JrF: when & why did you become aware of listening to natural & man made environment & indeed the art of field recording ?
SH: When I was very young, perhaps four I five, my mother used to take me to a field of bulls and we’d call them over by placing our hands together and inhaling, or sucking the air from between them, this would attract the bulls and they’d come over to say hello. This awareness of a language in nature was not explicit but I’d say it certainly affected how I approached living and non-living human systems. I remember this did become more explicit a few years back, I’d heard a recording of humpback whales and this seemed to trigger something that has unfolded and implied itself into how I look at things. Around this time I also met Patrick Farmer and we subsequently worked quite closely- this was my first insight into the art of field recording, I had heard a lot of field recordings previous to this, Lee Patterson and Joe Colley in particular, but Patrick and I would go for a walk and end up putting our ear to fences to hear them filtering the environment. This really solidified a few things I had been struggling to articulate. It also made me realize I’d be an awful field recordist, it requires a certain type of patience that I don’t have, and I’ve have always been deterred, to my own detriment, by using technology as a primary material.
JrF: how have these two aspects of sound impacted on your own artistic output ?
SH: I’d say the first, listening to natural and man made environments, is my practice in many ways, only its primary focus is with other senses and to balance and language. I see Field recording more as a parallel – it’s a multifaceted art form, and a very social art form, universal in many senses. Its also mundane, as in belonging to the world, and my practice utilises the mundane, and reconsiders how we approach what we are familiar to. I think the element of composition is the invisible thread that ties it all together – whether it’s the composition of an environment, an installation, a jug, a drawing or a bird’s call doesn’t matter so much, if one can see the consilience in the everyday then I believe their lives would be richer for it.
JrF: do you regard 'natural' sounds as a musical element (bearing in mind that the conventional definition of 'music' is rapidly becoming obsolete) or as sound ? is this definition important ? does it matter ?
I think this definition is vital and matters in a much wider context than both sound and music, and any erasing of boundaries that are perceived within this field. David Dunn once proposed that music is a way of making sense of the world that might help us to refashion our relationship to non-human living systems, and I believe that is true if music can be widely accepted as a means of acquiring knowledge, not as it is commonly accepted in our culture as a quick hit form of entertainment, or as a celebrity culture afterthought. Music is found in all human societies, which implies it is instinctive, and is perhaps the best example of how far removed we have become from the natural environment in which we live. If music can again be captured as a means of communication, of language and of knowledge I think it would signify a shift in society which would signify something greater than a change in listening habits. The problem with this is the theological connotations that are carried - knowledge as some kind of enlightenment, in this sense I don’t mean knowledge as an ultimate understanding, on the contrary, the more we know, the more questions are asked.
So I guess the answer to whether one regards natural sounds as music depend of ones definition of music, in my case yes I do, and it matters to me a great deal, for the reasons given above.
I do wonder what is meant by a ‘conventional definition of music’, if it implies a traditional musicality then I would disagree that it is becoming obsolete, if someone unfamiliar with this area of music is played an a-tonal, or near silent piece they generally struggle to hear it as music for it doesn’t contain any conventional musical value. Music to the general listener retains an element of what is generally termed ‘pop’, popular, and it is no coincidence that most popular music has identifiable rhythm, harmony and expression (and one only needs to listen to a recording of a pond to find this paralleled in nature). I don’t believe that the traditional values generally associated with music came from nowhere – as with other areas of evolution music would have come from a response to our surroundings, only in relatively recent history has it mutated into the commodity it commonly is now. The ancient Greek word Mousike was used to signify the arts and sciences ruled by the Muses and until the middle ages mathematics was considered musica, although the early middle ages also saw the distinction between universal, human and instrumental music – this evidently has slowly been reduced to what it is now.
Within this area of music the term ‘music’ as it is generally understood is definitely being contested, but the term, on the whole, is still very much in use, and often considered a marker of cultural identity, although many cultures don’t have a term for music, and these cultures are generally still living with respect for the environment.
JrF: has the act of hearing field recordings in various contexts had an effect (positive or negative) on the way you listen to your everyday surroundings and how has it affected the way you listen to other music and sound (if at all) ?
To be of the mind to listen to field recordings suggests to me an awareness of ones surroundings that is perhaps the progenitor to listening to them. I would be more inclined to think that they excite the imagination and promote an awareness that this world is not formed around anthropocentrism. For me field recording humbles and fascinates in equal measure, and makes one aware also of how one element affect the next – wind though trees for example.
How one responds to the action of being surrounded (a literal reading of environmental) does have its down sides. Traffic is the most predominate one, I’m sure I never used to be so bothered by it, but now I find it noisy and smelly and obnoxious, I also feel a similar way about most social gatherings – that’s not to imply that field recording is the ideal art form for the misanthrope - but it is ideal for one who respond sensitively to their surroundings, and has a bundle of patience.