cruft for the world.

June 28, 2005

Audio Photography

I've been taking audio photos since 2001, when I got my first MiniDisc recorder. Then I was in Taipei, and there were hundreds of great audio sources. My favorite were the clanging religious processions that ambled down the smaller streets on auspicious days. Audio photography means more than just 'field recordings,' for me - I want to use the sounds I capture as sample sources. I'll be processing all the natural environments and re-imagining them, too, so it pays to listen closely to what the microphone picks up. The secondary benefits of audio photography are that it trains your ears to notice the resolution and bit-rate of your recording technology - and your environment.

To do audio photography correctly, my prefered procedure was always to wear headphones and hold the mic in one hand and MD recorder in the other for freedom of movement and simultaneous monitoring. Then, with the tape rolling, I'd wander a pre-selected area and record sounds from varying locations. This captures all kinds of delicious doppler effects and psychoacoustic gloss. Now I use a small MP3 player with a built-in mic. The advantage of this system is that people (if they are the photo-target) don't suspect they are being captured, but the drawback is that I cannot monitor through headphones (due to technical limits of MP3 player.) Howver the end results are usually spectacular.

And another bonus of audio photography is that it allows me to recreate in audio the environments I've passed through... I've got great captures of improvised music by friends I went camping with, and tracks of industrial noises that sound like synthetic microsound but were actually naturally produced. Audio photography taught me that even nature is learning to imitate digital synthesis and resynthesis.

There's new kind of nature I wish to photograph, too: radio. My new MP3 player has a digital radio tuner and a record function, so hopefully, if I manage to slip the surly bonds of Canada and get a job overseas, I'll be able to document their broadcasts and sample them too, like Akufen.

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