Kinokophone – Art & Field Recording
Kinokophone is an art collective with sound at it’s heart, producing interesting and unique sound installations and listening experiences.
Both Amanda Belantara and Jon Tipler were kind enough to spare some time to talk about their work currently taking place on both sides of the Atlantic.
DS: Can you give us a little background on how you got into field recording?
AB: I initially started doing field/sound recordings as a way of exploring culture. I had studied ethnographic filmmaking but became very interested in what sounds could reveal about human experience and societal constructs when I lived in Japan. Whilst living there I became more aware of the way sound is being used and designed for public spaces; a product of culture that shapes so much of everyday life. So I started recording sounds for research as well as personal interest.
JT: The first field recordings that I made were for the surround sound element of a video installation in 2003. Working with the artist, I explored derelict buildings, discovering and listening to the sounds that were present and that collectively formed that particular sonic environment. This sparked my fascination with hunting down and documenting everyday sound and how it could be taken out of context for use within many disciplines from electronic music, sound design and more recently as part of a sonic archive.
It also took me out of the comfort zone of the studio. I quickly realized that I found the challenges, and in a sense, the simplicity of field recording more rewarding. The emphasis on listening and mic placement and the need to explore and experiment totally reworked my idea of what recording was and I started to learn new, refreshing ways of working as I gained more experience.
Field recording also spans many disciplines and gave me the opportunity to apply my knowledge from both the music and video production worlds.
DS: Was Kinokophone formed as a direct result of the work you were doing? What was the impetus behind the project?
AB: Kinokophone came to life through our love of listening and fascination for the sounds around us. We felt that we should form a collective that could be an expression and way of sharing of this fascination as well as an avenue for exploring new ideas and creating collaborative projects.
JT: I’m pretty sure Kinokophone was a result of like-minds attempting to make sense of this fascination, perhaps obsession, with listening and recording the sounds around us. We explored several forms and areas of work in the early days but for me there is always an overriding sense to share and express this interest, so forming a collective has allowed us to do just that.
DS: Tell us a little about what Kinokophone does?
AB: We are an artist collective, producing installations, sound for documentary films, oral history projects, music; anything that we think is exciting and fun! We also organise Kinokophonography, an evening of sharing and listening to field recordings from around the world. We recently started producing a radio show based upon the Kinokophonography sessions which can be heard on BasicFM or on Soundcloud.
Illustration by T.S. Selm
DS: Can you tell us a little more about Kinokophonography? What might we hear if we were to attend?
AB: Kinokophonography is a curated sound cinema event that features audio works from around the world. It is a unique public gathering in celebration of the sounds around us; exploring the experience of listening by sharing sound recordings and discussing what the recordings and the process of making them can bring to life!
Kinokophonography premiered in 2011. The diversity of submissions has increased with every event. The events attract a regular and dedicated audience whilst welcoming in newcomers at each session. Launched at MadLab, in Manchester, UK, we also took the event to the British Library in London and the Aomori Contemporary Art Center in Japan. Previous audiences have enjoyed the sounds of photosynthesizing plants, ants eating apricots, tree roots crackling, dissolving dinosaur eggs and beluga whales mimicking humans.
In organising the event, we are able to further our research as field recordists and sound oriented artists by creating an interdisciplinary platform for sharing work and ideas. Through sound and shared listening, we believe that we can learn about different environments and cultures; unearthing connections between people around the world. Often people are too busy to stop and listen to the sounds around them or to ponder how these sounds influence their daily experiences and interactions. We hope to incite the production of new recordings, innovative audio production techniques and artistic collaborations. We hope to encourage dialogue between practitioners working with sound from multiple disciplines; creating a forum for creative exchange where artists can learn new ways of working from their peers in a supportive environment.
DS: Recently you created the Kinokologue, “a cabinet of sonic curiosities…” Can you enlighten us about that project? How did it come about?
AB: Yes! Kinokologue is a cabinet of sonic curiosities, explored through the eyes, ears, and the imagination! It’s a 16 channel interactive audio-visual installation that explores ways of presenting and categorising sound collections. We were talking one day about the growing collection of recordings we had on our hard drives and what would become of them. We started imagining ways of storing/displaying our collections for future listeners and what they might make of them without necessarily knowing the sound source or why it was recorded in the first place. So then we started asking other recordists how they organise their recordings and quickly learned that many of them, like us, had a very loosely structured oganisation system based upon dates or specific projects. We then turned to interviewing archivists at museums and libraries and became fascinated with the possibilities for making sound collections accessible and fun for wider
audiences….the idea grew from there!
Photo by Emily Dennison
We were first granted a MicroCommission fund from Cornerhouse (Manchester, UK) and the Paul Hamlyn Foundation to realise our Sonic Specimen Box Project. This led to a larger grant that helped us to realise Kinoklogue. For Kinokologue, we invited other members of the collective to participate. Jon and I selected a number of sounds from our audio collections to be housed inside Kinokologue. These sounds were sent to fellow Kinokophone artists, Akiko and Takashi, who listened to the recordings without knowing the sound source. Akiko responded to the sounds through colourful embroideries and Takashi through sculpted models, each of which were placed inside the cabinet as sonic specimen slides and sonic specimen models. Sound playback is initiated by visitors placing a corresponding sonic specimen slide into a viewing box, opening a drawer, or by plugging headphones into a headphone jack. Visitors can view the sculptures and embroideries while composing soundscapes by listening to as many or few of the sounds at one time. They can also contribute ideas about how to categorise our uncategorized sound spores and browse through archived suggestions left by previous visitors.
Kinokologue was on exhibition at the John Rylands Libarary last year and we are planning another tour of the piece next Spring!
DS: Do you find, in your work, that the removal of obvious, or expected visual stimuli affects our understanding and appreciation of sound?
AB: Of course adding/removing visuals creates a completely different experience for listeners. It shapes their experience of the audio track as the mind tries to find relations to what’s seen and what’s heard. I like to experiment with this in my work. A film I made a few years ago called Ears are Dazzled, touched by sound explores this idea. The film is based around sound diaries kept by people in Yamaguchi, Japan. They noted sounds they felt were relevant to their daily lives and could also list any visuals they associated with this particular sound. It was very interesting to see that for many people the sounds related to completely different visual images or colors and I tried to play with this imagery in the film. This creates a different understanding of the sound and a different understanding of the image that’s seen on screen.
At Kinokophonography events, sounds are played back without the use of any visuals apart from speakers. Many people commented on how it really sparks imagination said they find it refreshing to sit in an environment enveloped in sounds without any visual stimulus.
JT: I think that this could be true, but by not including, removing or by not considering the visual element, we allow ourselves to focus in and concentrate on the role of sound as a sense in its own right. We are generally a visual culture where visual media demands a high percentage of our brain’s processing power. It’s just nice at times to consider what’s going on with our other senses and what they are telling us. I love cooking too, so maybe one day I’ll venture into working with taste and smell…
DS: Do you feel the way you‘re-task’ (re-cycle) sounds in your work returns some intrinsic value to them as stand-alone entities?
JT: I think perhaps so yes. I really like the way that the initial motivation behind making a recording can be totally disregarded once that sound has been put to its intended use, if at all.
Having worked on many observational documentaries where there is a huge emphasis on authenticity, I am pretty used to having this debate with directors and film makers, discussing whether it is appropriate or not to use a section of atmos recording from a wild track or other section of video, even if from a different project or SFX CD.
Whatever the outcome, I have re-used many of my recordings, as have others. I like the idea of someone else finding something different in the recording, without knowing the context in which it was made. An example being where a composer friend of mine discovered some nice rhythmical textures in a recording of a gritty road that I’d made for use in a short film.
DS: Are you sound archivists? Is there an aspect of the project which is about collecting, and preserving sounds that might otherwise be lost?
AB: In a very loose sense we are archivists as I guess everyone working with media is an archivist. We create so much data, in both physical and digital form and archiving it somehow comes along with the territory.
In my own recording practices, I do try to record things I presume might not be heard for much longer or that I suspect might be of value for future generations. I also think recording things has a way of helping people in the present day to realise not only the beauty of a particular sound but its potential for enriching their lives in someway; raising awareness of how sounds shape their ordinary experiences.
JT: I think, in a sense, that anybody who has an interest in documenting events, happenings or even in collecting is an archivist. With Kinokologue, we were particularly keen, initially, to question the motivation behind making recordings and why, once a recording has been put to it’s intended use, it is archived and how. What does it mean to hold on to these sounds and how does it change the way in which we perceive, interact and value them once placed in the context of an exhibition or physical archive. So, we gathered some collections from our personal archives and threw them together to see what happened.
I am fascinated by the concept of acoustic ecology and how we now have the ability to easily record and document the sonic elements of our environment that are so specific and particular to our lives. These sounds play a huge role in our perception and experience of the world and I’m intrigued by how they are now so easily captured, shared and discussed globally by a growing community of recordists using platforms such as soundcloud and audioboo. I guess I do feel a need to document my world through sound as well as photography as it has played such a huge part in it, something that I’d like to think I could share in the future.
I recorded an Eagle bone flute being played in a small village in Ecuador by the last person who knew how to – his sons having no interest in it. These kinds of situations I feel very passionate about, as it’s just nice to think that this sound won’t be lost forever – he was very old at the time and someday that sound will no longer be one heard in the village, but it is documented, maybe that’s important, maybe it’s not…
DS: Does Kinokophone exist, at least in part, as a result of the ease by which we can now record high quality audio in almost any location?
AB: Kinokophone exists out of our love of listening and sharing through sound. This is of course facilitated by modern equipment but I think even if we were still using wax cylinders or the simplest equipment we’d have connected through the great mycelium of sound spores and found ways to share them one way or another.
JT: For me, Kinokophone exists as a result of the passion felt for exploring our sonic world and the ability to share our thoughts and findings. I think were my only option to be running around with a large diaphragm microphone, meters of cable and an electronic cutting turntable, then I would consider it, but it is nice to be able to record discretely using a pocket recorder and a pair of tiny condenser microphones.
On a wider spectrum, the technology that has made field recording more accessible generally, and the way in which digital audio can be disseminated globally plays a significant part in Kinokophone as a community of field recordists. Part of the success of Kinokophonography has been in the ability for us to receive recordings from all over the world, with ease and without loss of quality.
DS: What’s next for Kinokophone?
AB: We are now collaborating with the he Rodgers and Hammerstein Archives of Recorded Sound and the New York Public Library for Performing Arts at Lincoln Center to bring Kinokophonography to New York City. The first NYC event will take place on February 6. Check the Kinophonography page for more information on how to submit your recordings.
Whilst developing a tour Kinokologue once more in the UK, we are also working a new projectcentered around developing a new installation inspired by Kinokologue. This time we’re making a bespoke piece to house a community sound archive created in collaboration with local residents.
JT: On top of producing a UK tour of the Kinokologue, we are working on developing the concept to explore our ideas in how we organize collections, present them and share thoughts on what it means to have hard drives full of data capable of once again becoming sound.
We also just like to play with making this exploration interactive and how to create mixers/instruments out of field recordings and old bits of library furniture…
Many thanks to Amanda and Jon