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The Field as Actant
Performing-With Multiple Entities in Recording. Sounding the Weight of an Object

Colin Frank
mars 2022

Résumés   

Résumé

Cet article propose de penser le field (le terrain, le site, le lieu) comme un agent actif et performant qui coproduit avec l'expérience subjective de l'artiste. Comme le lieu est nécessairement immersif, le documenter exige d’un.e preneur.se de son qu’il.elle reconnaisse que son expérience n'est qu'une possibilité parmi d'autres. En tant que tel, l’action située est toujours articulée à une expérience subjective du lieu. Durant la prise de son, cependant, cet.te field recordist est également influencé.e par les capacités agentiques du lieu, ce qui fait qu'il est profondément impliqué dans le lieu. L'idée que la matière puisse performer est développée à partir du nouveau matérialisme, de l'ontologie orientée objet et de la recherche sur la performance. La matière est considérée comme vibrante, intra-relationnel et historique. En conséquence, un lieu peut être compris comme performant par son « pouvoir de situer », par sa spatialité et à travers les entités qui le composent. Une telle performance, reliant le lieu et l’artiste preneur.se de son, peut être politique, ce qui signifie qu'il faut envisager des moyens éthiques de faire avec des non-humains. Trois exemples de mon album Sounding the Weight of an Object sont présentés pour donner un aperçu d'une approche de l'enregistrement de terrain qui est co-dépendante, intra-relationnelle et multilatérale. Plutôt que d'essayer de maîtriser l'environnement ou de rester extérieur à celui-ci, j'ai agi réciproquement avec lui. Cette approche était posthumaniste, dans la mesure où il y avait une interaction entre mes actions et l'agence du lieu. Elle prenait en compte le lieu en tant qu'actant et me reconnaissait comme intégrée et enchevêtrée dans chaque site.

Abstract

This article proposes that the field is an active and performing agent that co-produces alongside the subjective experience of a recording artist. As the field is necessarily immersive, documenting it requires the recordist to acknowledge that their experience is only one possibility of many. As such, contributing an interventionist performance articulates their subjective experience of the field. In performing, however, the recordist is also influenced by the agentic causal capacities of the field, resulting in their being highly entangled within it. The idea that material performs is developed from new materialism, object-oriented ontology, and performance scholarship. Material is considered vibrant, intra-relational, and storied. Following from this, a field can be understood as performing via its placeness, spatiality, and the entities in it. Such a multi-entity performance of the field and recording artist can be political, meaning that ethical ways for making-with non-humans should be considered. Three examples from my album Sounding the Weight of an Object are presented to provide insight into an approach to field recording that is co-dependent, intra-relational, and multilateral. Rather than attempting to master the environment or remain exterior to it, I acted reciprocally with it. This approach was posthumanist, in that bleed between my actions and the location’s agency occurred. It accounted for the field as an actant and acknowledged me as embedded and entangled within each site.

Index   

Texte intégral   

1. Introduction

1Soundscapes tend towards being immersive and irreducible to a point source, such that the documental and witnessing act of field recording necessarily presents them via the subject perspective of the field recordist. Attempting to objectively capture a soundscape as unaltered or undisrupted ignores the recordist’s presence, choices, and individual perspective—an unfortunate trend within field recording history, as Mark Peter Wright argues, wherein ‘recordists perpetually attempt to silence his or hers own presence for the most “natural” or technically “cleanest” document of an environment or species’.1 But given that fields sprawl boundlessly and any recorded snapshot of them will refract the recordist’s subjectivity, much as a postmodern ethnographer must accommodate their account of contemporary culture as only being partial, fragmentary, and subjective,2 then in what ways can field recording be a performative act, one in which the recordist and field can be thought of as collaborating performers? As Bennett Hogg argues, to record soundscapes without the objectification and distancing developed in Western art’s landscape painting, the recordist must acknowledge their involvement and entanglement within the ecosystem.3 One such way to do so is by expressly interacting with the location; Hoggs, for instance, records the insides of violins while moving them through river currents. Such an involved performativity acknowledges the recordist’s presence and experience of the location, and as such recognises the recording to be a subjective and singular account, only one perspective chosen out of many possibilities. 4

2While performing in the field introduces the subjective perspective of the field recording artist, the field also reciprocally acts back. Non-human forces—including animals, vegetation, atmospheric conditions, machines, and structures—can be considered as performing themselves, and can be considered actants that influence the field recordist’s performance. In this sense, entities at the location, the space itself, and cultural aspects of the recording location—i.e. its meaningfulness as a place5—are themselves agential, a term borrowed from actor network theory to designate entities that are sources of action.6 These forces come into intra-action—Karen Barad’s neologism signifying the mutual constitution of entangled agencies7—with the recording artist to collaboratively construct what is being captured. Although the field recordist is contributing their own subjectivity, since they are immersed within a multilateral area of activity, their subjectivity is decentred. The human is no more considered as the primary site of action or knowledge production, but rather as participating in an ecological, co-productive manner with the environment. As proposed by Halla Steinunn Stefánsdóttir, such an eco-systemic sonic practice foregrounds multi-entity performance, a type of performance that moves beyond interspecies performance ‘to include both biotic and abiotic entities’,8 that is to say, living and non-living beings. The recording can be understood as constructed from the field as an assemblage—all its disparate elements come together performatively in intra-action. By creating in responsivity to the environment, and through an interactive and reciprocal making-with it, she suggests it is a practice-based method for sense-making with the environment.9

3 As a means for accommodating this bidirectional exchange, I expressly interact with locations when making field recordings. In this article I will investigate a field recording project undertaken from 2017–2019 wherein I performed while recording in various locations. The project resulted in a 52-minute long album entitled Sounding the Weight of an Object.10 Recordings were made in Canada and the UK and include various urban and rural outdoor spaces. My approach to documenting these locations was premised on my performing with them; their placeness, spatiality, and constituent components influenced my actions through their material performances. Drawing on my experience as a percussionist, I performed on structures found at the spaces or with items brought to the spaces, and I was influenced by distinct qualities of each location. Fences, stones, carousels, bridges, snow, signs, staircases, and so forth became instruments for my use, but also objects that affected me. In my sounding of these objects, details of the locations that were initially quiet and static became contributors to the soundscape. My performing in the field was entirely responsive and reliant on the physical properties of the objects, other entities’ produced sounds, acoustic phenomena, and any additional meaningfulness or placeness associated with the field. These different factors affected me in a variety of ways—from how the physical objects demanded my body to move and shape itself to their properties, to how spatial dimensionalities of the field affected my perceived relational situatedness within it. As I was attentive to each location’s agency—through listening, moving through, touching, and reading-into it—I could react to its qualities in a collaborative performance. As a result, dialogues were opened between the sites’ specificities and my subjective presence in them.

4 By reframing environments, structures, and spaces as active agents, non-humans can better be thought of as collaborators to be worked-with rather than dominated, controlled, or presided over. Such an approach allies with the intentions and motivations of posthumanist, in that a recognition of non-humans as capable of action allows for a reconceptualization of the human. As Rosi Braidotti suggests, posthumanism’s first step is ‘to re-negotiate—beyond Humanism and anthropocentrism—the terms by which the human is composed, conceptualized and experienced socially in our day and age. We need to negotiate who “we” are’.11 By experiencing and acknowledging non-humans as performing, then their incorporation into the human-sphere does not seem so outlandish. They may influence and impact humans’ actions to such a point that they can appear as vibrant, energy sources themselves.12 To acknowledge that the field acts on the recording artist is to make clear that the human is ‘materially embedded and embodied, differential, affective and relational’,13 qualities that Braidotti encourages as significant for posthumanist living. Such a radical flattening sees the material world entering the domain of the human, while correspondingly the human may be seen to enter the abiotic. Along with bidirectionality of agentic capacity and causality comes collective witnessing, wherein the field recordist and field are attentive to each other. Through this bidirectional attention-giving, both the field and the recordist are part of the same plane, and imbricate one another in their performative utterances.

2. Material Performance

5 New materialism, post-humanism, and ecocriticism have decentred humans as the sole actors in this world. Humans are but a fragment of active assemblages, and it is oftentimes more-than-human materiality that causes events. It is not just sentient or biological organisms that are actors but inert matter too, from the electrons in power grids to Arctic ice shelves. Matter is vibrant, as Jane Bennett proposes, and has a life-force of its own.14 In seeing ordinary items as having a strange ability ‘to exceed their status as objects and to manifest traces of independence or aliveness, constituting the outside of our own experience’,15 she articulates how things can have an effectivity of their own, a liveness, without the necessity of a human subject to project characterizations onto them. Object Oriented Ontology (OOO) has similarly extended the capacity of things to influence one another entirely devoid of human subjectivity or interference. Although oftentimes OOO speculates transcendentally to the detriment of maintaining a solid grounding in reality, Peter Wolfendale has interestingly proposed that objects have causal capacities, in other words that they have multitudinous possibilities for action without a human-centred normative function.16 The implications of these capacities are that when multiple objects come into relation, they can uncover layers to each other’s latent realities. Essentially, OOO puts forth that when objects are in relation to one another, they can construct one another’s existence in the world without the requirement of a human spectator. However, within OOO, objects can be in relation to one another without necessitating the same kind of action or occurrence, and thus not the same vibrancy, as Bennett puts forth—intra-actions in OOO can be as static as a coffee cup sitting on a desk. Since field recording is primarily a sonic endeavour, and the vibrations that make up sound are continually in flux, I am interested in matter in states of change.

6Performance, as Richard Schechner defines it, consists of being and doing—both existence itself and ‘the activity of all that exists.’17 In addition to this, Schechner articulates that this doing be shown, in that performance necessitates a displaying to others, rearticulating that ‘Performances exist only as actions, interactions, and relationships.’18 In reading Schechner, performance scholar Roberta Mock acknowledges his definition to importantly articulate a performance as being ‘an event taking place in real time,’19 though she criticises the fact that his terminology is too focused on traditional theatre models that enforce notions of scripting and drama. In removing Schechner’s theatre-centric language, Mock proposes her own definition, that ‘A ‘performance’ in its broadest sense is the (re)presentation or documentation of a series of events which may, or may not, still be in the process of occurring.’20 Importantly, Mock’s definition allies with Schechner’s in that she articulates presentation as fundamental to performance—that there be a displaying, an outward-facing showing of events. But her notion of performance relies on temporal bounding, that there is a beginning and end to a performance. This is made clear when she differentiates a ‘performance’ from a ‘live-performance’, the latter being ‘one which is still happening and still has to happen.’21 In completing that happening, said event would transition from being ‘live’ to being only a performance. Although a defined beginning and end can be observable in many performances—those that one might watch at a theatre are exemplary—why should events be bracketed off or segmented, as if all performances necessitate a definite and contained demarcation? Since performances necessitate interrelations, in that presenting and showing are fundamental to performance, then there is much more of a grey area between when an intersubjective relation commences and deteriorates. This is because there can be no singular account of a performance, since it resides within the separate subjective experiences of those involved. I suggest performance to be something that is dipped into, that can emerge and recede from the continual passage of time. Performance exists in and through intra-actions between entities, only coming into being through relationality.

7In that vibrant matter can be causal and is in continual intra-action, it is comprised of the being and doing in real time that Schechner lays forth. However, for matter to be performing, then in both Schechner and Mock’s definition it has to be showing or presenting as well. In following OOO’s stance, an object does not require a human subject to project onto it in order to unveil aspects of its core qualities. Instead, encounters between objects can give rise to alternate realities of those objects, an occurrence that can partially unearth what Graham Harman refers to as an object’s ‘executant reality’, or a molten core hidden within an object.22 Although this core can never be accessed to its fullest—meaning dimensions to an object will always remain hidden—the contacting of objects together via their ‘sensual crust’ results in a partial bringing forth of their cores. Effectively, this can be understood as a showing; an object presents some of its executant reality due to its encounter with another object. In this sense, it can be understood that object-to-object encounters create opportunities for the objects involved to give outwards-facing performances. Through this understanding, objects can be thought to perform for one another, and in doing so jointly shape the coming forth of one another’s essences.

8Such bidirectionally influencing, multi-entity emergent performance need not be left solely to objects intra-acting. When a human subject enters the equation, they too become involved in this uncovering of hidden qualities. A field recordist, for instance, by coming into relation to an object, material or non-human entity not only witnesses its showing—its performing—but is additionally complicit in that performance. This occurs contrariwise too, in that the entity, in coming into relation with a field recordist, brings forth layers to the recordist’s executant reality. In this regard, recordist and field enter into a collective witnessing and influencing, jointly constructing each other’s performance. This returns to Barad’s notion of intra-action, wherein ‘all designated “things” are constantly exchanging and diffracting, influencing and working inseparably’.23 Precisely how intra-actions occur between entities in the field and the recording artist, and what those relations entail, remain open for investigation.

3. Matter As Storied

9That the field itself performs necessitates a reconsideration of who or what constructs stories and narratives. As Serenella Iovino and Serpil Oppermann put forth in Material Ecocriticism,

[...] the world’s material phenomena are knots in a vast network of agencies, which can be ‘read’ and interpreted as forming narratives, stories…. All matter, in other words, is a ‘storied matter.’ It is a material ‘mesh’ of meanings, properties, and processes, in which human and nonhuman players are interlocked in networks that produce undeniable signifying forces.24

10In this regard, the material makeup of a field itself contains text, meaning, and significance that have been inlaid into it across time. As Barad states, ‘Matter and meaning are not separate elements. They are inextricably fused together, and no event, no matter how energetic, can tear them asunder.’25 The field as semiotic actant, through performing-with a recordist, contributes beyond just being there—its materiality tells stories.

11I recognise that by relocating story telling beyond the human domain, the field may appear anthropomorphised. But doing so does not enforce a problematic agenda. As Jane Bennett hypothesises,

Maybe it is worth running the risks associated with anthropomorphizing (superstition, the divinization of nature, romanticism) because it, oddly enough, works against anthropocentrism: a chord is struck between person and thing, and I am no longer above or outside a nonhuman ‘environment.’26

12Additionally, by listening to materials tell stories, why not allow for the inverse to happen, for the Anthropos to occupy domains of the abiotic? Radically horizontalizing the human and non-human may allow for a seeing-differently, wherein a more respective living together can occur. By imbricating the human with the non-human, it is important to think of ways in which the field recordist might become field in their performance by finding ways to listen, respond, and join-with the field’s performance.27

13One way in which a field can contain textuality is in its being a ‘place’. Places can be understood as locations with accumulated social significance imbued into them by human activity. From an anthropological perspective, place ‘is a principle of meaning for the people who live in it, and also a principle of intelligibility for the person who observes it.’28 They carry significance both for those interacting with them directly and those viewing them from afar. Placeness can be inscribed into the physical materials of a location, such that the matter defining that place is itself storied. One such example is the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone. The radiation that silently occupies the Zone is a trace of past occurrences there; the radioactive particles tell of the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant’s meltdown. Inscriptions that accumulate in places across time contribute to their agency, as perceptions of a place as significant culturally, historically, or socially impact how it can be listened to, documented, and performed with. In the case of the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone, its significance as a storied place has been the focus of the field recording artists Peter Cusack, Jacob Kirkegaard, and Eliška Cílková.29 The location’s placeness enticed these artists to record there, and it influenced how they approached and interacted with the area. For instance, when recording in the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone, Kirkegaard replayed recordings of several abandoned rooms in the Zone back into the same rooms to capture their hauntingly empty resonances, and Cílková performed on discarded musical instruments she had found littered throughout the site. Their approaches to recording the Zone were direct reactions to its uniqueness as a place; in Kirkegaard’s case, resonating the invisible radioactive contamination in the site’s air and walls, and in Cílková’s case, playing instruments not touched since before the disaster. These artists performed-with the Zone’s storied matter, influenced by and reacting to the placeness inscribed into the site’s materiality.

14Another way in which a field can be a performing, influencing, and storied agent is through its spatial aspect. The concept of space relies on that of place to distinguish it: places have space between them, and space can transform into place through people investing or creating significance in them.30 As Tim Cresswell suggests:

Space, then, has been seen in distinction to place as a realm without meaning – as a ‘fact of life’ which, like time, produces the basic coordinates for human life. When humans invest meaning in a portion of space and then become attached to it in some way (naming is one such way) it becomes a place.31

15But even if space is between and indistinct, it can still be political, as Doreen Massey has argued, and in being political can contain meaning, significance, and stories. Massey suggests that space can contribute to political arguments and serve as an initial foundation for imagining politics.32 Space is ‘constituted through interactions’, and she sees ‘space as the sphere of the possibility of the existence of multiplicity in the sense of contemporaneous plurality; as the sphere in which distinct trajectories coexist; as the sphere therefore of coexisting heterogeneity.’33 In opposition to Cresswell’s conception of space, then, despite space being the non-descript emptiness between places, Massey acknowledges that space generates relations and meaning. As such, space can be understood as storied not through it being directly inscribed as such, but in its relationality to other storied matter. Space is lively, in that it affords multiple narratives to co-exist and emerge from it—space being a plane of potentiality for occurrence and meaning making to arise.

16Beside this abstract notion of space as a sphere of possibilities, the space of a field can also be understood tangibly through its acoustic properties, which massively impact sounds through echoes, reverberation, and decay. These components hold sway over how sounds unfold in the field and will immediately affect any added sounds. In this regard, the distance between things, the non-solid aspect of a field, contains influence. But space is also a vibratory plane through which all sound and occurrences unfold, and it serves as a locus for intra-activity between entities. As Michael Gallagher suggests, ‘Field recordings involve a mixture of human, technological, and natural actants, which rework spaces through vibration.’34 Such a reworking performatively constructs further spaces when represented, and these are necessarily lively, superimposed on existing spaces, and political. The spatial-political ties into the field’s agency by defining means under which encounters occur as well as laying out possibilities from which political narratives can surface.

4. Recordist as Enmeshed Within the Field

17When a recording artist comes into intra-action with the field, they are simultaneously reading its stories as well as writing alongside them. By acknowledging the field as itself containing stories and narratives, one can work with it in a constructive and collaborative way. As Jason Moore proposes, nature and culture should not be thought of as binary oppositions, a discord that has constructed the modernist discourse of an Anthropocene climate crisis. Rather, humanity—including its politico-economic organisation, such as capitalism—should be acknowledged as immersed in and a part of the web of life.35 In this regard, the field should not be considered as a separate, undisturbed or distanced entity ripe for collecting, but rather as a component that the recordist is enmeshed within. Viewing the field as a milieu, as Carol Watts suggests, encapsulates it as an unfolding event-space for ecological bio-imbrication between nature and artifice’s ‘expanding and living morphological margin’. As she suggests,

‘Field’ becomes in this light a space of uncertain variability to which we are biologically and materially bound, and a zone of articulation among forces of physical nature and the ‘artifice’ which functions as the nature (‘second nature’) of the human species.36

18In this regard, the two can performatively construct one another – the example Watts gives of a magpie imitating the sound of a trumpet call nicely encapsulates the bidirectional, co-constitution of a field. Through her poetic field recording practice, she suggests that the field is partially constructed by her creative acts, possibly to the extent that she becomes part of its thoughts.

19 Mark Peter Wright similarly argues for critical consideration of field recording practice by foregrounding ‘issues relating to ethics, agency and representation’.37 In foregrounding the field recordist as a performer alongside the soundscape being recorded, Wright aims to ‘reverse legacies of “sound-in-itself” composition … to bend the ear back towards its own method of production’.38 Such an approach foregrounds the significance of the field as a place embedded with history, significance, and meaning, and it displays the field recordist’s political relationship to it. The field recordist should not attempt to hide behind the microphones, separate or detached, but rather be subjectively present within the field. An intra-actional emergence between the recordist and the place takes shape, wherein the recordist recording the field is recorded. In this sense, the practice of field recording is foregrounded as performative, and the layers of mediation and subjectification are accounted for.

20But in what ways can a field recordist interact with the spatial dimensions and placeness of a location to autoethnographically make-with the field? There are many ways for doing so, and here I will present the methods that I used in making Sounding the Weight of an Object.

21When approaching a location with the intention of recording it, I searched out physical oddities that made the site distinguishable. These could be single structures, such as a metal door on a specific building, or larger physical features, such as quarry walls. By investigating these features for their potential sonic implications—by striking them, approaching or moving away from them, or producing sounds in the space that might interact with them—I determined what features I found to be most sonically substantial. In this regard, I was refracting my personal subjective perspective of the location by focusing on what and where I would perform, while also attempting to articulate compelling aspects of the site. This initial process filtered the location through my sensibilities as a percussionist, as I searched out definitive features that I could play. Even before beginning to record, I was responding and in-dialogue with the site. Its architecture and physical features determined my movement through its space, as I would move through the field to research it. As a result of this process, certain objects, features, and spatial dimensions became the central materials which I improvised with. In this regard, the field was filtered through my subjective interpretation of its defining characteristics, while simultaneously those elements impacted on how I would subsequently perform. Additionally, I carried with me a history of performing on various objects as a percussionist and making field recordings without conscious intervention.

22Following from these initial investigations I would start recording and playing. From here a situated and phenomenologically present intra-active performance with the soundscape would unfold. While listening to the field I would react and respond to what I heard by creating sounds myself. My actions would be recorded along with other sounds of the field, often blending my performance with the field’s performance. In this regard, the storied matter combined with my subjective perspective of the field. In such a way, as Halla Steinunn Stefánsdóttir proposes in her performative-responsive practice with environments, I was ‘becoming with and bringing forth a world’39 through entanglement with it in an ecosystemic way. The sounds that I produced encountered the sounds of the field in two ways: either by directly changing other occurrences in the field, or by coexisting along with the field without altering its performance. In this regard, my role switched between acting as an agential influencer and being influenced by other agentic beings.

5. Examples of Intra-actions With the Field

23 In the wake of a tornado that caused multi-day power outages and significant damages to areas of my home city of Ottawa in September 2018, I made a recording while the winds were still howling for part of the track Forays Into Expansive Terrains.40 I was in a forested area in the suburban neighbourhood where I grew up, and the defining physical feature of the location was its foliage: trees, grass, and bushes. As I was situated within the continuing gusts from what had been a substantial storm, I decided to perform-with the field at that time. To do so, and to articulate the immediate forested surroundings, I chose to perform on grass blades close to the microphones while trees around me continued to rustle violently. My performance had little consequence on the storm; it continued to howl unimpeded by my minute actions. In this situation, while constructing the field recording alongside the natural forces, I could only listen and react to the wind’s actions. As the storm performed, it had agency; its gusts influenced my choices as to when to add sounds. Furthermore, the qualities of the sounds I produced blended into those of the trees’ rustling. This effectively created a blurring between the environment and my actions in the document, further articulating my immersion within the ecosystem.

24 At that precise moment, the field constituted notions of place and spatiality that were performing themselves and impacting my performative actions. The field contained the local political situation—that of power outages and neighbourhood damages—charging it with a substantial placeness. The storm’s waning residue manifested in the sonic field, and its traces impacted me. That I chose to play on small grass blades close to the microphones was because the grass was one of the few features in the environment that was not already performing. The expansive depth of the field was articulated through the contrast between the closely mic-ed grass blades and the distant rustling trees, humming power generators, and chirping crickets. But the scruffling sounds I produced on the grass blades, ones that easily blended into the swooshing sounds of the surrounding foliage, mirrored my relation to the field at that moment: hidden within it, with little capacity to trigger causality. In this sense, my approach to recording was in response to my subjective experience of the field. As the storm was part of a weather system beyond the control of humans, let alone me, I reacted to the field’s placeness by creating only subtle additions to the soundscape. As it was nighttime, I experienced the field’s spatial dimension as close and engulfing me, despite it being sonically large and expansive. My choice to focus my performance on a concentrated spot of miniscule grass blades mirrored my experience as enclosed within an otherwise large field. In this regard, the space and place of the field were agential, alongside the other entities within it.

25In other situations I had more possibility to act on the field. One such example can be heard at the beginning of Scrape. During this recording I performed on a metal sign (fig. 1) while a bird sang nearby. When I activated the metal sign, the bird remained quiet, but resumed chirping when I remained quiet. During this recording I was in dialogue with the animal; I was simultaneously listening to its sound while it listened to mine. Although there is no way to confirm with certainty whether the bird was reacting to the screeching sounds that I produced, the performances of both me and the bird collectively constructed the recording. This can be understood as an interspecies performance (myself and the bird), but other agents were also performing, including occasional subtle gusts of wind. As such, this was a multi-entity performance, wherein I was collaboratively constructing the recording along with the field.

26For Scrape, I had furthermore concentrated my broader sensation of the field via the specific metal sign I had chanced on. The location is the same as where I recorded during the windstorm, although its placeness and spatiality substantially differed: in daytime, on a warm summer day, and relatively calm. The larger location in which I had been walking through before finding the metal sign is narrowed down to my subjective interest in this discovered object. My performing with the field extends to before I began recording, as I was already responding to it while traversing its expanse; listening to, moving through, and contemplating it. Possibly, following from Carol Watts, my subjective attention-giving to the sign constructed the notion of the field itself. The sign—a ‘No Trespassing’ textual marker—sits at a human-constructed boundary within an otherwise wild growing meadow. But through my giving attention to the sign by playing and recording it, the field is compressed into a single feature that demarcates territorial ownership. The immersive quality of the larger field, and that precise moment in time, became framed and concretised through the documented focal point of the sign. However, the relationality of that sounded sign to the nearby bird can be thought to construct alternative stories of the field—those of boundlessness, distance, and non-point orientation.

Figure 1: The metal sign used in the recording Scrape.

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27In another recording, Run, I performed on a long stretch of boundary-demarcating materials, including metal fences, a hedge, a stone wall, and metal gates. The location for my performance was in Huddersfield, in a cul-de-sac of warehouses and light industry. What I perceived as the main physical feature of this area influenced how I investigated it: the recording consists of my running along this boundary while striking it with a stick. As I ran, I carried the microphones. The route of the journey was a loop—it ended by me striking the initial brick building that it started from (fig. 2). My performance responded to the continuous structural feature of the space by sounding the material changes along the structure. Wood posts, shrubbery, metal fence bars (fig. 3), wooden signs, brick structures, and more directly influenced my bodily actions and the resulting sounds produced. In executing this continuous run, my performance was premised on the fence’s physicality. I would speed up and slow down contingent on the sounds emanating from the border, and my striking implement would catch on its surface’s irregularities. In this sense, the field’s material feature directly acted on me physically and the unexpected sounds that arose influenced me. The material’s properties and their storied matter—of manufacturing, growth, age, and construction—became entangled in intra-active, co-productivity with me. The political implications of boundary-making are transformed into sound in this piece, wherein continuous moments of sound are the sonification of lengthy sections of the border. Moments of quiet indicate physical gaps: these were mainly at two spots, where a footpath enters the area and at the road’s main entrance. In this regard, the spatiality of the field articulates its placeness as politicised, as a location containing ownership and closure. My performing-with the field works with its spatial dimensionality and material reality, effectively sonifying where it limits my body from entering other spaces.

Figure 2: Route of the journey for the track Run.

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Figure 3: Detail of a fenced section of the boundary that was struck when recording Run.

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6. Conclusion

28 This article argued that the field recordist and the field are imbricated in a mutual performance. It suggests that the recordist is a subjectively acting performer, and that their recording in the field necessitates the inclusion of their self. This approach acknowledges that a recordist can only create a singular, subjective perspective that cannot fully stand in for the field’s immersive and expansive qualities. Drawing from performance scholarship and OOO, the field is considered as performing itself, and following from Jane Bennett and ecocriticism, matter is considered as vibrant and storied. This is expanded on by considering its placeness and spatiality as contributing to its agency. When a site’s space, place, and the multi-entities in it come into intra-action with a recording artist, they can all be seen as performing together. In viewing the act of field recording in such a way, there is a flattening between human and non-human, wherein any notion of a boundary between the recordist and field erodes.

29Three examples have been given from my album Sounding the Weight of an Object to articulate this blurring of self with field that occurred through multi-entity performance. As I performed in these fields, their placeness, spatiality, and constituent components performed co-constructively with me. While they were causal actants that influenced my subjective decisions, I acted back on them. The recordings emerged out of my subjective account of a field that I was immersed in and performing-with—my situated presence within the field joining with it in a process of unfolding.

Notes   

1 Mark Peter Wright, “Contact Zones and Elsewhere Fields: The Poetics and Politics of Environmental Sound Arts”, PhD Thesis, London, University of the Arts London, 2015, p. 35, https://ualresearchonline.arts.ac.uk/id/eprint/8662/.

2 See for instance Charles Soukup, “The Postmodern Ethnographic Flaneur and the Study of Hyper-Mediated Everyday Life”, in Journal of Contemporary Ethnography vol. 42 2, 2012, p. 226–54.

3 Bennett Hogg, “The Violin, the River and Me: Artistic Research and Environmental Epistemology in balancing string and Devil’s Water 1, Two Recent Environmental Sound Art Projects”, in Hz Fylkingen’s Net Journal vol. 18, 2013, http://www.hz-journal.org/n18/hogg.html.

4 There are other ways to incorporate one’s subjective experience of a location into a recording, such as including spoken accounts or editing recordings in post-production. Hildegard Westerkamp, for instance, in Kits Beach Soundwalk (1989) verbally describes tangible details that she perceived about the location she was recording at, while also filtering and changing the amplitude of the field recording in post-production to poetically express her account of the field. In this article, however, I am focusing on interacting with the field while recording rather than by modifying recordings afterwards.

5 The term ‘place’ indicating ‘a meaningful location.’ Tim Cresswell, Place: An Introduction, Second edition, Chichester, West Sussex, UK; Malden, MA, J. Wiley & Sons, 2015, p. 12.

6 Bruno Latour, “On Actor-Network Theory: A Few Clarifications”, in Soziale Welt vol. 47 4, 1996, p. 369–81.

7 Karen Barad, “Posthumanist Performativity: Toward an Understanding of How Matter Comes to Matter”, in Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society vol. 28 3, March 2003, p. 33, https://doi.org/10.1086/345321. Her emphasis.

8 Halla Steinunn Stefánsdóttir, “Let’s (Be) Play(ed by) an Ocean: Of Situated Actions within Ecological Sound Art”, in Compositional’ Becoming, Complexity and Critique, ed. Gunnar Hansson and Anders Hultqvist, Art Monitor, Gothenburg: University of Gothenburg Press, 2020, https://www.academia.edu/44710266/Lets_be_play_ed_by_an_ocean_of_situated_actions_within_ecological_sound_art_preprint_.

9 Ibid.

10 Colin Frank, Sounding the Weight of an Object, vol. IHab144, Impulsive Habitat, 2021, https://impulsivehabitat.com/releases/ihab144.htm.

11 Rosi Braidotti, Posthuman Knowledge, Medford, MA, Polity, 2019, p. 44.

12 Jane Bennett, Vibrant Matter: A Political Ecology of Things, Durham, Duke University Press, 2010.

13 Braidotti, Posthuman Knowledge, op. cit., p. 19.

14 Bennett, Vibrant Matter, op. cit.

15 Ibid., p. xiv.

16 See Peter Wolfendale, Object-Oriented Philosophy: The Noumenon’s New Clothes, Falmouth, Urbanomic Media Ltd, 2014, p. 46.

17 Richard Schechner, Performance Studies: An Introduction, Routledge, 2013, p. 28.

18 Ibid., p. 30.

19 Roberta Mock, Performing Processes: Creating Live Performance, 1st ed., Bristol, Intellect Books, 2000, p. 1.

20 Ibid., p. 3.

21 Ibid., p. 3.

22 Graham Harman, Tool-Being: Heidegger and the Metaphysics of Objects, Chicago, Open Court, 2002.

23 Witney Stark, “Intra-Action”, in New Materialism Almanac, 15 August 2016, https://newmaterialism.eu/almanac/i/intra-action.html.

24 Serenella Iovino and Serpil Oppermann, eds., Material Ecocriticism, Bloomington, Indiana University Press, 2014, p. 1–2.

25 Karen Barad, Meeting the Universe Halfway: Quantum Physics and the Entanglement of Matter and Meaning, Durham, Duke University Press, 2007, p. 3.

26 Bennett, Vibrant Matter, op. cit., p. 120.

27 This idea of ‘becoming field’ follows from the possibility of ‘animal becoming’ or ‘turning animal’, ideas put forward for considering how humans are ecologically entangled and imbricated with other earthly beings. This conceptual and performative proposition was discussed in Nicolas Salazar Sutil, ed., “Turning Animal”, in Performance Research, vol. 22 2, 2017.

28 Marc Augé, Non-Places: Introduction to an Anthropology of Supermodernity, 2nd English language ed., London; New York, Verso, 2008, p. 42.

29 See Gerald Fiebig, “The Sonic Witness: On the Political Potential of Field Recordings in Acoustic Art”, in Leonardo Music Journal vol. 25, December 2015, p. 14–16, https://doi.org/10.1162/LMJ_a_00926.

30 Yi-fu Tuan, Space and Place: The Perspective of Experience, 2001, http://public.eblib.com/choice/publicfullrecord.aspx?p=310154.

31 Cresswell, Place, op. cit., p. 16.

32 Doreen B Massey, For Space, SAGE Publications Ltd, 2012.

33 Ibid., p. 31–32.

34 Michael Gallagher, “Field Recording and the Sounding of Spaces”, in Environment and Planning D: Society and Space vol. 33 3, June 2015, p. 560–76, https://doi.org/10.1177/0263775815594310.

35 Jason W. Moore, “The Capitalocene, Part I: On the Nature and Origins of Our Ecological Crisis”, in The Journal of Peasant Studies vol. 44 3, 4 May 2017, p. 594–630, https://doi.org/10.1080/03066150.2016.1235036.

36 Carol Watts, “Pitch of Inhabiting: Thoughts on the Practice of Sound, Poetry and Virno’s ‘Accustomed Place’”, in Writing the Field Recording: Sound, Word, Environment, ed. Stephen Benson and Will Montgomery, Edinburgh, Edinburgh University Press, 2018, p. 123.

37 Wright, “Contact Zones and Elsewhere Fields: The Poetics and Politics of Environmental Sound Arts”, op. cit., p. abstract.

38 Ibid., p. 34.

39 Stefánsdóttir, “Let’s (Be) Play(ed by) an Ocean: Of Situated Actions within Ecological Sound Art”, op. cit.

40 Audible as the primary recording from 8’05” – 11’45”.

Citation   

Colin Frank, «The Field as Actant », Filigrane. Musique, esthétique, sciences, société. [En ligne], Articles soumis à la suite d’un appel à articles, Numéros de la revue, À l’écoute des lieux : le field recording comme pratique artistique et activisme écologique, mis à  jour le : 01/07/2022, URL : https://revues.mshparisnord.fr:443/filigrane/index.php?id=1115.

Auteur   

Quelques mots à propos de :  Colin Frank

Colin Frank experiments with sound, electronics, sculpture, theatre, and percussion; investigating excess, bodily extremes, unpredictable instruments, and rich raw noises. He has worked with the Noisebringers, TAK Ensemble, AndPlay, Red Note, Gods Entertainment, Moscow Contemporary Music Ensemble, and is a founding member of the DriftEnsemble and Brutalust. He has presented in the Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival, Berlin’s CTM festival, the Darmstadt Internationale Ferienkurse für Neue Musik, Electric Springs, SoundThought, Beast Feast, and PAS Quebec Days, amongst others. Colin’s installations often involve audience interactivity and have been exhibited at Salem Art Works, Dai Hall, and Analix Forever. His PhD research at the University of Huddersfield considers how unconventional instruments and objects act and influence his creative process. He studied performance and composition at McGill University and sound at the Institute of Sonology. He has taught improvisation at the Waterloo Region Contemporary Music Festival and at Huddersfield University.

Colin Frank expérimente avec le son, l'électronique, la sculpture, le théâtre et la percussion ; il explore le thème de l'excès, les extrêmes corporels, les instruments imprévisibles et la richesse des bruits bruts. Il a travaillé avec les Noisebringers, l'ensemble TAK, AndPlay, Red Note, Gods Entertainment, ou encore le Moscow Contemporary Music Ensemble. Il est un membre fondateur du DriftEnsemble et de Brutalust. Il a présenté son travail au Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival, au festival CTM de Berlin, au Darmstadt Internationale, et ailleurs (Ferienkurse für Neue Musik, Electric Springs, SoundThought, Beast Feast, PAS Quebec Days, entre autres). Les installations de Colin impliquent souvent une dimension interactive, où le public est mobilisé.  Certaines d’entre elles ont été exposées au Salem Art Works, au Dai Hall, et à Analix Forever. Sa recherche doctorale à l'Huddersfield University porte sur la façon dont les instruments et objets non conventionnels agissent et influencent son processus créatif. Il a étudié la performance et la composition à la McGill University et les techniques du son à l’Institute of Sonology. Il a enseigné l'improvisation au Waterloo Region Contemporary Music Festival et à l'université de Huddersfield.