Simon Scott interviews Jez riley French
1. From personal experience I am devastated with the amount of "unwanted" sound that I capture when out recording. Do you have concerns about noise pollution and what personal experiences could you share about this issue?
JrF) firstly, the definition of 'unwanted' is central to this question. Personally if i'm recording a location then I don't see that there can be 'unwanted' sound - all the sound there is part of that location at that time. There are issues such as equipment noise of course or wind on the mics - which isn't always wanted - but thats a different issue & one that is dealt with by having different equipment or experimenting with placement. As for my own experiences I would say that there have been times when, for example, i've been recording the sound of empty spaces & someone will wander in or perhaps a police car goes past with its siren on.
I think that if one is recording environments one has to respect them & the fact that the recordist is not in total control.
2. Is recording technology as important to you as location?
JrF) no. For me intuition & emotive aspects are key so that means that the technology used is helpful of course but won't have total impact on the result from a creative viewpoint. I have high spec kit & also still use old equipment for example. What matters is always that unexplainable urge to capture something one hears.
3. What is your creative composing approach? Do you use digital signal processing or filtering to manipulate your recordings or do you simply let the sounds reveal themselves as you have captured them or a combination of the two?
JrF) I don't use any processing or manipulation at all. For me the real joy is in finding the sounds as they exist - from the everyday to the utterly surprising and surreal. I do edit recordings sometimes & on occasion there might be a need to remove some hiss or other technical issue, but that's it. As a composer I like to let the sounds stand as they are & finding the balance between that and the compositional process is at the heart of the work.
4. When performing live does the context of the sounds and where they came from become lost on the audience and, if so, how do you choose to present your work and inform the listeners in a live environment?
JrF) When I place my work in front of an audience I am very aware that the space and situation where they are presented will have its own sonic qualities & these then add other layers to the work. This is why certain choices in the way they are presented have been increasingly important to me. I perform live to have an enjoyable time & hopefully to provide a good experience for the audience too. I'm not there to impose something on them - it must be a mutual experience in a physical space. Sometimes I will accompany performances or installed work with projected or printed photographs taken at the same time as the field recordings involved in the piece were made. However these are abstract & so there is no attempt to 'transport the listener' to those places.
5. Apart from being a very good listener are there specific requirements a professional sound recordist should have to be successful and what are the best ways into the industry to earn a living from it?
JrF) hmmm, well first of all the term 'industry' isn't one I would use or feel comfortable with, however I assume you are referring there to sound recordist work in the film, tv or radio industry for example. I think if you asked every field recordist this question you'd get a lot of very different answers but also some common replies. Some talk of equipment, others talk of study etc etc. For me, I took my time & I believe passionately that time is the best teacher. To be 'successful' to me is about the way listening has added to my life & an ability to pass that on to my daughter & indeed to other folks too. As for earning a living from it then I think that question would be better answered by someone for whom that has been a prime motivation.
6. As I am currently recording underwater sounds and subterranean wildlife is there any advice you can share about how to approach recording in rivers and the sea?
JrF) well, giving advice like this can either be technical or, as I prefer, more personal. The best advice is always to just 'play' with ones equipment, explore & to record what sounds good to you. There are a million tips for how to achieve certain things but really there is nothing better than just getting out there & experimenting for oneself. It's like everything really - one can 'learn' how to do things in certain ways & indeed in this context, one can learn to be a good sound recordist & no doubt get some work from that but I firmly believe that as an appreciation for sound increases (which it must) the importance of individual approaches will be essential. With time everyone could be taught to play the cello but there was & will only ever have been one Jacqueline Du Pre !
7. Is there an experience you can share where you failed to capture an environment you wanted to record due to attracting attention from other human beings or animals?
JrF) I think my answer to question one also answers this. Apart from that the only times when there have been specific problems are when one is stopped from recording & this has only happened to me once of twice & only happens in the UK (so far !)
8. If you were to write "An Idiots Guide To Field Recording" please list some essential works, texts/books and equipment that you feel is useful and important.
JrF) haha, well i'm afraid I wouldn't. Personally I think reading a book in order to learn these things isn't the best thing to do. I'm always happy to give advice on equipment etc but it has to be personal - to do with what the person is aiming for (film sound, artwork etc). I guess it's quite common in all sorts of areas for folks to be given lists of things to read, listen to or purchase but i've never been convinced of how successful that approach is in allowing the individual to get to what they want to be. As I said, I can give advice but for me it needs to be individual & not made for any common denominator.
In the 1990s the percussionist Simon Scott (b.1971) was a member of leading English shoegaze band, Slowdive who worked with Brian Eno on second album 'Souvlaki'. Later he scored several productions for TV and film, formed Seavault (Morr Music) and as a solo performer has shared the studio and stage with Nils frahm, Lawrence English, Klimek, Mira Calix, The Caretaker, Machinefabriek, Jasper TX and Tim Hecker. He manages his own label, Kesh, from Cambridge and has previously co-writen and performed on guitar with MaxMSP in Rafael Anton Irisarris’ project The Sight Below (Ghostly International). Simon is currently working on a second solo album to be released in 2011 on Miasmah and a subterranean field recording project in The Fens called '__sealevel'.