This course was designed for field researcher including video ethnographers and anthropologists following the International Visual Sociology Association conference in Tinos which I attended a number of years ago. I am a professional engineer who has worked as a sound recordist for 30 years and who also studied ethnography as part of my BA with the Open University in the UK.
Whether it’s an observational documentary film or a video ethnographic field research project, the principles of sound acquisition on location remain the same. And no matter how wonderful the subject and visuals are, if the viewer cannot hear what is being said then there will be frustration.
I had the pleasure of meeting Greg Scott who is the director of the Social Science Research Center and an associate professor in the Department of Sociology at DePaul University. He teaches courses on ethnographic documentary film production, photographic/visual sociology, substance use and abuse, underground economies, street gangs, and other topics. And this is what he has to say on the value of quality sound.
‘The reality of the research videographer is that you are filming in places where people live and work, play and fight. You take what you can get. But that is not an excuse for poor preparation and inadequate equipment. The name of the game should really be audiovisual ethnography, because when it comes to both analysis of what you have and the reaction of the viewers, bad sound will hurt you worse that bad picture’¹.
This course pays particular attention to methods of acquiring the best possible sound in any situation in the field. It is suggested that the video camera has a uniquely distorting effect on the researched phenomenon ². Research participants, it is argued, demonstrate a reactive effect to the video process such that data is meaningful only if special precautions are taken to validate it. Strategies suggested include a covert approach to the data collection itself (cf. Eibl-Eibesfeldt and Haass, 1974) ³
If the goal of the researcher is covert recording or to be as unobtrusive as possible then this course will cover the range of equipment and field techniques to achieve this as much as possible. (Please note that in discussions of covert recording video and or audio it is assumed that researchers gain approval and consents and the appropriate code of ethics is adhered to). Whether it’s onsite naturalistic observation using customer encounters to transform brands and products or field observations which are focused on human beings in terms of interviews and capturing interactions or to capture a soundscape – the tools and methods of acquiring sound require a range of equipment and techniques and all the appropriate and possible techniques are covered whether the researcher assumes the role of active or passive participant.
When I started working as a sound recordist 30 years ago it was a very male dominated profession. I was a 5’1″ woman who not only had to learn the nuances of sound recording but also overcome the physicality of the job. There are a number of techniques and tricks in the course which will enable field researchers to feel comfortable with the strenuous and physically demanding aspects to field sound work.
HEIDER, K (1976) Ethnographic Film. Austin (editor) Texas: University of Texas Press.
ALBRECHT, G. (1985) ‘Videotape Safaris: Entering the Field with a Camera’, Qualitative Sociology, vol. 8, no. 4, pp. 325 – 344.