Recorded sound most definitely triggers memories; and as I listen to some recordings I made last year I am returned to those spots. I can again see and hear the activities around me; and have the feel of the place and my own feelings return to me from those moments. But I am learning that the experience brings more.
I take a lot of photographs, and I find that taking the time to capture a place in pictures enhances my experience of that place; there and then – not just later when I look at the photographs. Doing so I am surveying the area to see what’s actually there, composing a scene, capturing that light at just the right moment and more. I learnt this in a photography class I took many years ago in New Mexico; our instructor was extolling the virtues of using a tripod for landscape photography. The key benefit was the added stability, and that this was necessary to obtain pin-sharp photographs. But the other benefit was that it slowed you down. It forced you to take in more of the place as you “settled in” to make the most of a particular view or element in the landscape.
It is the same with sound recording, and the benefits are enhanced because with sound you are not just taking a photograph; you are taking in 5, 10, 30 minutes of what that space has to offer in sound. And in addition to having a tripod (though for a different reason), you should also have your headphones. So you sit there, looking slightly eccentric, possibly with your eyes closed, and just listen.
I have found that listening with headphones while I record to be a transformational experience. It connects me immediately and intimately with what I am recording; with the soundscape. It centres and focuses me on listening. The microphones help with this, as they are able to pick up sounds that we might miss, but I believe the real effect comes from the concentration, and the enjoyment that follows.
Headphones are useful in the field anyway of course; they help ensure that the levels for the recorder are set appropriately. But the real value for me comes in enhancing the experience. I have spoken to others recently about this and they agree that this makes the experience itself more memorable.
So, it’s a virtuous circle. The experience itself is improved, and the recording will only help to bring back a stronger memory when it is listened to later.