“The microphone is an instrument which acts toward the ear as the microscope does to the eye. It will render evident to us sounds that are otherwise ablolutely inaudible. I have heard myself the tramp of a little fly across a box with a tread almost as loud as that of a horse across a wooden bridge.” W.H. Preece
One of the basic effects of “acousmatic listening” is probably underestimated: hearing our environment at higher volume through the headphones of mobile recording devices, is one of the most revealing experiences. When playing back field recordings of places that we are familiar with, we hear the environment in a different way, deeper, with more detail, with an integral perspective. The type and position of the microphone or the time window we choose of a certain sound recording etc. are already artistic or subjective decisions made during the process of recording, but for the perception of the acousmatic recording the difference in volume compared to the „real“ experience is the most powerful. And this is even more true with recordings of single sound events, that we do in studios with the possibility of close up micing and the exclusion of atmospheric „disturbances“ from background noises. The quietest sounds of any sound bodies can produce a totally different aural image when the level is pushed up to the maximum. It appears to be common sense but we should consider this as one of the strongest instruments of sound manipulation (under the precondition that we do not want to use sound processing like time and pitch change and all the other effects common in digital sound processing today). One example to elucidate this: when I do sound recordings in public places and people approach me that are unfamiliar with what I’m doing, I let them listen through my headphones to the acoustic environment. Because the recording equipment already amplifies the soundscape at a certain level people are mostly very surprised by what they hear. They are able to listen to a well known place in a different way, they hear things they usually do not pay attention to. The headphones and the microphones are like acoustic magnifying glasses, from near by we can hear things that were hidden in the first place.