)


I watched a video from Sonic Terrain called Alan Burbridge – The Sound Collector. The way that he describes what he does is very interesting to me. I’ve roughly transcribed what he said.

“I don’t think it’s the technology, I think it’s the birds to some extent but I think it’s more of a sanitised hunter-gathering……People collect match boxes, or they collect train numbers, or airplane numbers or they tick off how many formula one races they’ve been to. For me, I’m, as I say a sanitised hunter gathering so I’m going out there I’m hunting my birds, I’m getting close enough to them to get a good recording and then I’m leaving them alone, not causing them any harm. So it’s a bit like going out and taking nothing but photographs and leaving nothing but footprints. It’s the same sort of thing.”

Matthew Herbert

“I used to be a collector, I used to always have something in my pocket. Oh, a funny motorbike! Oh, a strange bird! But now I’m not so interested in that. For me that’s like being a photographer and just taking pictures of anything…There has to be a reason why you are recording something otherwise its just like you’re a consumer. Say, Okay I have cheese one day and ham the next.”

  • There is a need for a surveyor to re-record data in the future of a previously mapped site because maybe the land has changed or boundaries have been altered – does the same apply to sound recording? – We know that the soundscapes change across time but is this so evident in natural places that appear unchanged over a long period of time (e.g. not affected by human progression).
  • Is there an element of keeping up to date with the latest technology of recordings? As the bit rates and sample rates increase does this influence a re-recording?

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