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Art in the Outdoors

By: Joshua Tenebaum
This past week I spent a bit of time developing and furthering my blog post project and compiling photographs and field recordings to showcase to the Venture Outdoors community. Liz Fager and Jessica Wiegand both approached me about writing a blog post to be featured on the Venture Outdoors website. I began reading the other posts to determine an appropriate topic and voice for my writing; I decided to write about art and the outdoors. A rather broad topic, I specifically chose to speak about why I make art, my process, and my impressions of nature whenever I venture outdoors. I started collecting brand new field recordings (or audio recordings that are produced outside of a recording studio applicable to natural and human-produced sounds) of soundscapes, chattering wildlife, and human interactions with nature while out on my walks. I use multiple high-powered microphones in addition to a digital sound recorder which captures low-volume, organic frequencies that would otherwise be inaudible or very quiet to the unaided human ear. Camera slung around my neck, I also try to capture simple impressions of the landscape in a way that’s true to both environment and location. Aesthetic of landscape juxtaposed against audio impression leaves room for listener interpretation and imagination to piece together the sum of both audio and visual parts forming a complete dynamic, multi-sensory image in his or her mind. In my blog post, I am including both field recordings and photographs to give the reader a similar experience to what I experience when I’m out on the trail. 
As a kid, I grew up spending much of my time in the outdoors riding bikes, tramping through neighbors’ yards, climbing trees, swimming at the lake, or hiking to the top of Mt. Davis and scrambling around Baughman Rocks. This early love affair with nature shaped my career path and has been a constant reminder of why I love being outside. Nowadays, I spend much of my time outside making art and documenting what I come across in the field both visual and audible – far from the traditional “outdoorsman.” Most of the time, with both camera and sound recorder in tow, documenting and capturing the field is one of my favorite outdoor activities. In this blog post I will discuss the art I enjoy creating while spending time in the outdoors. 

Sunset over the South Park trails; photograph by Joshua Tenenbaum 

Insects from the South Park Trails; field recording by Joshua Tenebaum

When I’m on a trail with my field recorder and camera, I feel like I’m just as much a part of the environment as the wildlife and anomalies that I am seeking to capture. The way I walk (or stalk), how my microphones are arranged, my location and duration of stay, and purpose or intent all play a large part into the quality and content of my recordings for that day. There are days when I’ll leave the microphones recording and walk far away for a period of time in order to let the sounds of the natural environment come to life without my interference or even presence. It’s only later when I return to the recording at home that I find what I have captured. 

Pond at Montour Woods Conservation Area; photograph by Joshua Tenenbaum 

Amphibians at Montour Woods; field recording by Joshua Tenebaum 

The reason sound and photograph are so interesting to me is that these media retell the story of the environment to people who may otherwise not have the opportunity or physical ability to go outdoors and enjoy everything that nature has to offer. Oftentimes you can hear and see the wonders of nature from your own backyard. The next field recording was taken from my backyard – the sound of motors, wind, and a variety of close and distant birds creates space and dynamics for which the listener can recreate the environment within their heads.  

American Goldfinch in backyard tree; photograph by Joshua Tenenbaum

Backyard Bird Calling and Motors; field recording by Joshua Tenebaum

Creating abstract pieces that leave the listener or observer to their own imaginations is far more powerful than trying to reiterate emotion or image through words. 

A favorite field of mine to record at; photograph by Joshua Tenenbaum
American Robin; photograph by Joshua Tenenbaum
View of the reservoir at the top of Oakland; photograph by Joshua Tenenbaum

Object manipulations; field recordings by Joshua Tenenbaum 


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