A Month of Field Recordists: Stuart Fowkes


2-4 Stuart Fowkes - portrait, courtesy Giulia Biasibetti

Stuart Fowkes approaches field recording with a novel twist: his Cities and Memories website places clips on a sound map, then invites sound pros to remix the sounds. The result? Field recordings from across the globe that pair actual location audio with inventive interpretations.

Launched in 2014, the Cities and Memory website now hosts scores of sound effects. I was curious to hear Fowkes’ approach to field recording, and the gear he uses to capture sound clips. Fowkes kindly shared his thoughts, including insight into the best gear needed to start a field recording journey and why, and its effect on being prepared to capture field recording “gold dust” when it appears.

Creative Field Recording: What is your favourite field recording kit?

I’m currently using a pretty standard Zoom H4n portable recorder, with the occasional addition of hydrophones and coil pickup mics for alternative forms of recording. I wouldn’t say it’s my favourite other than by default, but it’s what I’ve got so there you go!

Zoom H4n

Zoom H4n

CFR: Why is this your gear of choice?

I’m under no illusions that what I’m using is, in the grand scheme of things, beginner’s equipment. So my decision was driven by two factors – cost, and portability. I carry the H4n with me pretty much everywhere I go, on the basis that the one time I don’t have it with me I’ll inevitably come across some kind of field recording gold dust. Having my recorder with me encourages good listening practices, so I’m always alert to what’s going on in the soundscape around me, and allows me to make the most of sonic serendipity when it occurs.

Edirol R-09

Edirol R-09

Prior to that I was using an Edirol R–09 which is pretty low quality, little better than a mobile phone really – and I have it in mind to upgrade before too long, but it will be to another hand-held portable recorder, as this suits how I travel and record best. I’m also firmly of the school that thinks the best recorder in the world is the one you have on you at the time, and a good recording is – basics like clipping, levelling, wind noise, file quality etc. obviously aside – more defined for me by the story it tells, the sonic uniqueness it contains than by its technical excellence. The H4n certainly leaves quite a bit to be desired in quiet situations, for instance, when it generates its own hiss that makes really quiet recording next to impossible.

CFR: What is your favourite experience/recording made on this kit?

No one recording in particular, but the fact that the recorder is sort of a ‘life companion’ in an ongoing mission to capture the individual sounds that define the places I visit. Last year I spent four days with my recorder in Hamburg, Germany, recording the sounds of the city as they unveiled themselves to me, and I think I painted a good sonic portraits of the city, so I think I’d say my sound painting of Hamburg, which you can explore on a map.

Note: the collection of Hamburg sounds is also presented as an album, which you can download, free of charge.

Many thanks to Stuart Fowkes for sharing his kit and insight!

Image courtesy Giulia Biasibetti.

Quick Links: Stuart Fowkes’ Kit

Audio recorders:

  • Zoom H4n portable audio recorder with electret condenser microphones.
  • Edirol R–09 portable audio recorder with condenser microphones.

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