P h o n o p h i l i a

"I think I will do nothing for a long time but listen, and accrue what I hear into myself..."
-- Walt Whitman, "Song of Myself"

I love field recordings. The best thing about them is not even neccessarily the recordings themselves but the experience of making them: when I'm walking around, knowing that I'm recording, I'm more aware of sound, and actually of all sensory information all around me.

It's like I've become just an instrument, a vessel, a human antennae whose only purpose is to go around sensing things. When I give in to that and have no other purpose than that, I just wander and float on the waves of experience, just going where the most dense or interesting sounds are. I notice everything, it becomes an almost psychedelic, enhanced experience. I just sit or stand or stroll, serving the recorder, just waiting for the microphones to suck up the sound, and while I wait I also look around and see things I normally wouldn't notice.

I also act differently. Instead of walking fast toward a goal and being stressed out about getting there, I stroll, I loiter, like the situationist dérive or Baudelaire's flanerie. I discreetly match speeds with groups of strangers having potentially interesting conversations, or I sidle up to them and pretend like I'm looking at my watch, or checking my phone, when what I'm really doing is capturing the sound they are making. Like a sound vampire, I steal people's souls with hidden binaural microphones instead of fangs.

Sometimes I feel guilty, or I wonder if these people are my enemies, but I don't consider them so, at least not in the same way that I think about the mass media source material that I use in my sample-based art, which I always think of as representative of something objectionable, something to criticize. No, these people are simply part of the world around me, innocents, living their lives, and I'm acting as an invisible, harmless sort of parasite. Should they be compensated somehow? Probably not. They haven't actually lost anything, and I'm not hurting them.

I saw "The Conversation" the other night. In the film Gene Hackman goes through similar self-questioning. Does he have a responsibility to those he records? Should he get involved? Or is he just an innocent worker doing his job? Is sound just a resource to be collected, mined, a raw material like coal or sugar, to be exchanged for capital, or for wages? Or does it have meaning that forms an imperative to act? When is it one and when is it the other?

I leave you to ponder these questions on your own. This site is about the love of sound, a pure and (mostly) innocent interest in the audible phenomena around us. It's an archive of some of those phenomena. A place to share.

-steev hise, december 2001