Field recordings - ala conversations and sampling questions?

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T-rex
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Field recordings - ala conversations and sampling questions?

Post by T-rex » Mon Jan 24, 2011 5:11 pm

So I am going to start a new project. The impetus for it was the phrase, "Espionage is Forever" (also the name of the band/album) which I heard Stella Rimington say in an NPR interview. I have been messing with a bunch of ideas in my spare non-recording time and since I am no singer, I am going to record some spoken word from some literary friends and put music to them, kind of a total mish mash of stuff.

One of the things I would like top do, in the spirit of the concept, is record random conversations on buses, malls, my daughter singing gibberish, etc. and sample them. Anyone have any advice on the legality of this type of thing? I would be sampling someone speaking. Clearly though I am not going to carry a waiver around and randomly ask people to sign it; and if I did that wouldn't be very espionage-y would it?

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Post by Gregg Juke » Mon Jan 24, 2011 8:08 pm

Not that most people are going to know, but technically, they would _minimum_ need to sign a waiver/release form. If you were a journalist in pursuit of a story, but a recording that is going to be released on a (presumably) for profit album...

What might be better is to do your surreptitious recordings, pick the best bits, then get some actors (or even "cast" a bunch of friends) to re-create the dialogue in studio (or even out on the street with cars driving by, recorded to cassette; whatever you want). Use the "spy" conversations as a jump-off or a script that you'll have control over.

They'll still sound real enough, I'm sure, and it's easy to "dirty-up" a recording that is clean, rather than make a lousy recording sound intelligible.

GJ

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T-rex
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Post by T-rex » Tue Jan 25, 2011 7:19 am

Also, I wouldn't use someone's actual conversation, more like a cut and paste of words or maybe bits and pieces, but good suggestion, maybe I will just script it based on what I hear. . .

inasilentway
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Post by inasilentway » Tue Jan 25, 2011 1:49 pm

A friend recorded some chatter in an Apple store to open a record that's about to come out (nationally distributed on a major indie). it's the sound of many many voices that crossfades into the first song. at one point amongst the din, you can very clearly hear the phrase "two-year contract" pop out, and for some reason every time I wait for it. it's compelling and entirely accidental, just happened to be the best snippet of random mall sound he got that day.

It would be damn near impossible to create from scratch or recreate that moment. Most likely it was a totally unmemorable 30 seconds for the several dozen people who "appear" on the record, except maybe the person getting an iPhone. That's the point of a field recording, to capture a sensory experience that would have been fleeting and place it in a context that allows you to appreciate a natural sound, and chance is an inseparable part of it.

If that's the sound you want on your project, you should do it and shove the guilty feelings and worrying about legalities aside. On the spectrum of sampling misdemeanors it falls way below the threshold of even something like chopping up drum breaks. It is practically a victimless crime. You even acknowledge that espionage is the whole concept, and part of the thrill of spying is the fear of getting caught and being good enough at it that you won't.

On the other hand, if you want to do a Dark Side of the Moon thing, that would be really awesome too, but I wouldn't waste time re-recording things when you could be making fresh stuff. like anything else, start doing something and then use your ears to tell you if it works.
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Post by jgimbel » Tue Jan 25, 2011 7:53 pm

inasilentway wrote:If that's the sound you want on your project, you should do it and shove the guilty feelings and worrying about legalities aside. On the spectrum of sampling misdemeanors it falls way below the threshold of even something like chopping up drum breaks. It is practically a victimless crime. You even acknowledge that espionage is the whole concept, and part of the thrill of spying is the fear of getting caught and being good enough at it that you won't.
That's pretty much my point of view. To me it's the same idea as a pro graffiti artist. Not just people who graffiti here and there and that's the end, but people who are essentially becoming known as great graffiti artists, having great photos taken and having art shows, etc. Yes, it's illegal, but like your project, that's part of the intent. Yes, they could technically do graffiti on their own property or on canvas and get a similar result visually (sonically in your case if you tried to recreate it) but it's just..not the same thing.

I also look at it the same as one of my hobbies, which is photography of abandoned places (shameless plug - http://www.flickr.com/photos/jessegimbe ... 565158579/). It's definitely illegal, allowing myself often to be tempted by "private property" or "no trespassing" signs. I could take pictures from the outside of these buildings, but the pith of it is what's inside - the things that people leave behind, the way that moss grows or paint peels after decades of being unseen by anyone. For your project, the pith is the fact that it's being recorded without notice and is therefore uncensored - you act or talk a lot differently when you know what you say or do is going to live on potentially forever. And the fact that it's the real world, a real place, in THAT space. It gets a little trickier if you're having whole conversations or very clear parts of people's speech, versus things that are in the background or mashed up somehow. This is not the legal way of thinking about it, but the people you recorded may never hear the material. If they do, they may not remember it's them. Even if you said "this song contains field recordings of people at ________ on _____ date, it seems unlikely they would connect "hey I was there at that time, that could be me!". And the small chance that people would, I'd bet they'd think that's cool, and possibly brag about it, in a "that song was written about me" way. Just my two cents.
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Post by signorMars » Tue Jan 25, 2011 9:09 pm

You may be able to get by on the same laws that allow paparazzi to photograph celebs in public and people to videotape you getting it on on a public beach and sell it to a porn site. In most states, you are only protected from filming, photographing and recording in areas where you have a "reasonable expectation of privacy," like your home, a private building, closed hotel room, etc. In a mall, you have no reasonable expectation of privacy. This is also why the news can film anywhere they want, any time. Waivers/releases would be more just to cover your ass. (Of course, none of this is legal advice... just opinion. Don't sue me if you get sued)
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