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Field recording of natural sounds, also called phonography (a term chosen to illustrate its similarities to photography), was originally developed as a documentary adjunct to research work in the field, and foley work for film. With the introduction of high-quality, portable recording equipment, it has subsequently become an evocative artform in itself. In the 1970s, both processed and natural phonographic recordings, (pioneered by Irv Teibel's Environments series), became popular.
"Field recordings" may also refer to simple monaural or stereo recordings taken of musicians in familiar and casual surroundings, such as the ethnomusicology recordings pioneered by John Lomax, Nonesuch Records, and Vanguard Records.
Field recording often involves the capture of ambient noises that are low level and complex, and, in response, the requirements from the field recordist have often pushed the technical limits of recording equipment, that is, demanding low noise and extended frequency response in a portable, battery-powered unit. For this reason, field recordists have favoured high-quality (usually professional) recorders, microphones, and microphone pre-amplifiers. The history of the equipment used in this area closely tracks the development of professional portable audio recording technology.
Field recording is typically recorded in the same channel format as the desired result, for instance, stereo recording equipment will yield a stereo product. In contrast, a multitrack remote recording captures many microphones on multiple channels, later to be creatively modified, augmented, and mixed down to a specific consumer format.
Field recording experienced a rapid increase in popularity during the early 1960s, with the introduction of high-quality, portable recording equipment, (e.g., the Uher, and Nagra portable reel-to-reel decks). The arrival of the DAT (Digital Audio Tape) in the 1980s introduced a new level of audio recording fidelity with extended frequency response and low self-noise. In addition to these technologies, other popular means for field recording have included the analog cassette (CAC), the DCC (Digital Compact Cassette), and the MiniDisc. The latest generation of recorders are completely digital-based (hard disk/Flash). It is also possible to use personal electronic devices, (e.g., a smartphone or tablet), with software, to do field recording and editing.
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