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June 11, 2010

Street Recording – What’s in a Name?

by soundlandscapes

What is “street recording”? This is a question that I have wrestled with for a long time. I know what I mean by “street recording” but how do I explain it to others?

The term “street recording” is ambiguous for the simple reason that the kind of recording I do does not always take place in the street. A recording made inside a café, a brasserie, a station or inside the Louvre is self-evidently not a recording made in a street. So, thinking of “street recording” in a literal sense is misleading. Is there a better term to describe the recording that I do?

“Ambient sound recording” is an alternative that is sometimes used and it is a useful term. According to my dictionary, “ambient” is defined as, “designating or pertaining to the immediate environment”. That definition certainly has a resonance which relates to my recording work.

“Phonography” is another possible alternative. My dictionary is not particularly helpful here giving a rather narrow definition, “the science or practice of transcribing speech by means of symbols representing elements of sound”. However, the root of “phonography” is interesting – “phono” meaning sound and “graphy” meaning writing. So we could think of phonography as “sound writing”. Wikipedia expands on this by referring to phonography as, “a neologism used by some to refer to field recording 

Whatever I may choose to call it, the type of sound recording I do is best summed up for me not in my words but in the words of the legendary French street photographer, Robert Doisneau, who for six decades cast his net in still waters, light years away from the predatory news photographers of today. Doisneau delighted in gleaning the instant. Clear of gaze, a man with a winning smile,  he liked to say;

“I never noticed time passing, I was too taken up with the spectacle offered by my contemporaries, that gratuitous, never-ending show for which no ticket is needed”.*

Whatever name one chooses to call it, it is precisely that gratuitous, never-ending show for which no ticket is needed that I try to capture in sound. Suddenly, attaching a name to it doesn’t seem to be all that important. 

*Quoted from “Robert Doisneau 1912-1994” by Jean-Claude Gautrand; published by Taschen

For more information about Robert Doisneau go to:



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