Field recording isn’t just an empty exercise. It can change how you think. Just listen to Chris Watson, who records nature for a living: “Listening in a positive way – that is, actively taking the decision to focus on certain things and reject others … stimulates my thought process. It makes me think more laterally about problem solving. It makes me think in a different way.”

You may have seen this video as it’s been online for some time, but even then it’s probably worth re-watching. Because not only does it talk about the best mic technique for focusing on bits of the outdoor world or going underwater, but it extends those ideas to reveal something about the philosophy of listening to your environment.

“The whole world changes” – that might be the essence of why music composition is a way of contemplating our place in the world. Music isn’t just a hobby for specialists. Through both technology and technique, we can transform our perception of the world around us. It’s meditation.

Transhumanism, this idea of being slightly more than the everyday human we are – of advancing our own evolution – takes on special meaning when you add senses beyond what we’re born with. It’s more than just the technology, but listening (as Chris says, once you’re turned on, you can’t turn off).

So it’s worth checking out Jonáš Gruska’s new record, a set of field recordings using his electromagnetic-sensing musical instrument, the Electrosluch.

There, you get to “hear” a train ride in an entirely new way.

I used Jonáš’ instrument in a different way. Going around my neighborhood, on the normally typical activities like using the BVG ticket machine or riding a tram, I had a similar experience – not only did I feel I was “hearing” the hum of electromagnetic activity around me, but I started to “see” the flow of electricity through the outside world. A quiet, dark street at night was vibrating with activity in a way I had never imagined before. And I started picking out bits of melody from those experiences. Using Pure Data and a Novation Circuit, I took those recordings and used them as raw musical materials in a performance. (The effect is slightly lost here because you don’t get the subwoofers of the club. But the club name was perfect – Ohm, so named because it’s located in the former battery room of the power plant that contains Tresor and Kraftwerk Berlin.)

Thanks to Pi Electronics and Liber Null for hosting this performance (and a workshop on unstable systems and Pure Data I taught):

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