[ "Back to Berlin" is the title of the 11th edition of Raudio's mainstream. It contains extracts of the tapes found in Berlin, some isolated oddities and parts of the synth recording I made when visiting Berlin way back in 1984. All is centered around "Kentucky Freedom Chicken - The Master of Germany", a selection of several hundreds of extracts taken from the about 18 hours of field recordings that I made during and around das kleine field recordings festival in Berlin (monophonic using my dictaphone, and stereo on an MD recorder), between february 6th and february 13th of 2007 ... Now listen to this ... ]

Back to Berlin

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april 08, 2007.

As long as I have had access to sound recording equipment and microphones I have been switching these machines on rec in order to register stretches of the everyday sounds that surround me. First for no other reason than for the fun of it. Pretty early on also because some of this sounded way cool enough to mix into and become part of the music that we were doing. And which also found its way onto the thin brownish plastic threads that were slowly unwinding from the left and winding onto the right spool of our reel-to-reel tape machines ( * ).

From the very beginning 'making music' and 'recording' were inseparable for me. Over the years they have become almost synonymous ( ** ) ...

toehoorThose early field recordings were not called 'field recordings'. I do not think we called them anything specific. These were just 'recordings', and I would use them as parts in a piece or in a song much the way I would use, say, a guitar lick or a drum fill.
It nevertheless did take a while before I chanced upon such a 'recording' that I judged to be sufficient unto itself. That first happened on christmas day 1982, when I listened back to the dictaphone recording that I made some hours earlier on a northbound platform at Brussels Central Station, waiting for a train to take me back to Amsterdam.

In hindsight that short track - BruxellesGC, it lasts just slightly over 3 minutes - contains many of the elements (some of which cannot be strictly separated one from the other) that ever since have been among the characteristics (technical and formal) of 'field recording' as I have come to practice it. [ ... s ... ]

Here's a list:

1_ The recording was done with lo-fi monophonic equipment ( *** ).
2_ I did not go out with the intention to record. The recording was made because the 'sounding environment' for some reason caught my attention. It made me listen - that without which there is no music ( **** ) -, and I switched on the machine.
3_ The recording is strongly related to moving, it is about going from here to there, from one place to another; one might call it a travelogue.
4_ Part of the recording involves 'ordinary' (I mean by this: instrumental) music, as it was present out there when I recorded; either performed by (street) musicians, or through music reproducing equipment. In the case of BruxellesGC there is guitar music playing through the loudspeakers on the station platform.
5_ The sounds in the recording come with a certain natural 'flow', a 'rhythm' ( ***** ).
6_ I, or rather my presence, is part of the recording - through noises made handling the dictaphone, the uncontrollable intrusions of the wind, rumbling and popping in the microphone, through noises of my moving, coughing, breathing and/or talking ...
7_ The recording at times contains sounds that must have been generated through (electromagnetic) interference; from-machine-onto-machine induced sounds, that appear and are audible only on playback. In the last minute or so of BruxellesGC one hears a more or less sine tone with a frequency of around 300 Hz (it's about a D4) that I am absolutely sure was not audible when I was there standing on the platform of the Brussels train station.
8_ The recording comes with voices, spoken or sung, that utter more or less audible phrases and words in some 'human language'.
9_ The 'field recorded piece' presents an undisputable dramatic development over time, corresponding to an implicit 'story line'.

When I heard back the 'brute lo-fi recording' that makes up BruxellesGC, it immediately appealed to me, just as it was. The list above indicates some of the 'objective' reasons for that. If someone would ask me why it is that I like that recording, why I would insist on calling this 'music', this would be (part of) my answer. The recording reads like 'a song without lyrics'. But there is also an important subjective reason: for me it is a strong 'memory trigger'. Whenever I hear it, I again am standing there on the platform of Brussels Central Station, waiting for the Amsterdam bound train, and I am able to re-feel those minutes almost as I felt them then. Which is not why I like to listen to the recording, but this 'memory effect' is an integral part of it. For I was there when I recorded it.

Which maybe in a way does make it very pop, as this memory triggering seems to be so very characteristic of what one often experiences listening to popular music ...

chronsonBruxellesGC is a reason that the 'lo-fi field recording' of my sounding environment, with a Sony dictaphone in my pocket and a lapel microphone stuck to my jacket, continued to be a habit for almost twenty five years now. And hence it has also been the reason for me getting back to Berlin this february to participate in Rinus van Alebeek's das kleine ...

I have hardly changed my principal 'field recording technique' over the years. Even though I consider myself to be a stranger to 'purism' in whatever guise, and am of the firm opinion that, in music and other arts, one should use whatever means one judges most appropriate to reach one's end, I never stopped and am still using a monophonic Sony dictaphone, a lapel mike, and compact cassettes ...
All this up to here may serve as to sketch my 'position' within what over the past twenty years appears to have become something of a 'discipline', complete - if one may consider some of the (repeating) discussions on a mailing list like phonography as an indication - with the unavoidable sects of technical perverts and militant purists. I feel myself an absolute alien to a 'phonography', a field recording, that aims at capturing our world's soundscapes objectively, and as true to nature as possible. If a such thing at all may have a meaning ...

Alien as well I am to the use of field recordings as material for digital sound processing. I most of the time will use my recordings bare ... unprocessed ... and pick them for their narrative and 'musical' qualities and the ways in which these can or can not be interrelated.
When I use them to minutely 'compose' (assembler), as for example in the first of the Sound Chronicles series, the result, though beat-, drone- and repetitionless, feels like some sort of a post punk pop musique concrète ( ****** ).
When I use them in live performance, I use the original recorded cassettes, and play them back on cassette players and dictaphones, the same as or similar to the ones I use to record. Which accounts for the fact that during a such cc, a 'cassette concert', in general I will not be able to perform 'minutely composed pieces'. While of course it is possible to prepare a collection of tapes beforehand in order to be able to have them start at a certain spot, in the course of a the concert it is pretty much impossible to pick other, non-consecutive, parts of a same tape with a reasonable degree of precision. This is a technical given that largely delimits the field of possible actions for a 'tapes and tape machines'-only performer. It is also this limited field of available actions that is part of the challenge ...

If I include Derek Holzer's nice soundtransit DJ set at the Club der Polnischen Versager on friday february 9th ("Day of the Travelogues") then twelve of the twenty performances that I attended at das kleine in Berlin in february were fully or mainly laptop based. [ This is a logical choice of course, as software like Ableton Live permits a flexible access and direct manipulation of a large base of diverse sound files. I would be tempted to use Ableton ... if only my recordings were not done on cassette. ]
Three of the twenty performances (rauschpartikel on wednesday february 7th in Wendel, and twice Rob Curgenven) were done with all or the bulk of the sound sources on CD and Kate Donovan did it twice with MD (even though it might have been that on sunday february 11th, during her Berlin Soundscape in the Electronic Church, she also used a dictaphone. I know that she had one there. We played with it together ... but I cannot remember whether she used it in her performance ... tell me, Kate ?... :-) ...) If you have been counting along, this leaves us with three performances. Two of these were mine. The third was by Chris Hearn.

chris hearn at montyChris is a young guy from Australia doing - in his own words - "experimental pop/noise sort of stuff". When he arrived in Berlin, in the course of a year Chris had been performing already far over a hundred times, on a long non-stop tour taking him through the United States, New Zealand and Europe. On this trip Chris has been recording his 'moving', in a spirit pretty similar to the one I describe above. With handheld cassette recording devices, onto old cassettes. It was with these and a set of old cassette players that he performed on the Day of the Sound Story Telling, in Monty in the Lenbachstraße, just around the corner from Takt. And so, yes, Chris' sound story was a travelogue, a floating mix built up from lo-fi recordings made at different airports and train stations, in different countries, in different cities. And in Paris, together with the sonic peculiarities of its metro tunes and metro door openings and closings, the street organs playing the 'usual suspects' in tourist areas, all easy to pick out of the mix, as it sounded so much like that what's on many of the items in my own cassette archive ...

The equipment together with the sound material used made the 'piece' that Chris performed at Monty feel very familiar to me, and I regularly found me nodding me head in a fully affirmative 'yes! ... yes!' and whispering 'right on!', all by myself. Yeah, this was the music of my streets and my cities, of my stations and underground's.
Chris, he had been there.

His was a story that felt like home.

- next: reek or -

notes __ ::
(*) See: It was thirty years ago today ... [ ^ ]
(**) And any sound was fit to be music. Any sound you can imagine. Of course I realized that that wasn't common opinion, or common sense, but somehow (lucky enough?) I never learned music to be fundamentally different from sound,boxed or organized, if only because of my attention to it. That must be partly because from my early teens on, when I rather suddenly became fanatically interested in music and pop culture, I sort of got straight sucked into the worlds of Sun Ra, early Zappa, Soft Machine, the Pink Floyd and their ilk, and I actually worked my way through much of classical music in reverse historical order. That is, starting with Stockhausen, Cage and Varèse, via the second Viennese school I got to Wagner and Mahler, before hopping way back to Beethoven and Bach; while skipping much of Mozart's, I have to admit. [ ^ ]
(***) On this specific occasion it was a machine that I had borrowed from a friend's friend and that I had brought along to Brussels. Though I'm not completely sure, I think it was a Sony. I do recall though that it was metal and very flat, not much thicker than the cassette itself, monophonic, and with a microphone built in. I never after came across a similar dictaphone. But then also maybe I simply would not recognize it, as my memory's image might just be wrong ... [ ^ ]
(****) But this does not necessarily imply the involvement of ears. [ ^ ]
(*****) Note that 3, 4 and 5 are related: moving as well as music in general do come with a 'natural rhythm' ... [ ^ ]
(******) More than with any other 'school' in field recording, I feel an affinity with the classic musique concrète of Pierre Schaeffer's, without, however, the slightest inclination to fight windmills as Schaeffer did for much of his life. For those who did not do so already I recommend reading Tim Hodgkinson's interview with Schaeffer, from april 1986 ('What is Musique Concrète and why is it so important today?'). [ ^ ]

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