JrF: when & why did you become interested in field recording ?
PT: The very first signs of interest in field recording for me started around the age of eight or nine years old. I remember sitting on a quayside in South Devon, listening to the sounds of small boats with outboard motors, making their way across the estuary. It was at that moment on the quay, when I realised that everything in the outside world had it’s own particular frequency tone or note, not just the world of musical instruments. I’d been learning to play piano from the age of five and so already had a great interest in music. I would listen and think, “that motor is a 2nd octave A# and that one is nearly a middle C. “.
At the age of around 10 (1977), I used to have one of those old Philips flat 70’s cassette machines with a built in microphone. I would take it out into the garden and leave it recording somewhere, hopefully to capture bird song and some of the atmosphere.
(JrF: the 'garden with portable childhood tape recorder is also how I first began exploring & one wonders just how many of us recordists were inspired by similar adventures)
Also back then, I listened to plays on the radio and would usually be much more fascinated with the background sounds, specifics and foley effects than the actual plot. Over the years as a musician, my interest in field recording grew, first using a Awia HHB 1 pro dat recorder and then a minidisc to capture sounds to use with my music. In 2007, as a member of the audiovisual group Addictive TV, we had the rare chance to stay for two weeks in Bhutan to document and record ancient Bhutanese Buddhist dance, which were specially performed for us. We had about two weeks notice before we knew it was really going to happen, so quickly had to get my hands on some decent recording kit, or at least what was available with my budget at the time. I bought an Edirol R4 pro, which had just come out and still use it to this day. An audio-technica AT835st and two Rode NTG-2 microphones. As well as recording the dances and the musical instruments, we had the chance to go out and field record / film way out in the countryside. It was while recording cicadas that it really hit home how much I loved doing this and wanted to pursue my interest in wildlife recording someday, especially now that I had a decent 4 track recorder! The microphones are no longer used; because I found the signal to noise ratio and quality wasn’t really good enough for wildlife recording.
Since then I have been building up my collection of equipment, attended several courses at Wildeye with Chris Watson and Jez riley French and have been out as much as possible collecting sounds and improving my knowledge of field craft. Doing this has also given me a greater knowledge and a deeper love of wildlife and the natural world.
One thing I would love to get, is a really good preamp mixer like a Sound Devices or SQN, although I must say the preamps on the Edirol R4 pro are quite good, especially for the price !
JrF: how do you use your field recordings in your own artistic output ?
PT: I use my field recordings as pieces in there own right and in my own music compositions. Because of my background in producing electronic music and with a long love of Dub Reggae, I’m currently working on a project using my wildlife / nature recordings; it’s rhythms, sounds and textures in a project called “Nature in Dub”. Some of the field recordings for this project are kept untouched, some may be slowed down, speeded up or manipulated in some way, but always trying to keep a sense or feeling of the location or source of the original recording. It’s for this reason, I find it most important to collect the nature sounds myself, rather than just getting permission to use other peoples recordings. The fact that I have personally experienced the location with all my senses, the smell of the place, how cold or hot it felt, watching and listening first hand to the particular bird, mammal, insect etc, will help me when creating the Dub tracks in the studio. Listening back to the field recordings, will instantly bring back those memories and senses, aiding me in the creative process.
I have also created soundtracks for installations, one of which was for artist Heather Tampling on the disappearance of bees in the UK. Recording a hive with omni and contact microphones. The very small DPA omni microphones gave a very nice natural recording for the beginning of the piece and the JrF contact microphones recorded the sounds of bees scuttling around the hive. This was used later in the piece, mixed in with other darker sounds and a young female voice narrating the chemical names of insecticides which are having an impact the bee population. The contact microphone recordings gave a real sense of urgency & desperation to the track.
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 ?
PT: Bearing in mind that most of my field recording is based on capturing the sounds of nature and wildlife, there’s very often a musical element, either in tone, rhythm or texture. I personally think of any natural sound I hear, as a kind of music. In making "Nature in Dub" though, I suppose I'm thinking in a more traditional use of the word "music" in mind, i.e, good rhythms, atmospheres, nice loops or calls that can work with other instruments and sounds using traditional musical scales.
Is the definition important? Does it matter? Not for myself, only in terms of giving the information you want to portray when your playing, releasing or performing a piece, to give some kind of guideline or clue to your public. Sometimes though, depending on the type of piece, it might be best just not to label it at all and leave that role for the reviewers & critics! For me it’s all just part of the rich wonderful world of audio, which I could not live without.
JrF: has the act of making field recording 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) ?
PT: The act of making field recordings has defiantly had a positive effect on the way I listen to everyday sounds. I have always been a very keen listener to sound, but I've found especially through using microphones that can listen to sounds that are barely audible to the human ear, such as contact microphones to hear Death-watch beetles, or using hydrophones where your literally fishing for sound (sometimes from unknown sources), or listening to birds and mammals at a very close range, only possible by keeping a good distance and using long runs of microphone cable, it has certainly made me listen at a closer and more detailed level than I ever did before.
As I have already said, it’s also giving me a greater knowledge in learning the sounds and calls of wildlife and given me a greater respect and love for the natural world. On the negative side, I've noticed all the more how much human sound pollution (if that’s the right word?) is having an impact on the wildlife and us. In an ever-increasing population with more cars, planes etc, I think it’s most important that natural sounds are recorded whilst it's still possible and shared to the public.
Sharing recordings on the internet can have a very crucial roll, giving listeners who may live in very built up areas, a chance to listen to these recordings and maybe in some small way, uplift their spirits. I'm always very interested in the way field recordings can have an effect when listened to in a very different location or space from where the original recording was made, sometimes making the recording even more powerful and all the more interesting.