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Jez Riley French's 4 Questions on Field Recordings: Matt Davis

img  Tobias Fischer

When & why did you become interested in field recording?
At the time it felt necessary to use sounds that existed 'out there in the world', things that were not made by me. I think the feeling at the time was that my trumpet work was too introspective and the personal decisions I was making had become irrelevant and arbitrary. I've always made work which is very process orientated and field recordings gave me an opportunity to get back to working like that - i.e. going somewhere and recording the sound, being led by the sounds rather than the other way round. It also has a lot to do with space - I kind of see most of what I do relates to a perception or presentation of space(s), so playing field recordings was an obvious way of developing that - playing the sound of the space, creating a sense of space with recognisable or non-recognisable sounds. It's something I developed a lot working with some forms of contemporary dance such as Butoh where the music/sound can provide a space without dominating or directing what's happening, remaining very open, like that particular form of dance.

How do you use your field recordings in your own artistic output?
I've come to think of field recordings as basically anything - so I can cheat a bit and record sounds that I make deliberately. Which contradicts what I've just said, but there you go. I don't process the sounds much, if at all, and if I do I do it before using them. Performing I use a very simple process of playing the sounds like samples - layering, looping and composing them together. There are very few parameters to deal with, volume and the length of the sound/loop being the main ones. I started by using two or three mini disk players, with a little external effects, and that's basically what I do now except with the possibility to have many more sounds available much more easily.

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?
I don't really worry about whether you can define them as music or not, or whether the output is music rather than sound. It's probably in-between, which is an interesting place to be. It's undoubtedly an important difference but I'm not sure how. There is a difference between sound and music, so maybe we're on the cusp of it. I'd call the recorded elements 'spaces' before 'sound' or 'music'. (A dubious example here is a recording I used a lot from a playground, with Stevie Wonder playing really loud from a stereo - lots of obvious music but more a recording of an event, a space, than a recording which you could say was primarily a musical element.) For singular elements of sound, if they have a sense of focus, enough to get your attention, then I'd say they have a musical quality. I think this music challenges people to listen for this intention, rather than the obvious musical qualities - or just getting them to listen.

Has the act of making field recording had an effect (positive or negative) on 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)?
In a funny way it's probably made me more tolerant to intrusive music. It was possibly a way of listening to the environment which prompted me to record things, rather than the recording producing an effect.

Interview conducted by Jez Riley French in April 2008 for the in place blog, republished with kind permission of the author. Jez Riley French is a UK based artist whose work focuses on the exploration of detail via intuitive composition, extended field recording techniques and photography. Visit his website here.

Homepage: Matt Davis

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