“Field recording” is the practice of capturing sound from outside of a recording studio.
The use of this term proposes a distinction between a controlled environment (the studio) and a more or less uncontrolled environment (not the studio), implying that each environment provides a different set of sonic characteristics. Consequently this distinction suggests that the recordings made in each space will reflect the characteristics of each space, therefore be characterically different, and therefore tell us something about each space’s unique characteristics.
The studio environment is understood to be a controlled and standardised environment, that actively seeks to efface its own presence, on order to allow the sounds created within it to be isolated and captured without distractions. This description adopts a wording that deliberately hints at the writings of Michel Foucault and other post-structuralist thinkers. Because of that the implication is that a studio represents a regime of power seeking to act in secrecy, with all the social and political consequences of that that Foucault seeks to reveal in his own case studies.
This might therefore suggest that field recording, by being placed in contradistinction to studio recording, represents a response to such regimes of power, at the very least a move out of those particular environments. But while the outside environment may certainly be different, the technological apparatus for capturing that environment as a recording is its own characteristic environment that seeks to efface itself. In many cases the field recordist seeks to capture a “reality” that they hope to transfer to the audience’s ears with some kind of fidelity. However all recording involves translation from one form to another and some kind of loss in the original. If that is the case, then an artist’s deliberate adoption of the practice of “field recording” is in itself a framework that presents the work in a certain way that says as much about the apparatus as it does about the sounds.