Field recordings are sound recordings made outside of a studio using portable equipment to capture the acoustical traces of landscapes, locations, and populations. This course explores the techniques of field recording, providing an overview of the discipline, which has vital importance for film and documentary sound, radio, scientific and ecology enquiry and art practice.
This 10-week course is suitable for complete newcomers to field recording and for those with some experience of basic hand-held recorders who want to improve the quality of their recordings. This will involve workshops, lectures and practical hands-on experience, through recording sessions and field trips. We will also learn about the basics of sound editing, processing and soundscape composition using digital audio software. Your practical knowledge will be framed in relation to lectures focusing on the history, language and methods of soundscape studies, as well as related fields such as acoustic communication and acoustic ecology.
The course will be of interest to those interested in:
- Recording a diverse range of environments (including underwater) and wildlife
- Using sound in relation to your art practice
- Exploring 'found sound' in the context of music composition
- Producing radio-style documentaries and podcasts
- Learning about digital recording and using software for editing and production
We will review a diverse range of recordings and compositions and you will gain an understanding of 'site' encompassing space, place and location as well as exploring other intersections such as time and the socio-political contexts. We will also provide you with a thorough grounding in the contemporary context in which to develop a phonographic or sound art practice.
The course has theoretical, practical, and technical elements. Content has been thoroughly re-worked to deliver an excellent online experience. The course will begin with sessions covering the history and practice of field recording and soundscape studies. This will be followed by technical classes to introduce field recording equipment. There will be demonstrations of equipment and recording techniques and lots of listening examples will be provided. We will offer advice for people wanting to buy their own equipment and also focus on the resources that most people have available (mobile phones, tablets, and laptops).
Mid-way through the course we will undertake individual field trips: we’ll be asking you to choose a location to visit: indoor, outdoor, private or public space. Sound files can then be uploaded for the class to share and we will discuss our experiences together in the following session.
Learn the software
In the final three sessions of the course, we look at sound editing and soundscape composition. Avid Pro Tools will be used for this, of which there is a free version, Pro Tools First, for you to download. Course notes will include a written Pro Tools operation guide (compiled by the tutor and designed to cover all the basic skills you’ll need) and Dr. Leadley will be available to answer questions. You are welcome to use different audio software you are already familiar with, but support will only be provided for Pro Tools.
While the base-line technical requirement for taking this course is a computer and a recording device (mobile phone or other) you will, ideally, need either a decent set of computer monitor speakers or good headphones.
Weekly sessions will be held over Zoom.
We are committed to providing reasonable teaching adjustments for students with disabilities that may impact on their learning experience. If you require adjustments, please complete the relevant section on the booking form and also contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org so we can respond to your requests as soon as possible.
Please note our short courses sell-out quickly, so early booking is advisable.
If you have any questions about this course please contact shortcourses (@gold.ac.uk).
For information on our upcoming short courses please sign up to our mailing list.
Dr Marcus Leadley
This course is taught by Dr. Marcus Leadley, a sound artist, composer, curator and academic whose work explores the relationship between sound and place. He holds an MMus in Studio Based Composition and a PhD in Sonic Arts. The title of his PhD thesis is In Situ Listening: Soundscape, Site and Transphonia. Dr Leadley is an experienced field recordist and his current research interests include phonography, soundscape composition and acoustic ecology.
A message from your course tutor:
Running this course online will pose some unique challenges but also create unique opportunities – not least that the course is now open to people who, under normal circumstances, would not be able to come to Goldsmiths every week on a Monday evening! With the on-site course we have access to the Electronic Music Studios and the Department’s field recording equipment. In this online version I will demonstrate the full range of equipment, demonstration recordings and provide more information for people who want to purchase their own equipment. However, I will also focus much more on resources that most people have available: their mobile phones, tablets and laptops. So we will explore ways to make the best use of these tools available.
I will be using a range of resources including high quality sound and video files. Sessions themselves will be conducted using Zoom. While the base-line technical requirement for taking this course is a computer and an internet connection you will, ideally, need either a decent set of monitor speakers or headphones.
The course will begin with sessions covering the history and practice of field recording and soundscape studies. This will be followed by technical classes to introduce field recording equipment, options in different price brackets and I will demonstrate recording techniques. Mid way through the course we will undertake a fieldtrip – normally this would be a group expedition but on this occasion I’ll be asking you to record your own world: your daily exercise walk, garden or other outdoor private space and inside your flat/house. Sound files can then be uploaded for us to share and we will discuss our experiences in the following session. Course fieldtrips usually take place on a Saturday but for this online edition you can chose a convenient time or day.
In the final three session of the course I look at sound editing and soundscape composition. For this I will be using Pro Tools software and there is a free version, Pro Tools First, you can download. Course notes will include video tutorials and a written Pro Tools operation guide (compiled by me and designed to cover all the basic skill you’ll need) and I will be available to answer questions. If you are already familiar with a different digital audio workstation I’m happy if you prefer to use this – but under the circumstance I can’t offer support for more than one software package.
I hope you find all of this interesting, exiting and thought provoking and that it makes you want to join me on this journey of exploration.
All the best,
Dr. Marcus Leadley
Week 1 - Lecture – Listening, Context and History of the Soundscape
We will start by defining the lexicon of soundscape studies terms and methods and explore the difference between hearing and listening. We will look at the history of field recording, focussing on its early role in anthropological and ethnographic study before looking more broadly at its use in documenting conflict, building nature sound archives, radio, film, music and art practice. We will listen to a wide range of recordings and compositions including those of Walter Ruttman, Ludwig Koch, Humphrey Jennings, Pierre Schaeffer, Luc Ferrari, Bernie Krause and Chris Watson.
Week 2 - Lecture / Soundwalk – Listening, Context and History of the Soundscape continued + Soundwalk
We will continue our exploration of soundscape studies so as to bring our understanding up to the present day. We will focus on a range of ground-breaking research initiatives, such as the World Soundscape Project, and artistic projects that have come to underpin the field as we know it today. We will then consider soundwalking as a practice for site investigation and conclude the session by taking our senses and the new knowledge we have acquired during these initial sessions on an exploratory tour of Goldsmiths’ campus.
Week 3 - Lecture / Workshop – Portable Digital Recorders, Microphones and Techniques
In the first of our practical sessions we will look at a range of recording equipment (both what is at Goldsmiths for you to use and more generally), explore options, consider advantages and disadvantages in relation to price and practicality. We will learn the basic digital audio theory we will need to make proactive recording decisions and a range of techniques for using microphones and dealing with environmental factors such as wind. We will consider mono, stereo and binaural recording and listen to a range of recordings made with different equipment so as to gain an appreciation of different techniques, types of equipment and sound quality. You will have hands-on time with the equipment to record and explore around the campus.
Week 4 - Lecture / Workshop – Recording ‘Hidden’ Sounds: Contact Mics, Coil Mics, Hydrophones and Ultrasound Detectors
This week we look at some of the more esoteric tools of the field recordist’s trade: those used for detecting sound hidden beneath surfaces and inside objects (contact microphones, underwater (hydrophones), electromagnetic signals (coil microphones) and ultrasound sources (bat detectors). We will listen to recordings and practically engage with all the tools and techniques.
Week 5 - Field Trip
In place of our normal classroom session we will all undertake personal expeditions!
Week 6 – Lecture/Lab – Field Trip De-Brief + Group Listening to our Recordings
A fun and useful session where we discuss our different experiences of the field trip and listen to recordings.
Week 7 - Lecture – Soundscape and the Socio-Political: Exploration of Arts Practices and Agendas
Prior to starting our own compositions, this session we will look at ways that different practitioners have used field recording to explore issues and agendas involving cultural, ecological, political and social themes. We will listen to work by Barry Truax, Hildegard Westerkamp, Luc Ferrari, David Dunn, Steven Feld, John Levack Drever, Annea Lockwood, Dallas Simpson, Jana Winderen and Francisco López.
Week 8 - Lecture/Lab – Introduction to Software and Soundscape Composition Basics: Importing Files and Editing Sound. Composing with Sound in the Studio
We will briefly look at the history of the digital audio workstation (DAW) and consider the various software packages that are available. Pro Tools will be used in the class for demonstrating process.
Week 9 - Lecture /Lab – Equalization, Effects and Processing Sound + Composing with Sound in the Studio
We will look at how tone control can be used for managing sounds in relation to other sounds, and for creating specific characters. We will explore compression, reverb and normalising, and look at how software plug-ins can be used to change recordings in both subtle and radical ways. The session will also introduce the concept of track and plug-in automation: a valuable tool for creating variation and movement in your work.
Week 10 - Lab – Composing with Sound in the Studio + Presenting Work and Feedback
In the final session of the course you will have time to complete your group compositions and we will look at best practice for creating finished work. The second half of the session will focus on playing and discussing your work to this point.
At the end of this course you will have gained:
• Theoretical, practical and conceptual knowledge in phonography and soundscape composition
• Transferrable skills that can be used in a number of different contexts, including sound art and fine art, as well as documentary
• An understanding of ‘site’ encompassing space, place and location
• An awareness of audio and microphone techniques
• An understanding of the current and historical contexts of phonography
About the department
Our Department of Music is a dynamic, creative and exciting place dedicated to both producing and understanding the theories behind music. From symphonies to soundscape, we cover a diverse range of topics, those which challenge the status quo, and those which forge sounds of the future. We've enabled musicians ranging from Errolyn Wallen, to James Blake, to Mercury Prize winning Katy B to realise their full potential. Even Placebo frontman, Brian Molko, has studied here. We host courses from our state-of-the-art Electronic Music Studios, which uses Pro Tools HD.
The Department hosts one course on Phonography at undergraduate level and touches on it briefly in two modules at Masters levels. We also offer the Masters programme, MMus – Sonic Arts. The Unit for Sound Practice Research based at Goldsmiths has as one of its concerns ‘Phonography, soundscape studies and field recording’. Students on this course will utilise Goldsmiths’ multi-channel Electronic Music Studios in realising multi-channel compositions which are unique and unparalleled throughout the majority of London’s educational institutions.