Introduction to Field Recording and the Soundscape (online)

A 10-week online course, starting Monday 22 April 2024. 7.30 – 9.30pm, UK time.
To book contact: marcus@marcusleadley.com

Two mic booster pluggy mics in a field.

This 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. We will also look at ways to get the best possible results using a mobile phone’s recording capabilities.

Students will be immersed in in-session workshops, lectures, discussions, group listening sessions and practical demonstration with full audio and video support. Participants are encouraged and supported to make their own recordings and helped to plan field trips. We will learn the basics of post-production sound editing, processing and soundscape composition using digital audio software. Your practical knowledge will be framed in relation to lectures focusing on the history of field recording and the terminology and methods of soundscape studies. We will also explore related fields such as acoustic communication and acoustic ecology. All course materials – class .pdfs and session audio recordings, video and audio materials will be available for download.   

Field recordings are made outside of the specially prepared studio environment using portable equipment. Depending on your interests they can capture the sounds of nature, people, places, urban environment, events, mechanical processes and more. This highly practical course explores the tools and techniques of field recording, provides an overview of the practice and an introduction to software for digital editing. Field recording skills are not difficult to acquire and great results can be achieved with even budget equipment. This course is ideal for both amateur recording enthusiasts and people involved with film and documentary sound, radio, scientific and ecology enquiry and art practice.

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 socio-political context. I will also provide you with a thorough grounding in the contemporary context in which to develop a field recording or sound art practice.

The course has theoretical, practical, and technical elements. 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. I can also offer advice for people wanting to buy their own equipment.

Mid-way through the course we will undertake individual field trips to an indoor, outdoor, private or public space. Sound files and experiences will then be shared a listening and discussion session.

Week 1: 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: 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 our local environments.

Week 3: Portable digital recorders, microphones and techniques

In the first of our practical sessions we will look at a range of recording equipment and 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.

Week 4: 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 a range of examples.

 Week 5: What is a field trip?

The class looks at theoretical issues around place, space and time and practical issues around research and kit preparations. We will explore a list of questions for self reflections before making a site visit. This session is designed to help you get out into your chosen environment to make some recordings to play back in the following week’s class session.

Week 6: 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 – Soundscape and the socio-political: exploring arts practices and agendas

Prior to starting our own compositions, this session we will look at ways 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: 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: Equalization, effects and processing sound + composing with sound in the studio

We will look at equalisation, 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: Group listening and feedback

In the final session there will be a chance to play compositions and additional field recordings and discuss our work, technical issues and experiences.  

Learn the software

In the final three sessions of the course, we look at sound editing and soundscape composition. Students may use any digital audio workstation (DAW) software of their choice. Avid Pro Tools will be used for my demonstration purposes and there is a free 30-day trial you can download if you want to try this yourself or a free version called Pro Tools Intro. 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. Please note there are too many software alternatives for him to be able to offer support across the full range of options.  

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.

Learning outcomes

At the end of this course you will have gained:

• Theoretical, practical and conceptual knowledge in field recording and soundscape composition
• Transferable 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 field recording

Fees and discounts

£370

10% discount for full-time students and unwaged (£333  – proof of status required)

All students undertaking a 10-week online course get a 10% discount on my in-person one day London field trip sessions (£270 – normally £300) where I provide a full range of equipment to try out.

Further information and booking details

Please contact me direct if you have any questions and to reserve a place.

The next course begins on Monday 22 April 2024. 7.30 – 9.30pm, UK time.

To book contact: marcus@marcusleadley.com

Terms and conditions

Payment in advance by bank transfer to secure a place, not later than 24 hours before the start date. Please note I will need a minimum of 5 students to run a course. If a course has failed to recruit the required number of students 24 hours before the start time I will offer the choice between a full refund or a transfer to the next run of the course in September. Apologies, but in the event of course cancellation I will not be able to reimburse any other costs you may have incurred. Once the course has 5 participants I will keep booking open right up to the start of the course. The maximum class size will be 20.  Students can cancel a place up to 24 hours in advance of the course start – full fee refunded. After this, 50% fee charged. Alternatively, I’m happy to transfer you to the next run of the course

Tutor information

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 is the Head of Studio at the Electronic Music Studios, Goldsmiths, University of London.   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.

Testimonials

Today’s class was exciting because how we experience space is one of the main focuses of my work, and recently, my focus has shifted to thinking about place and sense of place, which is part of these animations I am beginning. Thank you for providing such an excellent course. You have exceeded my expectations of what I would learn, and I hope to participate in the composition section.

Vanessa Williams, Spring 2024

Thank you so so much for the wonderful journey towards field recording – it’s been just incredible and gave me so much food for thought.

Lavinia Siardi, Autumn 2022

The field recording course run by Marcus Leadley has been extremely informative and entertaining. Marcus’s knowledge of the history of sound recording, its practitioners, modern day artists and studio equipment makes the subject even more fascinating. I will be digesting this course for a long time and benefiting from the wealth of information for even longer. 

John Hooper
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