Photo by Richard Gomez Angel / Unsplash

Out of all of our senses, sound can be a powerful and nostalgic feeling. Just as smell can trigger distinct memories, sound also has the ability to make us envision past events.

The presence of sound is generally connected to a physical location, creating an invisible map inside your head. Certain sounds can translate into visual cues to help remember and distinguish unique or memorable places. Sound itself can come in many forms and be applied to both creative and scientific experimentations.


Close your eyes and picture you’re at the beach or in the middle of a forest with trees towering over your head. What kind of sounds would you hear? Maybe you’ll hear the sound of waves crashing to the shore or seagulls squawking over a bag of chips. You can hear the wind rustling through the leaves and the snap of small branches and twigs under your feet.

The collections of these isolated sounds can be defined as soundscapes. In more detailed terms, soundscapes are the sounds that arise from a variety of landscapes. The landscapes themselves don’t always have to be related to the natural world and can be applied to sounds created by humans as well (ie: cities or a conversation between people.) Soundscapes are meant to be immersive experiences that transport you into an environment without having to physically be in that space.

Field Recordings

Where as soundscapes are about the sensation of being in an environment, field recordings are the more direct method or technique of recording ambient sounds.

Field recordings can be connected to field research where both terms relate to collecting information outside of a lab or workplace setting, making the location of the recording specific to the research subject. From animal habitats to cultural communities, field recordings can be used for ecological (relationship between environment and living organisms) to ethnological (studying differences in human characteristics) purposes.

Photo from Library of Congress / CC BY-SA

The sounds from the respective environments would hold distinctive characteristics that reflect those settings, for example, a field recording of a rainforest could have the sounds of a waterfall and chirping birds. With that auditory information, a researcher would be able to document unique natural landmarks and the day to day lives of the animals and organisms living within a rainforest.

Field recordings can also be applied to the context of music and music history. The term ethnomusicology refers to the study of music from different cultures. Stemming from a history of folklore preservation, the musical context of field recordings have adapted into recorded sounds that exist outside the production of a recording studio. The equipment behind field recordings have also adapted and changed over time based on the accessibility and portability of modern technology, which we’ll discuss later on.

Sound Art

Along with utilizing sound as a form of documentation, you can adversely create landscapes from a soundscape. Similar to a guided meditation, you can be directed towards a new space that is different from the space you are currently in. A soundwalk would have the opposite effect, as you would focus intently on the sounds within a natural environment. The focus on sound itself has been the subject of sound art which often incorporates more than one medium.

The term sound art was coined in the early 1980s in a curated group show by William Hellermann. Hellermann described hearing as “another form of seeing.” Although sound art had existed before then, with John Cage’s historical composition 4’33” as an example, a performance that contained Cage sitting still at his piano for a full 4 minutes and 33 seconds.

As technology advanced and more and more technological components like kinetic sculptures to digital recorders were incorporated into artists’ work, sound art continued to isolate sound itself as an art form and manipulate the viewer’s perception of sound and the space it exists in.

Foley Sound

Rather than incorporating raw, natural sounds into a piece, those everyday sounds can be reproduced to enhance sound design.

Photo from Vancouver Film School / CC BY-SA 2.0

This method of sound production is commonly used in the film industry by foley artists. Foley is the process of creating sound effects in film and media. As early films lacked sound, the introduction of “talkies” helped bring recorded sound and soundtracks into the singularly visual medium. Although the art of silent film was lost, the combination of sound and image led to more immersive experience for viewers.

Using Tools for Sound Production

If you’re interested in creating your own sound pieces and soundscapes, you’ll need some tools to get you started.

Take into consideration what kind of sounds you want to record, then find the right equipment to capture them. All of the equipment may not be accessible in terms of price and usability, although you can use whatever resources around you to document the sounds you’re interested in. You can use tools like the ones below to create and record sounds:

  • iPhones – With the advances of modern technology as previously mentioned, our phones can be convenient recording devices that help capture sounds without the need for technical equipment.
  • Today’s musicians are even incorporating their phones as a recording/studio tool, which makes it an accessible, creative tool for anyone to use. There are also microphone attachments equipped for smartphone use which can help enhance the quality of your sound.

    Photo by Oscar Ivan Esquivel Arteaga / Unsplash

  • Portable Recorders – Portable recorders are easy to use, compact, and come in a wide variety of models for beginning field recorders. You’ll be able to capture high quality sounds directly on the equipment in different situations and volumes. From instrumentation to outdoor settings, most recorders will automatically record in mp3 and WAV formats for easy access.

  • Shotgun Microphones – These kinds of microphones are designed for recording directional sounds. If you want to concentrate on a single sound, shotgun microphones help zero in that one source, eliminating any unwanted background noises.

This content is from the course SoundFor more information on different recording equipment and techniques for beginners, go here.

Sound has an aspect of being in a state of wandering and aimless discovery. Keep experimenting with different sounds, melodies, and other arrangements you can come up with. Whether it be in the form of scientific research or a multi-media installation, sound can create new and familiar worlds to get lost in.

This section is from the course Introduction to Sound and Acoustic Sketching by University of Saint Joseph. To learn more about the terms and techniques to enhance the quality of your sound production, enroll in the course below:

Introduction to Sound and Acoustic Sketching

University of Saint Joseph