Dan Misener likes the radio

Among other things, Dan is a public radio producer.

Friday, November 26, 2004

Audio lomography

Ever since I first heard about it last November, I’ve liked the idea of lomography – people documenting their lives with toy cameras. Moreso than the lo-tech approach, it’s the philosophy that appeals to me:
Lomography emphasizes shoot-from-the-hip photography. Over-saturated colors, lens artifacts, and exposure defects are used to produce artistic, abstract effects and are prized by practitioners. Others use the technique to document everyday life because the small camera size and ability to shoot in low light encourages candid photography, photo reportage and photo vérité. The lomography credo "don't think, just shoot" encourages spontaneity, close-ups, ubiquity, and randomness.
This is cool. Problem is, I’m not a very visual guy. So I’ve been thinking about how the principles of lomography can be applied to audio. Can photographic techniques be applied to the temporal world of radio? I think so. The aim of lomography is to celebrate and document life by viewing it in new and exciting ways. Radio producers would do well to try this out – to start hearing the world in new and exciting ways. There are lots of ways to tell an audio story. Why not invent a new one? So then, after a week of thought and experimentation, I’ve drawn up some thoughts about “audio lomography,” based on (and borrowing heavily from) the 10 Golden Rules of Lomography. Here they are:

The 10 Golden Rules of Audio Lomography

1. Take your recorder everywhere you go

This part is not hard. My MD recorder is small enough to fit in my pocket. Most modern devices (MD, flash, dictation recorders, etc.) are tiny compared to the Nagras of old. Many have microphones built-in. I was able to pick up a small 3-inch omnidirectional mic for next to nothing. It works great. Whatever you use to record, bring it with you. This isn't a technical exercise. Don’t be too concerned with achieving broadcast quality. Some of the best tape I have exists only on minicassettes from a dictation machine.

2. Record anytime – day and night

Record when there’s something interesting happening. And when there isn’t. When you listen back, you’ll be amazed at what you tuned out the first time.

3. Audio lomography is not interference in your life, but part of it

If this were film, it’d be cinéma vérité. Tape is cheap. Make taping part of your life. Listening back at night is a great way to reflect on the day.

4. Try the “shot from the hip”

Photo lomographers don’t look through the viewfinder. Don’t use headphones. Headphones just slow you down and make you hyper-aware of what your recorder is picking up. Where’s the fun in that?

5. Play with perspective

Put your microphone where your ears don’t ordinarily go. Get too close, or too far away. Get down low, or way up high.

6. Don’t think

If you have to ask yourself, “Should I be taping this?” the answer is yes.

7. Be fast

This is probably the most difficult part for me. Many of the record functions on my MD recorder are buried in menus. To start recording, I have to press End Search, Pause and Record at the same time, Mode, then Pause again. Learn the controls of your device. Make them second nature. Sometimes I just walk around with my MD armed to record, so I only have to press Pause to start recording. Again, don’t wear headphones. They’ll only slow you down.

8. You don’t have to know beforehand what you captured on film

You’re not compiling an SFX collection. Don’t take copious notes. Ignore track numbers.

9. Afterwards either

Enjoy listening back. Don’t worry about piecing everything together. Transcribe nothing.

10. Don’t worry about any rules

Experiment. Enjoy. Open your ears. The rest will follow.

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