The evolution of Radio is now over 80 years old. From the earliest days, animated and supported by its development, amateurs devoted themselves to sound recording. In the thirties they slaved away with clumsy gramophone recording equipment hauling it by hand cart to each venue. These primitive devices were later superseded my recorders using magnetic steel wire; some models prior to WW II might even be called "portable".
The French and Swiss radio corporations (which have always had a great interest in amateur recording activities) have been broadcasting special programmes for amateurs since as early as 1948. However, amateur sound recording did not make good progress until the early fifties when modern tape and tape recorders began to become available. French Radio, on the invitation of Jean Thévenot, promoted an amateur recording contest in 1950 in which amateurs from Switzerland also competed. In 1951 it was Switzerland (under René Monat) who organised the second contest.
In 1952 the door was opened for all. The first International Amateur Recording Contest (IARC) was held at Lausanne in Switzerland. Amateur tape recordists from all over Europe took part. The first prize winner was a student, Stefan Kudelski, who entered the competition with a home-made spring-driven tape recorder. The machine was called NAGRA (from the Polish to record) and the former student is now head of a leading company near Lausanne which is manufacturing high quality machines for radio, television and film companies as well as serious amateurs the world over.
Consequently, clubs for amateur recordists, often calling themselves sound hunters, sprang up; the first ones in France and Switzerland followed quickly by other countries. These local clubs joined together to form national associations and in 1956 (on October 21st in Paris) the associations came together to found the Fédération International des Chasseurs de Sons (FICS) (or Internationsl Federation of Sound Hunters in English). The founders were radio experts Jean Thévenot from France, and René Monat and Fredy Weber from Switzerland who had been encouraging and overseeing the sound hunters movement from the very beginning.
The statutes on the inception of the federation were:
The 50th IARC was held in Cardiff in 2001. The forty-nine previous ones were held in various European countries, mostly at the studios of the radio stations in the host countries, although this is becoming less common now.
Currently eight national associations are members of FICS (see home page) and there are correspondents in some other countries.
Contact between amateurs in the various countries has been kept alive by the interchange of audio tapes, cassettes and videotapes either in the form of 'round robins' circulating amongst members or by subscription to pre-recorded cassettes of members' work circulating on a regular basis. Contact is also made by 'tapesponding' - corresponding by tape rather than by letter and in person at annual contests (like the IARC) and other meetings and events.
Although tape is still used, the emphasis is now on digital optical media (CD, DVD) and solid state recording (computers and recorders using memory cards). Communication is now via the internet which facilitates sharing and downloading of digital recordings.
What Is The Sound Hunter Doing Anyway?
He chases sounds! Not only the songs of birds in the woods, as perhaps, most people think (although this is very important as, unfortunately, many species are becoming extinct). Every type of sound is of interest to sound hunters. Many of them own extensive archives filled with animal and human sounds, household noises, industrial and traffic activity, the diverse voices of nature (wind, water, thunderstorms, avalanches, etc.). Even more: many amateur recordists are experts in producing artificial sounds which often sound more natural than the original. Furthermore, many have remarkable collections of music recordings. Many kinds of LPs and CDs enlarge their collection, having at hand all genres of music.
What to do with this “raw material”? In his sound studio (there are all grades from a simple cassette recorder up to a professionally equipped business) he creates sound montages. He shapes voices, music and appropriate noises by skillfully mixing them into new works such as features, audio plays, small sketches or fantastic stories. With careful manipulation of his equipment he gets unfamiliar, strange sound effects. This calls for technical know-how, dexterity and, in above all, imagination and creativity. These are the products which take part in the IARC and are broadcast regularly by various European radio stations, so reaching a wide audience.
Other amateurs specialise in recording live musical performances, often getting commissions from local groups to record their performances. Some of these recordings are appearing on CD and are being broadcast on Radio or Television.
Many sound amateurs exchange their works between themselves, for instance as round robins. These are tapes, cassettes, mini-discs or CDs circulating amongst a given group of people. They deal with particular topics like music (classical, pop, folk or rock music - these are normally live recoirdings due to the illegality of copying pre-recorded music), cabaret, theatre, tourism, etc. Round robins on a technical theme are particularly popular; these feature reports from exhibitions where equipment from the hi-fi and recording industries is shown (e.g. APRS, AES, Frankfurter Musikmesse, etc.), or the results of experiments with particular instruments. The recipients of such round robins have the opportunity to add their own contributions or to ask questions. Video round robins are circulating in the same way; for example “Hamburger Monatsschau”, the magazine tape “This is South Africa” or “Technik Video” and “Rendex-vous on Video”.
“Sound Corresponding” (formerly “Tapesponding”) is very popular. instead of putting a letter on paper, the sound hunter uses his audio system. He speaks in his own voice to the addressee. He may include characteristic sounds from his neighbourhood, remarks made by friends; he may add some appealing music (copyright laws permitting). Such correspondence is much livelier than a written letter because the voice of the sender reflects his mood. Even closer contact is established by the use of video which is becoming more and more popular amongst sound-friends.
The IARC also has a category for “Multimedia” which replaced “Diaporama” (tape/slide shows with an extra track on the tape to control two or more projectors in superimposition mode). This modus operandi facilitates extraordinary artistic performances. The blending together of still picture and sound can lead to very impressive works of art. The multimedia category captures such works on video or DVD media.
Why video and multimedia amongst sound amateurs? Both are fields where sound is an essential and indispensable means of expression. When it comes to sound recording, sound assembling and reproduction, sound huntrers are experts. besides, this will prevent sound hunters becoming “blind moles with big ears”. They want to integrate and use at least two of the five human senses in their hobby. The exchange of video cassettes and DVDs is no real problem and more as most households now have a video recorder and the recordings can be watched on a tv set without trouble.
It is interesting to note that the first video recording appeared in the IARC in 1970 - at a time when there was hardly one machine on the market that was suitable for amateur use at an affordable price. This shows that amateurs are always looking for new forms of expression which enable them to devote their creativity to the utmost like today. Amateurs have been using PCM digital recorders since 1983 and are embracing the latest computer technology with open arms.
Adapted from a text by Fritz Aebi written in around 1990.
Editor's note: I have modified the above article only in regard to audio and video media, since tape is more or less obsolete now (although still being used by some die-hard enthusiasts). Please do not assume that sound hunting is purely a male activity as there are many women involved too - and not just partners of soundhunters! However I refuse to alter the excellent English of this translation for political correctness. Any mistakes are likely to be my own typos. -RP.
Last updated 8th November 2008