I began making ambient field recordings, primarily in desert landscapes, in 2012 as a way to think more carefully about sensory landscapes in general and acoustic desert landscapes in particular. There are many “signature sounds” that emerge in my recordings and that are found in the late ancient monastic texts I study (e.g., croaking ravens, howling winds). I seek out settings that are rich with a variety of environmental and “natural” sounds yet free from anthropogenic sounds (e.g., roads, planes). Such locations are increasingly difficult to find: In Israel, the flight traffic and military practice pose particular challenges; in the Southwest USA, car noise, chainsaws, and so forth are a regular intrusion. And yet some of our ancient texts also talk about hearing the sounds of war and mobs in the midst of a quiet desert landscape, so such tensions between quiet natural landscapes and human noise are not a new development. Recording in “quiet” desert landscapes also poses special technological challenges. In many examples, you will have to listen very closely (preferably with headphones) to capture the variety of ambient environmental sounds.
I make most of my recordings on a Sounds Devices 702 digital recorder and two Sennheiser MKH20 Omni-directional microphones–a portable and lightweight set-up that allows me to hike long distances if necessary. In the summer of 2012, I borrowed two microphones from Cornell University’s Lab of Ornithology Macaulay Library (http://macaulaylibrary.org/); a few of the Southwest recordings were made with their Sennheiser M-S microphone pair. I’m very grateful to Greg Budney and Bill McQuay for their loan of that equipment, their help and interest, and for their expert teaching of the Macaulay Library’s Sound Recording Workshop, which I attended in June, 2013.