JrF: when & why did you become interested in field recording ?
PF: I started with sound recordings back in 1999/2000 when the first affordable mini- disc recorders were available. I became interested in musique concrete (without knowing that this kind of music already existed) and sound recording was just the tool to obtain interesting sounds to experiment with. As someone with a, so to say, closer connection to the (what we call) natural world I instinctively sought possibilities to deal with my antropogenic surrounding. At that time I also was an enthusiastic photographer. After a while my focus shifted to the sound recordings themselves. I reduced my working process from creating and organising sounds
to finding and capturing them by carefully considered sound recordings. With recording more and more ‘natural sounds’ my life long passion for animal ecology and behaviour came back after a time of more human related activities. This was the beginning of my ‘career’ as ornithologist and bio acoustician and with that another shift of the focus in my sound recording practice.
JrF: how do you use your field recordings in your own artistic output ?
PF: I use my sound recordings in different ways depending on the content and the format of presentation. In most cases I use ‘wildlife sounds’ pure, without any filtering (except low cut), mixing, etc. As mentioned before, my approach is to find sounds/soundscapes which are complex and gripping themselves and, even I cannot say why, I never liked the idea of creating/mixing a ‘realistic’ soundscape. In addition I don’t like to treat animal vocalisations just as a sound even they sound very abstract. It seems strange and somehow presumptuous to me to mix parts of a language I don’t understand. Most often I present these recordings to audiences live with annotations consisting of scientific knowledge, stories from journeys where I have obtained them, anecdotes or funny things. I love to present my sound recordings with a mix of serious information and a noticeable less serious presentation of my role as a scientist/artist. With ‘non-natural’ sound recordings it’s different. I don’t feel this barrier to not degrade the sound or it’s meaning. I’m generally more interested in what people call ‘soundscapes’ rather than picking up a particular single sound. Site specific acoustics always intrigues me and exploring them from different perspectives/positions often seems to be much more exciting than finding particular single sounds in that room. For these kind of sound recordings I love to find a good playback situation in a ‘concert’ or installation to create a mixture of the original and the room of the presentation.I seldom mix these recordings to create a ‘piece’ like in the earlier years. If I do it, I only use techniques of the analog ‘musique concrete’ like cuts, changes in position and tempi, layering etc.
I never do loops or use any effects like delay or reverb. Both forms of organised sounds are usually presented as in an acousmatic concert situation. To me the sound is important not the person behind the laptop. In addition I like to have a talk/ discussion with the audience afterwards. I don’t believe sound recordings can speak for themselves. In the past I was part of an Leipzig based quartet (flutes, clarinets, electronics). Some of our compositions/improvisations were based on sound (animal vocalisations) or transcribed structures (bird migration events in a timeline) of my sound recordings .
JrF: do you regard ‘natural’ sounds as a musical element (bearing in mind that the conventional definition of ‘music’ is rapidly becoming obsolete) or as sound? is this definition important to you? does it matter?
PF: I listen to ‘natural’ sounds in the same way as I listen to any other kind of serious organised sound or music with the same interest in sound and structure. But I consider animal vocalisations neither as music nor as musical elements for compositions. Even considering the possibility that human language may have evolved from earlier more song like stages (by mimicking vocalisations of other animals) I think composed music or organised sound is something different due to the direct functions of communication of the former ones.
No, it’s not important to me – I just don’t like and use it this way. Sometimes I find terms like ‘animal music’ or ‘the music of nature’ quite strange, inappropriate or unrewarding to a deeper understanding of ‘natural sounds’.
JrF: how has the act of field recording altered the way you listen to your everyday surroundings and how has it affected the way you listen to other music and sound (if at all) ?
PF: Like in most people it has altered my ways of listening in positive and negative ways. Through the act of sound recording I have learned to recognise much more sound events, sound sources, details in sound – consciously and unconsciously
in my surrounding. But one negative aspect of it is the selective perception which I try to counteract with as much as possible listening sessions without gear (see my theoretical diploma ‘The natural and the mediated listening’). Being seldom able to ‘switch off’ my sense of hearing is sometimes hard to take in urban or other antropogenic environments. One of the most annoying things in this context is that I’m no longer able to read with ongoing acoustic events around me.
Concerning animal sounds it is similar but I really enjoy the feeling to be much more connected to a habitat as a result of being able to recognise and identify particular species and the a meaning of some of their vocalisations even unconsciously.
I definitely now listen in a complete different way to music or sound art too. Before I started with sound recording I actually listened to music just for my easy entertainment. Only with concentrated listening processes whilst sound recording sessions the horizon of my acoustic recognition widened and I don’t exaggerate when I say: it changed my whole life for which I am grateful.