JrF: when & why did you become interested in field recording ?
JK: I started field recording almost exactly ten years ago, in the fall of 1999. My wife and I were going on our first trip to Europe together, and I was interested in documenting both the sites and the sounds of the trip. I had been playing around making electronic music for a few years and had been thinking about incorporating field recordings into the work I was doing, having always been interested in listening to my surroundings rather than tuning them out. I’d also come across the Phonography mailing list right about then as well. Field recording seemed to align really well with my interest in meditation, quiet and solitude. Everything pretty much clicked into place at the right time and I’ve been actively making field recordings ever since.
JrF: how do you use your field recordings in your own artistic output ?
JK: I’ve primarily used them as source material for sound pieces I’ve released on both my own label, Stasisfield.com, and other experimental record labels. Also, they’ve been incorporated into the series of graphic scores I’ve completed based on visual representations of landscape (http://www.johnkannenberg.com/visuals/graphicscores.html). These scores use field recordings both in their visual creation (as in Landscape 1, where the waveform visualisation of a field recording was used to determine the placement of the shapes which direct the performers) and in their performance (they all require the use of field recordings to be either played along untreated with the rest of the instrumentation, or to be used as malleable source material during the performance).
I’ve recently become increasingly interested in presenting the field recordings themselves as finished works, and have been documenting some of my field recording sessions on my blog (http://www.synesthetech.com/). I’ve performed in phonography ensembles with Christopher Delaurenti and Steve Barsotti from the Seattle Phonographers Union, as well as with the Chicago Phonographers Union headed by Chad Clark and Eric Leonardson, and an ensemble begun by Long Beach musician Glenn Bach during his time teaching sound at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.
One thing I’ve been interested in recently is field recording as a performative act. I’ve noticed that while recording in crowded public spaces I usually end up attracting an audience of some kind. I’m currently working on a series of performances of Cage’s 4’33” in art museums, where I stand in one spot in a museum for four minutes and thirty three seconds with my recorder. Sometimes I’m ignored, but most times I manage to make at least someone uncomfortable or get in someone’s way no matter how hard I try to find a place that’s out of the way! If nothing else it’s an interesting sociological experiment which is happening alongside a growing body of interesting museum recordings.
Jrf: are the terms ‘music’ & ‘sound’ important to you, either in the way you feel about the sounds you capture and use or in the way your work is viewed by others.
JK: They are important in a way, sort of as guideposts to watch out for or even avoid if possible. I feel uncomfortable calling my work “Music” or myself a musician since I have almost no musical training and can’t read music. However, a lot of my sound work involves things like rhythm and melody, so it exists somewhere between music and sound. I think of what I do mostly as organising sound.
I feel pretty strongly that the term “Sound Art” needs to dovetail with the musical world. Recently I’ve been working on writing my own personal definition of Sound Art which is inclusive of all the things I think should be covered in there, like field recording, experimental music, radio art, film sound, etc. I’ve never really read a definition of the term I’ve fully agreed with, and I’m still not happy with mine yet, but it’s getting there.
JrF: what effect (positive or negative) has the act of making field recordings had on the way you listen to your everyday surroundings and how has it affected the way you listen to other music / sound (if at all) ?
JK: It’s had a very positive effect on my everyday listening in that it’s trained me to be more aware of what happens around me. That’s always useful. If it’s had an effect on my listening to music, it would have to be similar in that it’s trained me to be a more careful, attentive listener.