JrF: when & why did you become interested in field recording ?
PM: I think you probably know, given that you ask this question a lot, that there's no real black and white answer. I doubt anyone has a single moment or event in their life that can completely explain any particular interest. For me I suppose the first important development to cite would be the direction my musical tastes took as a teenager. I was a drummer, so I remember a bias at a young age, as a survival instinct, against any music that used drum machines, but my ears nonetheless somehow led me through general pop to rock to punk to industrial music. Before long I was actively searching for recordings that made use of non-musical elements; neubauten's power tools excited me, and skinny puppy's sampling was fascinating. In my late teens I discovered the yet more abstract works of folks like zoviet france and current 93, brume and asmus tietchens, nurse with wound and the hafler trio. I sometimes wonder what led me in these directions, pretty much alone in my circle of peers. Could it have something to do with my poor eyesight? i've worn strong glasses since early childhood, so, although my glasses correct the problem, has a psychological lack of reliance on one sense shifted my personal focus onto another? I know as well that I have particularly sensitive hearing around certain frequencies - I can hear, for instance, electronic appliances that are on in standby which emit frequencies that are theoretically out of human hearing range (not to mention those boxes some people have in their front yards to keep the neighbor's cats away), so maybe that has had an effect as well. Meanwhile my concentration was focused on theatre and peformance. In 1996 I moved permanently from the states to europe (first to paris) to study physical theatre, and it was there that my interests shifted consciously towards field recording and live acoustics. Perhaps it was to do with being in a truly foreign place - I remember walking through paris streets and noticing various new (for me) urban sounds and imagining being able to capture and layer them into some kind of musical form (it would be another 2 years before I actually had the technical means to do this). Meanwhile I discovered, in a live performance, the work of toy.bizarre, which seemed to embody exactly what was growing vaguely in my imagination. I ordered all the cassettes that he was producing on his kaon label and listened eagerly; meanwhile I contented myself with borrowing a clip mic, a delay pedal, and a guitar amp, and set about performing live sound experiments within the context of my school's live theatrical performances. My interest was always centered around real acoustic activity, rather that synthesized sound. My ears sought out events that were already present in our world, that required only discovery and attention. Why, I don't really know - an inherent search for hidden beauty? the comfort of becoming familiar with elements of our environment that elude most people? the need, again, to give precedence to a sense that prevailed over the others? an early and unidentified propensity towards meditation via absorption into one's sonic surroundings? one of my greatest inspirations in the last few years has been something that jeph jerman said to me during an interview for a radio show about his work, "if someone were to ask me what it is that i'm doing, i would probably say that i'm trying to forget myself."
JrF: how do you use your field recordings in your own artistic output ?
PM: on the other hand, i've recently found myself growing apart from the term 'field recording'. this is slightly ironic since i produce a radio show 'consecrated to field recording', but there you go. i think it is not a problem with the usage or interpretation of the term (although it isn't really very nice, is it?) as much as it is a personal realisation that 'field recording' is only a part of what interests me in sound; that there is a fundamental element of acoustic activity that i find fascinating, and 'field recording' is only one facet of this fundamental. my interest is in the discovery, the exploration of spaces, the attention to and/or interaction with our environment. lately i've been using the description 'found sound' rather than 'field recording' precisely for it's greater scope and openness towards potential sources. i have no real guidelines for how i use 'field recordings' or 'found sounds' in my work. sometimes they are heavily treated, sometimes completely raw, it depends on their inherent sonic qualities. generally there is nothing documentary about the way i use sound; i am not trying to reference or describe a specific space, but to draw attention, out of context, to it's acoustic qualities. there is no real difference to the way i would work with an ocean surf recording or a stringed instrument recording. live, meanwhile, i have been moving away from using recordings at all. i began to wonder at the intentions behind constantly playing back recordings of other spaces in live performance, and i came to realise that my interests in the sonic qualities of the spaces i recorded translated in live performance more genuinely into an interest in the space i was actually in. so in live performance now i like to try to actually explore the acoustics of the performance space, which has developed into a situation in which i use a lot of acoustic found objects, elements of the space itself, self-powered small amplification techniques, and a lot of audience participation. it is, after all, a collective exploration.
Jrf: are the terms 'music' & 'sound' important to you, either > in the way you feel about the sounds you capture and use or in the > way your work is viewed by others ?
PM: i am not very picky about words and definitions in general. i have long since come to the conclusion that the reason i am fascinated with sound is that it is beyond comprehension, beyond description, and beyond language. is that not the definition of the spiritual? and if my fascination is based on the transcendence of language, why should i worry about what we call it? i call myself a musician, probably because i have a musical background. i refer to my work as music. but if someone else disagrees with that, it's fine by me. i really don't care whether what i do is music or not, or what might make it music or not. i make it, and you listen to it, or you don't. you enjoy it, or you don't. whether or not someone does or doesn't call it music won't affect how you react to it. it's a question that is solely based on more- or less-limited definitions: is music simply organised sound, or does it require rhythm and melody, does it require notation, lyrics, top 40 status? who cares?
JrF: what effect (positive or negative) has the act of making field recordings had on the way you listen to your everyday surroundings and how has it affected the way you listen to other music sound (if at all) ?
PM: i would say rather that it's the way i listen to my everyday surroundings that has affected how i make field recordings. the listening came first; if i hadn't heard it i wouldn't have wanted to record it. but perhaps it's been mutually beneficial; i suppose many years of recording sounds has developed the sensitivity of my listening; i have favorite frequencies and harmonics, i hear things that others don't (or rather, i notice things that others don't). it's hard to say what effect it's had on how i listen to music - i still listen, in the course of my daily routine, to a lot more instrument-based music than other things. it's hard to say whether the act of making field recordings has been what has affected the development of my musical tastes, or if it's rather been parallel. i am largely of the opinion that the sound that i and you and our colleagues are making is nothing short of a new folk music; that is, a sonic exploration developed from within a community without institutional ties and based on mutual support and exchange of ideas. meanwhile my listening tastes are also leaning towards other folk musics (wasn't punk just another folk movement?) from all around the world. the major difference is that, with technological development, we are part of a community that is no longer defined by geographical location - we are spread all over the globe, but are in constant contact. our community is virtual, although its true development comes from the real-world interactions that come from those virtual contacts. there's only so much that we can accomplish online.
may 18th-19th: field recording workshop, malmo, sweden
june 13th-20th: field recording workshop with Chris Watson & Jez riley French, Iceland
22nd june - 2oth august 2013: audible silence: the tate, sleeping and waking' - headphone piece exploring the hidden sounds of the Tate modern building, Tate modern, London
september 6-8th: field recording workshop with jez riley french & chris watson, norfolk, uk - places available
october 4-13th: installation (room tones / littorals), Spazioersetti galleria, Udine, Italy
october 11th: resonant terrain walk, castletown, portland as part of the b-side symposium
december 6-8th: field recording workshop with jez riley french & chris watson, norfolk, uk - places available