‘Architect of Sound‘ talks to Jez riley French: Field Recordist, Sound Artist, Photographer and creator of his own microphones. Today we learn about his passion for Field Recording, working alongside Chris Watson and future projects with his daughter, the artist Pheobe riley Law. Enjoy!
Aos. When did you first realise you had a Passion for listening to sound and Field Recording?
JrF: i’ve always had a strong interest in music & for my 12th birthday my mother bought me a guitar and a portable tape recorder. I used that to record music from the radio but also started recording sounds in the garden and around the house. I guess my early music experiences also led to me thinking that ‘anything is music’ & so abstract sounds became as interesting and engaging as more conventional, structured musical forms. I should also say however that this was all something personal – for a long time I had no connection to any wider ‘field recording’ world. Sure I stumbled across music / sound work that included elements of field recording but I didn’t perceive it as a genre or specific practice. I think I would have found that overly restrictive at the time, and indeed still do.
Aos. What influenced you to choose a career in Field recording?
JrF: well, that’s not really how things worked for me. I have a ‘career’ because of my personal enjoyment of listening rather than because I aimed to have a career in it, if you see what I mean. It’s great that can earn a living from something I enjoy but i’d still do it even if I couldn’t. In that sense it wasn’t a career choice as such.
Aos. Have you ever played any Musical Instruments?
If so which Instruments did you play and were you in any bands?
JrF: yes, i’ve been an improvising musician and intuitive composer since my early teens. I play a variety of instruments inc. guitar, piano, dulcitone, shamisen, zithers (inc. guzheng), cello, chimes etc. & also extended techniques inc. creating textures from small objects (stones, shells, salt, paper, glass etc). I guess i built a decent profile in the improvised music scene over the years, performing both solo and alongside all kinds of interesting musicians around the world, but in recent years i’ve been so busy with other things that I haven’t been as active in that role. I have also been in bands over the years. Early on I was in a new wave / post punk band, later I was a founding member of Misshapen Lodge (an improvising post rock group inc. members of Fonda 500 & Pavement). I’m a member of Coast Guard All Stars – a yorkshire based improvising collective inc. Philip Thomas, Martin Archer, Stephen Chase etc.
Aos. Who or what inspires you?
JrF: my main inspirations in life are my daughter and my mother and the various things i’ve learnt from them on a personal level. In a wider sense i get inspired by the exploration involved in sound and in the act of listening – but that only really happens in those rare moments where any skill one has is not in control and a more intuitive response to a place or situation interacts with chance.
Aos. We understand you travel to various locations all over the world for Field recording. Is their any particular location, setting or country you enjoy the most for capturing a specific sound or field recording?
JrF: Not really & to be honest that’s not really how I can work. I never go somewhere with an aim – to me that can be the opposite of being ready to experience what is there. I go to a place to be there & if there are sounds that interest me its a bonus. In that sense everywhere can be as exciting / interesting as anywhere else. There are places I like in a more general sense & that have also offered up interesting sounds – but for me the good stuff is really about specific moments rather than locations.
Aos. We understand you lecture and teach workshops in various parts of the world, you also work alongside Field recordist Chris Watson. Have you learnt more about the craft of Field recording teaching and having a working relationship alongside Chris Watson?
JrF: the good things about the workshops i’m involved in is that they are much more than ‘teacher / student’ style. They’re an exchange of ideas & everyone learns. My opinion is once you think you know it all you might as well give up as you’ve forgotten the most important things anyway. Working alongside Chris has been a pleasure & I think we work well as a team as we’re both open to sharing what we’ve learnt over the years and have complimentary approaches to the various reasons people are interested in field recording. We’re both also very interested in the deeper research into how and why we, as a species, listen and the ways in which we both limit and can expand that experience.
Aos. Which do you prefer and why? Wildlife or Landscape ambiences?
JrF: For the reasons mentioned above I don’t really think of sound in these terms. I have no preference for one type of soundscape than another – all sounds can be both boring and interesting depending on the situation. As I said, for me its specific experiences that are most interesting to me & they can last a few minutes or a few hours. What I will say is that i’ve always been more interested in durational listening & so when I say ‘moments’ I do mean those times when an environment holds once (should be ones) attention and imposes itself on one.
Aos. Would you advise any young student interested in Field Recording or Sound to simply study a BA (HONS) Degree or a MSC Masters in a Sound related field or can you learn about this craft of your own back without higher Education?
JrF: I didn’t go to Uni or have any formal education in terms of music / sound / field recording, so i’d have to say that it is entirely possible to do so. In fact i’m rather of the opinion that its the stuff that can’t be learnt in a formal setting that is most important. Field recording for example is a technologically democratic activity – anyone can buy some kit & go out and record & anyone can read the manuals or the books on the various approaches, but the reason one recordist / artists work is theirs comes from factors that are from elsewhere. Its a bit of a problem with the current boom in field recording – there’s a lot of work out there that I would describe as documentary (& there’s nothing wrong with that per say) but if ones work is to be more than that (sound art for example) it has to include aspects which are of the self or have a sense of a personality to them.
Aos. You sell hand-crafted Hydrophones. I bought one myself and it has been great to use, thanks. What is your favourite bit of equipment for Field Recording?
JrF: I don’t really have a favourite as my interest changes with each location / situation. I do tend to always have with me the following:
coil pick ups
BBi & Rycote wind protection
& I use Sound Devices recorders. In terms of conventional mics I do use the DPA4060’s a lot (small omni’s) & also for the last few years i’ve been using a Sanken CUW180 stereo mic a lot.
Aos. What Music or Sounds do you like to listen too?
JrF: As I mentioned earlier I have a strong interest in music across most genres (though contemporary pop & urban music doesn’t interest me): classical, jazz, traditional music from around the world (particularly from Indonesia and Japan and other Asian cultures), experimental, independent music (when that term actually meant released on independent labels) etc.
Aos. Any up and coming projects you are working on for the future we should keep an eye-out for?
JrF: well, i’ve just started a publishing imprint with my daughter, the artist Pheobe riley Law. We’ve issued 4 photobooks so far: 2 by myself with accompanying cd’s ‘Dissolves’ & ‘Beam / Charcoal’ & 2 by Pheobe ‘Dials’ & ‘Desire Lines’. I have a few commissions over the next few months inc. a piece for the newly refurbished Whitworth Gallery in Manchester. I’m also still working on new releases of some major projects:
teleferica – recordings of these stunning, sonorous structures in Italy.
Iceland – recordings from 3 trips to Iceland.
Audible Silence – recordings of architectural structures resonating.
Adagios – Orchestral works recorded through the resonant surfaces of the performance spaces.