Acoustethics: Careful Approaches to Recorded Sounds and Their Second Life
This article attempts to rethink some problematic ways and motivations for engaging in (field) recording and working with recorded sounds. Interweaving reflections from my long-term soundscape archiving initiative undertaken in Stockholm, with projects of others aiming at preserving cultures through sound, I reflect upon ethical challenges that emerge against the prospect of second and following lives and deaths of recordings. Does the second life of a recorded event risk replicating power relationships that the original recording was enmeshed in? What can be gained and, more importantly, lost while conceiving a second life of a recorded sound? This article intends to open up an array of such questions which, as I suggest, need to be taken into consideration already before and during the recording process. As a discursive tool that does not resolve those concerns but instead creates space for critical reflection, I propose a concept of acoustethics. In a nutshell, acoustethics, as this portmanteau of acoustics and ethics suggests, is an ethically informed approach to the world’s soundscapes. I argue that any kind of engagement with the auditory world through recording technologies requires careful consideration of multiple agencies contributing to the recorded sound. As a reflective attitude to the sonic realm, acoustethics acknowledges that any recording takes place within already existing fields of relations and simultaneously generates new links between subjects, histories, worldviews, technologies, and other forces. In other words, any recording is intrinsically field recording.