Field recordings are often compared to photography. Why? Well, many feel sound effect recordings are an “audio snapshot,” a focused study of a specific event beyond the studio. Field recordist Des Coulam has written about this, as has Cities and Memory’s Stewart Fowkes.
There’s one key difference, though. It’s pretty easy to ground a photograph to a specific place on the planet after the fact – simply match the locations by eye. Audio tracks are more nebulous. Was that market recorded in northern Bangkok, or in the centre? For an inexperienced listener, that’s almost impossible to determine from sound alone. Field recordings are a more difficult to pin to location.
Relating a sound to a specific place isn’t a simple task, though. What’s the best way to show a sound clip in a space? A GPS list? A Google map? And what’s the best way for listeners to experience them? One field recordist has been a pioneer exploring these questions: Ian Rawes.
Rawes is the mind and ears behind the London Sound Survey. Since 2009, that website has plotted field recordings on a map of the English capital. Ian Rawes and his website have been featured on a number of publications including The Wire magazine, the BBC, The Guardian, and others.
I have admired Ian Rawes, his work, and his website for many years. In addition to adding field recordings on the London Sound Survey and sharing them with others, Rawes has explored the nature of sound maps themselves with fresh, interesting ideas.
I asked Ian Rawes if he would be interested in an interview about this, and the gear he uses to capture his field recordings. He kindly agreed. So, today Ian shares his ideas on sound maps as well as another provoking thought: how field recordings become a wormhole to transport a listener to another time and place.