Making field recordings- otherwise known as standing around furtively in public places with a microphone- can be a tricky business. Today seemed like the perfect day to be wandering the highways and byways of the capital to capture sonic gems for the tracks I’m currently working on for the album ‘Liminalondon.’ Beautiful though the day was, it was also unreasonably windy, and the two places I most wanted to take recordings from- Parliament Hill and Primrose Hill, for a track called “The View”- were suffering more than most. Without getting too technical, the louder the source, the lower the microphone on the hand-held recorder I was using adjusts its level, which meant that many of the conversations I was oh-so-casually eavesdropping, and which seemed to be yielding up psychogeographer’s gold, were barely audible, as the persistent Metropolitan scirocco kept ducking the recording levels.
You also don’t know when making these recordings what will turn out to be the real treasures. There was a very eccentric chap at the top of Parliament Hill using a metal detector- remember them? must have Christmas presents around 1979, last seen clogging up Ebay alongside untouched Soda Streams- and I was concerned that the noise of his machine, a steady blip-blip-blip, like some badly dubbed R2D2, was going to pervade- and therefore ruin- the recording. He was clearly in no hurry to move on, exclaiming his finds -“50p! How about that?!”- to anyone who would listen, and indeed at one point was filmed by a chap who’d stopped to admire the view. This meant that he was being recorded by two separate people simultaneously, the kind of attention most of us can only dream of. This would no doubt have occurred to him as being nothing more nor less than his due, as regardless of whether he was being filmed or not, he gave a continuous running commentary on his activities, much to the intense apathy of the various suntanning bodies sprawled along the top of the hill. We were, of course, both employed in the same activity, scrabbling around the fringes of the capital in search of choice items that would generally be overlooked. He’ll definitely find his way on to the album somewhere.
Primrose Hill turned out to be a bit of a nightmare- wind now at full strength, crest of the hill covered in some strange mutation of hipster and skater, super skunk and rubbish dance music filling the air. I’m sure I never smoked dope so brazenly in public when I was a slip of an adult, although of course we’ll never know, what with me being, er, stoned at the time. I did manage to capture a couple of German girls having a very involved conversation on the bench next to me; again, one of the pitfalls of field recordings, particularly in London, is that you often capture very animated discussions, mobile phone conversations etc., and unless you can be bothered to enlist the services of a foreign speaking friend- reader, I can’t- you can never be quite sure what you’re using, and just have to hope you’re not broadcasting a heartfelt teenage dialogue about chlamydia or some other such alarming issue du jour.
The recordings are now safely stored on the desktop-(I realise even as I type this sentence that it’s inviting some kind of catastrophic hard drive failure. I have been told by people with no life that nothing is really backed up in the digital domain unless you have three copies of it on different drives. What fun!)- and I’ll begin the process of stitching them into the various tracks tomorrow. Until then, keep being volubly indiscreet in public, preferably somewhere out of the wind.