3 Questions with…Des Coulame

Over the next four days, as we build-up to In the Field (15th and 16th Feb), I will be catching up with some of the organisers and speakers of the Symposium to ask them 3 quick questions on their love of field recording and on the Symposium in particular.

We are opening this interview countdown with Des Coulam, a dedicated recordist with a career spanning over fifty years.  British born, for the last fifteen years Des has lived in Paris, where he has devoted his time to recording and archiving the contemporary sounds of the city – capturing its varied sound tapestry more comprehensively than it was ever done before.   The results are posted regularly on the wonderfully thorough and inspiring Soundlandscapes Blog and on Des’ official website.

1) How did you first become involved in field recording?

I can give you the exact date when I first became interested in recording sound.  It was Christmas Day 1958.  I woke up to find that Father Christmas had brought me a tape recorder.  If I’d been ask to make a list of 100 things I wanted for Christmas, a tape recorder would not have featured.  But there it was and I was captivated by it … and I’ve been captivated by recording sound ever since.  In life, our passions seem to ebb and flow but my passion for recording sound has never wavered.

I got into field recording many years later after I’d saved up enough money to buy a Uher portable tape recorder.  It was more than I could afford at the time but I still have it and it’s given me many hours of pleasure.

Today, I live in Paris and I’m lucky enough to be able to spend most of my time recording and archiving the soundscapes of Paris.   Field recording is a broad church and I’m privileged to occupy a small part of it.

2) Sneak preview: what can the In The Field audience expect from your talk?

In my talk I shall set out how a lifelong interest in sound recording has developed into a method of recording sound with a purpose, producing a systematic sonic record of Paris.  I shall cover the what, why and how of recording the urban soundscape of Paris and explore how the work has developed.  My approach is within the tradition of the late nineteenth and early twentieth-century Parisian street photographers and I will demonstrate how observation through active listening, adopting the approach of flaneur endlessly walking the streets of Paris, is producing a comprehensive sound tapestry of a city on the cusp of huge changes.

3) What would you like to see come out of the Symposium experience?

First, I would like to see a big ‘Thank You’ to those who came up with the idea for the symposium and to those who have made the arrangements, engaged the speakers and promoted the event – not forgetting of course the audience without whom there would not be a symposium.

Next, this promises to be the sound event of the year.  It’s very rare to have so many people involved in, or interested in, field recording assembled in one place at the same time. Field recording comprises many constituent parts all of which are equally important and all of which are represented at the symposium.  I would like the message to come from the Symposium that field recording has moved from the margins to the mainstream, it’s important and it’s here to stay.

Finally, and most importantly, field recording is not just for the elite, it’s for everybody.  If just one person leaves the symposium inspired by what they’ve heard and goes out, actively listens to the sounds around them and records those sounds then it will all have been worthwhile.


In conversation with La Cosa Preziosa

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