Eric Mooney & Gordon Hempton

Understanding and Harnessing the Freedom and Power of Field Recording

Recording audio outside of your studio is easy, fun, and inspiring.

In its broadest sense, ‘field recording’ refers to the process of capturing sound outside the controlled confines of a studio. –Ableton.com

The use of field recordings in avant-garde, musique concrète, experimental, ambient music, has been evident almost from the birth of recording technology. Field recordings are now a common source material for a range of musical results, from contemporary musique concrète compositions to film soundtracks, video game soundtracks, and effects. Practically any device has the capability to record sound to be used in digital compositions or with MIDI-interfaced instruments. The history of field recording is central to the development of electronic music, with artists from Eno to Scanner to Burial drawing on its strategies to create distinctive and practically tangible worlds.

The beach is a perfect place to record. Whether it’s lapping waves or squawking birds, you can find many sounds to use in your music. (cred: SCAD.edu)

Before taking your first field trip, you’ll need some equipment. As noted previously, don’t be discouraged or convinced that you can’t have a productive recording session without thousands of dollars of expensive equipment. What you choose to record, and the techniques you use to record, are often as important as the equipment you use.

Your immediate budget will be the primary limit of your options but all you really need is a pair of headphones and something with a microphone. We’ve found an iPhone works excellently, especially with its ability to isolate voices or reduce ambiance. If you want to spend some money on a nicer recording device, we recommend checking out Sweetwater.com and reading through tech specs and reviews for one that you fancy. There are also some awesome apps out there for audio recording and editing that would work excellently for field recording.

BinauralDiaries is a great SoundCloud page to bookmark if you’re looking to sample others’ field recording material. Ollie’s page has almost 200 tracks of field recordings that you can download either with a ‘SoundCloud to Mp3’ website or Audio Hijack, which we reviewed not too long ago.

What are some sounds you’ve used from field recordings or recordings for unconventional applications? Have you used a voice as a clap? Or the sound of a lighter as a percussion element? Let us know the comments below!