(self release 2013)

Review by Maria Papadomanolaki

Before starting to write this review, I opted from reading the additional information that Rui Chaves has sent me by email. I restrained my listening experience and knowledge to this limited edition book and its contents. The journey begins with a bold statement adorning the front cover: “The recordings are inside”, prompting me to start exploring, reading in search of the sounds inside. Since page one, a recurring suggestion from the part of the artist attempts to subvert my reading and listening position. Can I read and listen? Can I read this book in order to listen? The suggestion builds up and as I turn the pages I risk to turn it into an instruction. I should let my thoughts speak as loud as possible in conversation with the work and with the artist. Therefore, to me, it sounds like that I perform the work, I perform in this conversation as I follow the lines and turn the pages. I interact with the frictions of an object, a metaphor of the artist’s intent. The book becomes the nexus in which my understanding of the work exists in conversation with Chaves’ thinking mind. This is “field-recording” but one that allows to vulnerabilities, imperfections and subjectivities of both the artist and the reader/listener to playfully assume a significant role in the process.

Chaves shares his memories of his visit to Paraty both as texts and as recordings that are bound to coexist, compliment and at times contrast each other. The acoustic scenery (textual or sonic) is however destabilised by Chaves’ recurring suggestions and instructions to the reader/listener. Can I remember while I read and listen? The book’s structure introduces me to different times and locations of Chaves’ stay in Paraty such as the arrival, the Vasco da Gama celebrations, the town center, the mercado, the harbour and in each section words are interwoven with suggestions, instructions and complemented by a series of sounds contained in plain white, hand-numbered CDs. There is no ambition to present this work as a complete recounting of the experience. It is obvious that Chaves is interested in the fragmented nature of moments that finely balance between the fictitious and the lived and that altogether resound his experience of Paraty. It is rather, to me at least, more about providing a journey through an environment that consists of minute sparks of experience. And within it Chaves asks me to take part, to transpose it to my own locality and stand with him amidst busy markets and open windows, blurry dog clutter, donkeys, mechanical boiling fluids and serendipitous explosions.


But more than anything else, Chaves’ work demonstrates one possible way of listening and engaging with our surroundings and of essentially practicing “field recording”. He wants us to take this journey through Paraty and use it as a map to all possible destinations, a map for unlocking and, why not, recording what matters to us and what marks our memory. In the final section of the book, I find a folded map that rather than dissecting the landscape it opens it up, it blurs, empties and confuses it so that it can take any form and shape I want it to. And so it is Sound 5 containing the recording of the harbour; I am encouraged to imagine and perform the sounds, I can breathe my voice into the text and fill in the gaps of this multifaceted journey of “sonic materialities and place-being interactions”, echoing Chaves’ penultimate thoughts about his last moments in Brazil:

“This is not one moment.

These are several moments. Condensed.

All of these recordings are.”


[Rui Chaves]

Paraty is available at the Queen’s University Belfast library.

Rui Chaves website 


Inner Fields

(Wild Silence 2014)

Review by Flavien Gillié

La figure de l’enfance, de Marguerite Duras à Delphine Dora et Bruno Duplant.

L’enfance traverse l’oeuvre de M.D., du petit frère à Ernesto, en passant par le jeune aviateur anglais, 20 ans, si jeune pour mourir.

Qu’on repense à l’été 80, commande de Serge July d’articles pour le journal Libération, les descriptions que donne M.D. de Trouville en été pluvieux, les colonies de vacances, les enfants sur la plage, en groupe, tous sauf un.

C’est l’image qu’on a dès le début de l’album, fulgurances enfantines, rencontre des enregistrements de terrain et des manipulations de ceux-ci par Bruno D., et des notes délicates du piano de Delphine D. (M.D. jouait du piano, elle aimait la musique).

Duplant, Dora, Duras, tant de similitudes dans les patronymes, comme un glissement permanent de l’un vers l’autre, de l’une vers l’autre, tout dans cet album fait écho et sens dans une continuité de l’oeuvre durassienne, qui passait souvent d’un art à l’autre, un film préfigurant un roman, parfois l’inverse. C’est bien ce que l’on retrouve ici dans la complicité des deux artistes, des espaces de rencontre, d’accueil, une synesthésie qui passe par l’écriture, la composition et l’écoute.

L’enfant de l’été 80 est seul, il ne sait pas qu’il est vu par M.D., à la cinquième piste le titre rajoute à la solitude une opacité brumeuse, cherche à l’éloigner de nous, les pas du départ sont vite lointains, ne restent que les vagues, une harmonique et le piano, piano qui évoque alors le lieu du dedans, l’attente d’un retour improbable.

L’album se finit sur cette enfance, les vagues (Waves), un enfant dit “regardez”, voudrait montrer que quelque chose arrive, sans chercher à savoir quoi, nous rappelle que l’événement, c’est ce qui s’est déjà passé, et cet album en est une trace, une présence très forte.


[Bruno Duplant, drawing by his son Melvil]


[Delphine Dora]

Translation to English -by Sismophone-

The face of childhood, from Marguerite Duras to Delphine Dora and Bruno Duplant.

M.D.’s opus embraces childhood, from the little brother to Ernesto through the young english aviator, 20 years old, so oyung to die.

Let us  think back to summer ’80, an order of articles from Serge July for Liberation newspaper, the way M.D. describes Trouville during this rainy summer, the summer camps, the kids on the beach, grouped, except one.

This is the picture one has in mind as of the start of the album, childish fulgurations, meeting of field recordings and their manipulation by Bruno D., and the delicate notes of Delphine D.’s piano (M.D. also used to play the piano, she loved music).

Duplant, Dora, Duras, so many similarities in patronymics, as a permanent shift from him to another, from her to another, everything in this album echoes in a meaningful way through the opus of Duras, who often slid from one art to another, a movie prefiguring a novel, sometimes the other way around. It is precisely what one finds here in this complicity of the two artists, spaces for an encounter, a welcoming, a synesthesia manifesting through writing, composing and listening.

The child of summer ’80 is alone, he does not know he is being watched by M.D., at the fifth track, the title adds to lonelyness a misty opacity, seeks to remove him from us, the steps of the departure quickly faint, only waves remain, one harmonic and the piano, piano then evoking the inside locus, the expectation of an unlikely return.

The albums ends with this childhood, the waves (Waves), a kid says “watch”, would like to show something coming, without seeking to know what, recalls us that the event is what has already happened, and this album is a trace of that, a very strong presence.

Bruno Duplant discography
Delphine Dora website
Wild Silence website


(Recorded Fields Editions 2014)

Review by Daniel Crokaert

After a substantial succession of performances and being on the road a lot, ever training his made-to-measure audio-guerilla set, Robert Curgenven is back with a monstrous striking new opus : “Sirène”. This is the result of a 4 year patient gestation, and concern for approaching a state of sheer engulfing sound energy, as well as offering a reflection of his past as a confirmed organist.

Pushing field recordings in further subversive recesses through a mise en abime, main source material is 16-foot pipe organs played and recorded by him in various churches in Cornwall.

Photos on the sleeve are self-eloquent about the mood of the work.

On the back cover, a William Turner’s rather well-known painting “Snow Storm. Steam Boat Off a Harbour’s Mouth…” which fed the figment according to which the painter tied himself to the mast of a steam ship at night to observe extreme meteorological conditions.

…A tormented sea, a true conspiracy of the elements, a sense of immediate palpable danger…

Front cover depicts a far more personal story, it’s a premonitory find : an old photo of Curgenven’s grandfather surfing circa 1920.

…A dark blanket of chalky grooved waves, fierce foam and endless ripples, a ghost figure in equilibrium, the vertigo of infinity…

…A tremendous snapshot…

Then comes the title “Sirène” : an alarm device or much more likely the mythical creature seducing lost sailors to lure them into the abyss…And YES, “Sirène” is abyssal, displaying an enormous force at work…actually, I’ve been told it came to fruition almost incidentally while remixing some parts of the material for a second LP to be released later this year, and based upon Curgenven’s vision of a desecrated , dislocated Australian land.

On side A, “Ressuscitant de l’étreinte de la Sirène” starts with an insidious plaintive call surfacing from the marine depths, and colliding with the oceanic drizzle…cracked scum…“Cornubia” rubs it in. A relentless sweep upwards where scoria of organ overtones pulled from remote layers surge to encounter the outlines of a new world…

Curgenven propels sounds across long chimneys of distress, into the open space, searching for a physical clash, increasing the feeling of pressure, sucking you into a vortex of vivid sensations…

No futile decoration, no hollow effects, total submersion where one has to worm his way into a falsely dense compact core. A navigation upstream, straight to the source of some essential momentum…

Again, no frontiers or clear limits, but a scheme where the body undergoes, the eardrums vibrate, the mind travels an arid yet pregnant territory…

On side B, there’s the return of a lamentation dotted with minimal textural audio-debris and eroding hiss to pierce the shell of any indifference.
A perfect distillation and primal penetration through a cluster of organ dronal tentacles…

“Sirène” warns as much as it stimulates, a vital clatter not for the faint hearts, and when a short pause of near silence bursts in, the next last notes resound like  an omen for all ravaged lands.

“Sirène” is all about the unseen, the flow below…it sculpts a mass generating its own spectral harmonics,

acting as a powerful relay – an intensity one cannot escape…a lifeline…


[Robert Curgenven]

- Translation to French-

Après une non negligeable série de concerts et de tournées, affinant sans cesse son set de guérilla-audio, Robert Curgenven est de retour avec un monstrueux et marquant nouvel opus : “Sirène”. Résultat d’une patiente gestation de 4 ans, et d’un souci d’approcher un état de pure engloutissante énergie sonore, tout en constituant un clin d’oeil à son passé d’organiste confirmé.

Poussant les field recordings dans de plus lointains et subversifs retranchements à travers une mise en abîme, le matériau de base se fonde sur des orgues à tuyaux de 16 pieds joués et enregistrés par lui dans diverses églises à Cornwall.

Les photos illustrant la pochette parlent d’elles mêmes en ce qui concerne l’atmosphère de l’oeuvre. Sur la pochette arrière, la reproduction d’une peinture assez connue de William Turner “Snow Storm, Steam Boat Off a Harbour’s Mouth…” qui entretient le récit sans doute imaginaire selon lequel il s’attacha la nuit au mât d’un bateau à vapeur afin d’observer des conditions météorologiques extrêmes.

…Une mer tourmentée, une vraie conspiration des éléments, un sens du danger palpable immédiat…

La pochette avant représente une histoire beaucoup plus personnelle, et c’est aussi une trouvaille prémonitoire :

une ancienne photo du grand-père de Curgenven surfant autour des années 20.

…Une sombre couverture de vagues crayeuses à sillons, d’écume sauvage et de rides perpétuelles, une figure fantôme en équilibre, le vertige de l’infini…

…Un formidable instantané…

Ensuite arrive le titre “Sirène” : un dispositif d’alarme ou plus vraisemblablement la créature mythique charmant quelques marins perdus pour les entraîner dans l’abysse…

Et oui, “Sirène” est abyssal, faisant étalage d’une force énorme à l’oeuvre…en fait, il m’a été confié que “Sirène” a vu le jour quasi incidemment en remixant certaines composantes destinées à un second LP devant être publié plus tard cette année, et reposant sur la vision de Curgenven d’une terre australienne profanée, disloquée.

Sur la face A “ressuscitant de l’étreinte de la Sirène” démarre avec un appel plaintif insidieux remontant des profondeurs marines, et se télescopant avec le crachin océanique…écume fendue… “Cornubia” remue. Un impitoyable balayage vers le haut où des scories de traits d’orgue extirpés des couches distantes surgissent pour rencontrer les contours d’un nouveau monde…
Curgenven propulse les sons le long de longues cheminées de détresse, au sein de l’espace ouvert, cherchant la confrontation physique, augmentant le sentiment de pression, nous entraînant dans un vortex de vives sensations…
Pas de décoration futile, d’effets creux, de l’immersion complète où l’on doit se frayer un chemin dans un noyau faussement dense et compact.
Une navigation en amont en ligne droite vers la source d’un élan primaire…A nouveau, pas de frontières ou de claires limites, mais un schéma où le corps subit, les tympans vibrent, l’esprit voyage dans un territoire aride mais très fertile…

Sur la face B, il y a le retour d’une lamentation tachetée de minimes et texturés débris audio, et d’un sifflement érodant destinés à percer la carapace de toute indifférence.
Une parfaite distillation et pénétration primordiale au travers d’un amas de tentacules d’orgue “dronesques”…

“Sirène” avertit autant qu’il stimule, un éclaboussement vital pas pour les timorés, et quand une courte pause de quasi silence s’immisce, les notes qui suivent résonnent comme une malédiction pour toutes les contrées impunément ravagées

“Sirène” nous parle du non vu, du flux sous la surface…Il sculpte une masse générant ses propres harmoniques spectrales, agissant comme un puissant relais. Une intensité à laquelle on ne peut échapper…une bouée de survie…

Robert Curgenven website
Recorded Fields Editions


Soundproof: a one-hour radio-show featuring field recordings and compositional works by field recordists.

Jay-Dea Lopez recently curated a show about field recording and “sound art” for Soundproof on Australia’s ABC Radio National. For one-hour Miyuki Jokiranta and Jay-Dea discussed the physicality of sound and soundscapes.

Click on the links to listen to the discussion and enter the sound world of Hildegard Westerkamp, Andrea Polli, Richard Garet, Chris Watson, Heiki Vester, Jacob Kirkegaard.

Jay-Dea’s selection of pieces showcases the diversity of interests and styles that is explored by contemporary field recordists and artists working with sound.

You will hear sounds from deserts to Antarctic research stations to huskies and helicopters to Mexican train lines to Norwegian killer whales to the vibrations of German bridges.

This show is now available to download directly from the ABC.


A Sound Map of the Art Institute of Chicago
(3Leaves 2014)

 Review by Cheryl Tipp

Recording the “active sounds of history”. This lies at the heart of John Kannenberg’s ongoing interest in the sonic environments of cultural heritage institutions. As contemporary visitors interact with historical objects, how do these fleeting relationships manifest themselves in the soundscape? How do they lend themselves to the overall “sound” of a museum?

Following on from his 2011 release ‘A Sound Map of the Egyptian Museum, Cairo’, Kannenberg puts these questions under the microscope as he turns his attentions to the Art Institute of Chicago; one of the largest and oldest art collections in the United States, representing over 5,000 years of Human artistic expression and holding 300,000 works. As we move through the sound map, a 1 hour collage of recordings made in various galleries throughout the building, we get a real sense of the scale of this historic institution. Though not able to visualise or hear the historical artefacts themselves, the recordings succeed because they allow us to imagine. To envisage the space and the design based on our own experiences of similar museums around the world. The accompanying insert gives location pointers, much like a traditional museum map – Ando Gallery of Japanese art: Gallery 109, American Gothic: Gallery 263, African Art: Gallery 137 – helping to feed our imaginations even further. A series of floor plans reinforce the sheer magnitude of the building.

Kannenberg also focuses on the sounds of the building itself; clunking elevator doors, squeaking floorboards, a buzzing fluorescent sign, a humming exhaust fan. Akin to a rumbling stomach or a clicking joint, these little sounds remind us to think of the structure, stoically guarding various cultural treasures for future generations to experience, question and enjoy.

“I found myself drawn to situations in which I played an audible part”

For me, this sentence represents the greatest success of the sound map. The fact that we can hear Kannenberg, walking through the galleries and interacting with the staff, gives the whole piece a welcoming, familiar feel. Almost as if we are walking at his side, taking in the paintings, sculptures and photographs, pausing every now and then to listen to a gallery talk, observe a drawing class or have a spot of lunch.

‘A Sound Map of the Art Institute of Chicago’ is a well-curated sonic journey that instantly engages the listener. Detailed and varied, the composition has reminded me not only of my own love of museums, but also of the huge potential they offer the visitor. Through his work, Kannenberg is beginning to explore a fascinating aspect of the museum experience, bringing sound to the forefront and encouraging others to tune into the sonic delights that these mighty institutions have to offer.


[John Kannenberg]

John Kannenberg website
3Leaves website






Interview with Tessa Elieff

by Jay Dea Lopez

Tessa Elieff works as a sound archivist and curator at the National Film and Sound Archive of Australia.When she is not archiving other people’s recordings Tessa works on her own sound practice. In the past year she has completed residencies in England and Italy, most notably working with Chris Watson to record the sounds of England’s northeast coastline.

This is Part Two of an interview with sound archivist and field recordist Tessa Elieff. In the previous post Tessa outlined some issues relating to the preservation of sound files. Her advice was pertinent to anyone working in this domain. In this final instalment Tessa talks about her own work, the thought processes involved behind her recordings, and the worthiness of art residencies.

Part II

J.L: You recently worked with Chris Watson in a field-recording project along England’s northeast coastline. What was the purpose of the project and what did you learn from working with Watson?

T.E: The purpose was to focus on my skills as a field recordist and develop them over an intensive with (Master) Watson. We discussed the plans for over a year before I finally travelled to England and we met in person. I first met Chris in 2009 during one of his visits to Australia. I had been practising field recording seriously for about two years at that stage and was really looking for a teacher to help me reach a work calibre that honoured the art and the craftsmanship. Chris was encouraging and seemed to understand my fanaticism. It then took me 7 years to reach such a level in my work that I felt I could contact him again and ask if he remembered me. Luckily, he did and so the discussion began. Over a period of more than 12 months, we chatted about ideas – my interests – what we could record and why.

It soon became apparent that the intensive would include more than just the practical of field recording – it would/did include the ethos and thought processes behind the act itself. Reflecting and acknowledging the choices you make in regards to ponderings such as selecting recording sites – when to visit them and why – what you hope to capture – what this means to you – how it connects to the listener. The intensive was almost equal part, field recording and history lesson. Each place we visited to record had a story to it which Chris would tell before we reached the location. I arrived thoroughly prepped, mentally, spiritually and technically – to complete the task.

Then of course – there is the unspoken role of the field recordist to consider. The best field recordists (in my opinion) are the ones that disappear. They need to be invisible at the time of recording yet still be master of their practice.  Chris Watson certainly got me on the path to considering not just the practical but also the spiritual role of the craft and how to reflect this in your work. THAT is the difference between holding a microphone and hitting record just to record (which has its time and place) and selectively sculpting your work before you even hit that button.

J.L: You have been involved in several residencies abroad. What is the value in participating in residencies? What have been some of your personal recording highlights while abroad?

T.E: I’d say the most obvious value would be to participate in the international community that supports my practice and to ensure that Australia has a presence here. Being physically so far removed from Europe and the UK can leave you feeling isolated as an artist and I think it’s imperative that Australia keeps the path of opportunity open between us and the ‘other sides’.

In regards to the individual, I’d say that residencies are essential in ensuring that your work keeps up with the international stage, both in quality and in validity. Nothing snaps your creative weaknesses into focus sharper, than presenting in a different country, to a local, unknown audience that is educated in your areas of practice. Sometimes the warm words of praise from your associates back home hinder you rather than push you forward.

In general, I would say that residencies are a baptism of fire all artists must experience if they want to work with the creative community outside of their backyard. Some of the hardest aspects are the logistics and learning how to juggle these demands whilst remaining calm, creative, productive and congenial.  If you can achieve that there’s a good chance a wealth of opportunities will open up to you. Then, it’s a matter of navigating them and finding the ones that you believe are best suited to your work (and can afford…).

My recording highlights would have to include creeping around in the dark – through the night at le Abbaye Noirlac in central France. As much as I told myself that there was nothing to be afraid of, I couldn’t quite feel comfortable. It was a perfect headspace for recording the clunks of turning keys and shifting locks as well as groaning doors and creaking steps. At around 7pm, everyone would have left, the lights would be turned off, I was given the keys and left ‘till the morning. The natural reverberation of the space was poetic – really breathtaking and the sounds came to life when left in solitude (cue, my recording time).

One of the most recent experiences would be a field recording I gathered in a wheat field at sunset/early dusk, in Southern Italy – at the base of the mountains to be found near Castel del Monte. The day had been spent winding through the narrow roads, in-between mountains in rural Italy our task – to visit the gentle farmers and cultivators of the land that lived in the areas. My focus was on their harvests – the ritual of the process – their family history related to the practice and how this translates to their life today. The local shepherd owned the last farm we visited. We were met by Claudio, his 23-year-old son (the size of a mountain himself). He welcomed us with a shy nod and very few words.  The first field we visited was easily accessible. As long as you kept an eye on the 40-odd wild boar that were nearby there were no real problems. As remote as the land is – I am still plagued by overhead traffic – the ominous drones of unseen crafts are too large in the sonic scape for my liking.

A few quiet words in Italian to Claudio and we got in the car to follow him. We stopped by the front gate, near a solitary stone building. Claudio disappeared inside and reappeared with four wheels of cheese – each, big enough to be too large for him to grasp in his giant hand. They were made by his family and often traded for use of land to graze their sheep on. He handed them over with a smile, we jumped back into the car and continued.

After almost an hour, we emerged from the tight folds of the land, spilled into a valley nestled at the skirts of the enormous mountains whose gaze we’d been working under. Apart from a rough wooden shack, there was no one and nothing that hinted at civilisation to be seen or heard. At my request, my companions loaded into the car and ceased talking. I was granted a window to record through. The sun was falling; it was cold, light shifted from yellow to a surreal lilac that permeated from the earth and sky. I walked into the field, touched the boom pole to the ground and lowered myself, disappearing into the stalks that were tall enough to brush my forehead.

It took a little time for the habitat to settle after our disruption but slowly it came to life. There were two birds, one on either side of the valley – calling to each other in rhythm. They didn’t sound at the same time – they didn’t interrupt each other’s message. One called, there was a pause, a careful listening, and then the other responded. The spacing allowed each note to truly ring within this private chamber. Natural reverb and a slight delay echoed from one end to the other.

The recording itself is as modest as the environment it came from. It’s a natural beauty that best sinks in over time spent in its presence. It took nearly the entire trip spent in Italy, to reach this place and find this sound and once that I’d caught it, I could leave.

J.L: How have these experiences broadened your understanding of field recording and the sonic arts? Have you noticed a greater appreciation towards field recording in certain countries?

These experiences have definitely made me aware of the many ways that field recordings can be (and are being) used and subsequently, how I myself want to use them in my own work.

I will be honest here. There have been positive and negative experiences in this regard and during my travels I have found myself feeling begrudgingly protective of the art form. I think field recording as part of a creative practice, is growing in popularity. With the increasing international concerns regarding our natural environments, wildlife and rural communities, field recording is really coming into its own and being exercised in new and traditional ways and this is exciting – don’t misunderstand me. It is somewhat of a relief to be able to share this way of working with others and the knowledge exchange and community support is absolutely priceless in this regard. It is a solitary practice and connecting with other lone-rangers can help keep your feet on the ground!

What I feel conflicted about is the instances when the work appears disingenuous. Sometimes I worry that it is becoming too faddish and that the quality of work associated with the practice is not being honoured as it should;  that people are viewing it in a very shallow way, not caring about the many layers to the work methods, merely hitting the record button so that they can coin the title, ‘Field Recordist’, in an application. So I guess what I’m saying is in my opinion, yes – the sonic arts related to field recording is exploding BUT, I think we still have a way to go in appreciating/understanding the value of sound as a medium and treating it with the same regard as others.

Having said all that – I have come across some startling instances of artists and curators developing projects that honour sound in the most sensitive and astute ways. One of my favourites would be the work of the travelling artist group, ‘ZUR’ (http://www.groupe-zur.com) particularly, their work, ‘point de suspension’. This included giant and small icicles hung from great heights, slowly melting over time – the water dripping onto plates, tins etc. below. The rooms these were in were flooded with natural light and live acoustics. As the day progressed, they morphed and changed, as did the sounds. It was very simple but had an instant impact on the listener – it captivated your attention visually, sonically and mentally. This was in France and I must say that the appreciation of the sonic arts that I experienced whilst in the country was impressive. In regards to field recording specifically, I would say that it was a common term in England and in that sense, yes – they do hold the practice in considerable regard. Proof of this can be seen in their communities such as the Wildlife Sound Recording Society, the British Library Sound Archive’s wildlife recordings collection and individuals such as Chris Watson.

* Upper photo Tessa Elieff, photo by Daniela d’Arielli

Tessa Elieff website 1

Tessa Elieff website 2

National Film and Sound Archive website




Interview with Tessa Elieff

by Jay Dea Lopez

Tessa Elieff works as a sound archivist and curator at the National Film and Sound Archive of Australia.When she is not archiving other people’s recordings Tessa works on her own sound practice. In the past year she has completed residencies in England and Italy, most notably working with Chris Watson to record the sounds of England’s northeast coastline.

This first interview with Tessa Elieff focuses on the importance of archiving sound files in the digital age. Tessa provides practical advice that is of great value to anyone working with digital media. The second half of the interview, to be posted later, centers on the value of artist residencies and Tessa’s own work as a field recordist.

Part I

Jay Dea Lopez (The interview began by asking Tessa to describe the range of recordings held by the National Film and Sound Archive, Australia, and if she could describe some of her favourites).

Tessa Eileff: It’s pretty vast. We have three curatorial sections specific to Sound (as a medium). These are Radio, Oral Histories and Recorded Sound. In addition to these, there are other areas that are not medium specific – but still include sound recordings for example, the Indigenous Collections Branch, Film and Television all include sound tracks, interviews and ethnomusicological field recordings.

I work in the Recorded Sound Branch so we cover all musical (and non-musical) genres as well as any other recordings that ‘don’t fit’. All the typical classifications of music can be found within the archive as well as the not-so-typical (and yes – it is these that really spark my intrigue).

Some memorable sounds and impressive body of works that I’ve stumbled across include the Australian folklore interviews conducted by Rob Willis and John Meredith – in particular – the conversation recorded between Rob and Emily Lyons (known as ‘Tookems’.) Tookems was born in Australia, 1923 to a recently-migrated Navajo mother and a Spanish father. She was adopted by the Lennon Bros Circus at the age of about 18 months at which, her training as an acrobat began. Her daily duties from the age of about 4 years, became feeding and caring for the animals (which she also slept with) as well as performing in the shows and general circus work. She describes her past as ‘a hard life’, but one she loved fiercely.

Other favourites of mine include wildlife recordist – Vicki Powys’s complete database (to-date. Still in the process of ingest), the Seb Chan collection (founder of the cult street magazine, ‘Cyclic Defrost’.) This includes various promotional materials – both hardcopy flyers, magazines, live footage and releases collected by Chan whilst he lived and worked in Australia and lastly, the electronic noodlings and tape explorations of physician and musician, Val Stephen. In the 1960’s Stephen presented the radio program, ‘Beyond the Fringe of Music’, which focussed on international developments in electronic music. He is largely considered to be Australia’s first released electronic music composer and his dabblings in audio tape and synthesised sounds are very satisfying to experience.

JL: Part of the role of any national archive centre is to preserve materials of cultural and environmental significance. Does the NFSA have recordings of animals, languages or technologies that are now extinct?

T.E: Yes we do. Regarding threatened species – we have a number of critically endangered species such as the Regent Honeyeater, the Helmeted Honeyeater and the Gouldian Finch. Extinct species’ that can be found within the archive include the Red-crowned Parakeet, the New Zealand Pigeon and the Southern Boobook (to name a few). These species-recordings can be found in the collections of wild life recordists such as Vicki Powys, David Stewart and John Hutchinson.

Regarding language – our most known material would be the wax cylinder recordings of the Indigenous Australian, Fanny Cochrane Smith. These include traditional songs, war chants and general language of the Tasmanian Aborigines as gathered around 1900 and are the only existing recordings of such.

The idea of ‘extinct technology’ to an archive poses an interesting paradox! Perhaps ‘obsolete’, may be a better term as I feel confident in speaking for all archives when I say we like to believe that there is no technology that we are incapable of preserving….. Actively using it though, is another matter…..

Some interesting examples of the above include wire recordings (most common around 1950) – whereby sound is (was) recorded onto spools of thin stainless steel wire. This was great for field recordists in that the physical medium is pretty hardy when comparing it to delicate wax cylinders or even audio tape. Carting it around – you did not have to worry about its fragility – weight however, was a concern. Whilst this technology is now obsolete – the NFSA has archived not only original recordings on the medium, but also the playback/recording machines by which to use them.

To be honest – I would say that any analogue audio technology is not at threat of extinction or inaccessibility in that, if the archive did receive a sound recording on a medium that we did not have a playback/recording machine archived for, then quite simply – our in-house technicians would build it themselves. While it may not be an authentic module – it would enable us to hear the material and access the physical format.

Digital content is another matter… As strange as this may sound – I would say that early digital formats make up the majority when looking at the list of ‘at-risk’ media.

J.L: At a time when global resources are being redirected away from the arts/humanities, could you describe the socio-cultural importance of having a national sound archive?

T.E: I think there are a few ways to approach this. Firstly, there is the consideration of learning from our past for the benefit of the future. Why sound (particularly field recordings) are so important in this regard, is that they capture a snapshot of an environment that reveals different aspects as to the visual. Increasing traffic noise and sound pollution are perfect examples of this. While a city may look beautiful – a simple recording can illustrate developments that are being tucked under the rug and/or living conditions that are deteriorating due to over development. These observations are also indisputable and a highly effective way of documenting the sonic shift and general decline of a landscape – natural or manmade.

In addition to these concerns of acoustic ecology, there is also the need to preserve, discover and enjoy our achievements in creative composition. An extremely effective way to know about ourselves as individuals and as part of a community is through our past and as we all know, we’re pretty savvy at expressing this through song and lyrics…. I firmly believe in learning about a civilisation not through the official text books written by academics and scholars, but by rummaging through the bits and pieces you can find directly from the people of the time. Their stories, their opinions provide an insight to our history that simply cannot be captured any other way. Some of the voices I have heard in oral history interviews have sent shivers down my spine… The second you lose that through interpretation you are ultimately diluting the source. Who knows what gems of sound are tucked away in the NFSA’s collection but for certain – there are works that are yet to be discovered – artists whose creative ideals have not yet been recognised and (wildlife) sounds that will become extinct, all cared for and waiting to be listened to by a future inquisitor.

In regards to the funding of any publicly owned and financed cultural institution – there will always be those who argue that we spend too much and those who argue it’s not enough. Some of us look primarily at the monetary value (how much could I sell this for?) and some of us believe that the value of these collections as a whole, are so complicated and great that they surpass any form of currency evaluation. I’m sure you know which camp you will find me in.

J.L: What are the inherent dangers in storing field recordings digitally? What would you recommend field recordists do to maintain the longevity of sound files?

If you look beyond the obvious concerns of accidentally wiping your entire personal archive with the click of the mouse or contracting a virus or file corruption or faulty hard drives, I would say that (in)correct management of metadata and ensuring that the details of material’s context and history are also preserved are two of the biggest dangers. For example – the situation is not uncommon whereby we receive reels of audiotape with minimal information provided by the donor. In this instance we often look at the physical item – the tape’s packaging and its canister. You would be amazed at the amount of information you can glean not only from reading scribbled notes on a cover, but also from assessing the general markings and wear and tear of the media itself. With digital – all these identifiers disappear leaving the onus (possibly) completely on the original field recordist to either enter this metadata manually or create a virtual note to accompany the files. Then there is the consideration that even if they do create a ‘notes’ document and even if they are conscientious enough to update it as their material develops (which at this time, it is not unusual for this to be forgotten or simply dismissed), there is no longer a ‘paper-trail’ of the changes. Handwritten notes regularly consist of crossed out items – general musings – rants and personal opinions – none of which you would think to put in an official document – which is how people view the notes they take the time to create virtually therefore, all this information that provides a wealth of insight to both the recordist and the material itself, is lost.

My starting advice would be the following

A)   Record at at least 24 bit/48k. At this point in time this is the industry standard for video production and television broadcast. I personally record at 24 bit/96k. You can always transcode down should you want a smaller file size and continued developments in audio technology are only raising our expectation of sound quality – not lowering it.

B)   Before you start recording, check the details on your recording device that will be stamped into the file’s metadata. Simple things like entering the correct date/time, setting the naming format and erasing old information that does not apply to the current recording are good habits to have.

C)  Always record to lossless format. I recommend .wav files as they seem to be the most commonly/easily handled. Do not use any ‘niche’ formats that can only be opened using selected operating systems both for audio files and text documents alike (I’m thinking of the Apple/Windows problems here…). Assume that any working sessions in proprietary software will be inaccessible in the future.

D)   Don’t be scared of the trusty pen and paper. Keep a small notebook handy to write down anything of note, regarding a certain file. This can be very handy for long recordings that are peppered with interesting sonic happenings. Noting the timestamp and the event’s details can make your life much easier later on – when hunting for those sounds or detailing your personal archive.

E)   Include virtual notes with all your recording sessions. Try to start them as soon as possible and if updating – I’d err on keeping the original text and adding the notes as required.

F)    Have at least three copies of your own archive, each on its own hard drive, in three different locations so if you are robbed/hit by a bus or suffer a faulty drive – you are well covered*. As importantly – make sure someone knows about them.

(Note* At this point in time I would not count ‘the cloud’ as a safe backup device)

G)  Lastly – if you want to preserve your legacy and ensure that it can be discovered by future enthusiasts, academics and practitioners enter your material into (inter)national and publicly accessible archives – the more the merrier. Submit high quality digital recordings if possible and include a biography as well as any other information that may be of interest. Whilst your work may not be hugely recognised at the time of your life, who knows what may happen after you pass….

(To be continued, Part Two of this interview, in which Tessa discusses the importance of artist residencies, will be posted shortly)

* Upper photo Tessa Elieff, photo by Daniela d’Arielli

Tessa Elieff website 1

Tessa Elieff website 2

National Film and Sound Archive website



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