Asbjoern Andersen

In my ongoing series highlighting some of the great sound blogs out there, it’s time to meet Miguel Isaza who runs the excellent Sonic Terrain blog.

And when it comes to blogging about sound, Miguel Isaza is an inspiring figure. He was the one who founded Designing Sound back in 2008, a cornerstone in the sound design community. Since then, he’s founded several other blogs on sound, including Sonic Terrain which is dedicated to field recording and sonic explorations.

Here’s Miguel with his in-depth thoughts about the blog, sharing knowledge – and the value of sound itself:


Hi Miguel, please introduce yourself and Sonic Terrain:

Hi Asbjoern, thanks for your invitation. I’m from Medellin, Colombia and I explore sound. The idea for Sonic Terrain came up in a dialogue I had with Nathan Moody (Noisejockey). We were primarily interested in creating a site for sharing ideas related to field recording, soundscape experimentation, environmental listening, acoustic ecology and related topics. We worked on it for some months and developed the blog together. Along with Nathan, the site started with some editors – however, since 2012 it’s just been me running the site.

The last two years have been interesting for the site, since, thematically, the focus has expanded from several perspectives and experiences. I’m not sure if the site has a particularly fixed focus, but I guess the site functions just as a source of contents toward the sonic environment, mainly around the act of listening to it and as a consequence of that, the act of recording, transforming and experimenting with it.

The site includes links to different resources, contains some interviews and articles, and also has a series of digital publications with recordings/compositions by people from all over the world. I’d say the blog is not exactly focused in the complete spectrum of what sound implicates, but basically aimed to explore the convergence of perspectives and experiences toward the ‘sonic terrain’, covering theoretical studies, technical processes, ecological ideas or aesthetic pursuits.

You’re involved with not only Sonic Terrain, but also Designing Sound and Infinite Grain too. What’s your overall goal with the content you’re sharing across those platforms?

Designing Sound was the first to emerge, in 2008, with a focus on sound design, although giving the implications and extension of that “discipline”, the site has been covering a lot of stuff: from listening to acoustics theory; from silence to software techniques; from films to interactive audio. The special aspect of that site is its strong and faithful community and the expansion it has been getting since the inclusion of an editorial team, in which I’m just a contributing editor nowadays. In 2012 I gave the admin role to Jack Menhorn who has been doing a pretty good job since then, along with a team of great persons who currently work there.

Sonic Terrain was initially created as an extension of Designing Sound, but progressively developed its own space, mostly because it’s oriented in a plural way, covering the sound/listening phenomena as it gets presence in various fields or professions. Then, in 2013 I opened ‘infinite grain’ based on a research project I started in 2012, which is dedicated to explore things like microsound, acousmatic processes and experimental sound approaches. That blog is a bit more ‘personal’ and allows me to investigate around sonic realms I don’t use to cover in the other sites.

The sites are inter-related as a network, although each single website has its own goals – like a library with different sections.

Regarding your question about the overall goal, I would say that I value them as one, since the sites are inter-related, as a network, although each single website has its own goals, like a library with different sections. I’m constantly looking for information and ideas for different projects and personal pursuits, so the basic idea with those sites is to organize and publicly share those resources that both others and myself could find relevant.

I would say that each of these sites emerge from the fact of constantly recognizing that sound is a vast flux that is never absolutely objective or limited but very dependent on our own experiences with it. This makes me constantly realize that I cannot really know enough about it, understand ‘what it is’ and that is in fact my ignorance towards it what actually encourages me to explore not only my experiences but also invitations and perspectives from others. Sound is such an ephemeral, ghostly and powerful element that maybe the only thing we could really do with it is to travel around its mystery and invite us to connect with it.

What’s been one of the best moments running Sonic Terrain? And what’s one of your favorite stories you’ve run?

Perhaps the best moment is when someone finds something interesting in the site that contributes to his/her own path. It’s amazing for me to help on other persons’ routes and learn from everyone, to be a resonator, a node, or just a link between nodes in the process. There are a lot of persons who have met with other individuals, perspectives, projects, ideas, and places, just because of the site, and that is definitely a great chain of moments that represents a big motivation for me; to know that maybe one, two or thousands of people are reading the site and valuing it as useful in a way or another just because it connects us around this passion of sound.

One favorite story could be one that is actually multiple; that is to run the World Listening Day compilations I started last year. The process is simple: I open a call for field recordings from all over the world in order to do a compilation to celebrate the World Listening Day. Then I organize the materials and publish them under creative commons license on Bandcamp. The experience has been amazing… I have received hundreds of recordings from over 50 different countries, featuring a lot of interesting perspectives towards the soundscape. Not just focused on a way of “documenting” the world, but as a way of experiencing its sonic realm as such, in a more intimate perspective, thus resulting in a compilation of “listeners listening” rather than just an archive of field recordings.

That has been shocking and inspiring, to be able to link all those listening points and to feel not only the incredible richness of the sound present on Earth, but also our subjective filters of it and both the mystery and the narrative aspects present in all those sound worlds. That project has showed me a way of inviting oneself and others to be more conscious of the sonic phenomena and our presence on it, to take care of our own listening, to value the diversity of the soundscape and also to find new perspectives around the experimentation with the environment, being more critic and attentive to the invisible landscapes. That is a great story to cover, such convergence of “sonic terrains”.

What’s really exciting to you within the area of sound at the moment?

Sound! I believe that sound is exciting when valued on itself, not depending on areas or notions that pretend to divide or define it. I think sound is everything, and its nature is really felt when explored directly, without categories, disciplines, or concepts, that’s why our experience and connection with it is so important.

Sound is truly exciting in the conception of the universe itself, its resonating behavior, as happens in the ancient notion of sound as a cosmic element or language that is actually far beyond words and conceptions, valued as an arcane, revolutionary and unavoidable force. Perhaps the exciting thing about sound is precisely the impossibility to describe, define or fix it, as it is such an illusory medium.

Perhaps the exciting thing about sound is precisely the impossibility to describe, define or fix it, as it is such an illusory medium

So fragile, invisible and even intangible, always challenging one’s perception and conception of things like form, time and space.

Maybe if sound would not be this uncatchable continuum, it would not be exciting for me to explore it, since that ghostly and yet oceanic situation of mystery and vanishing really encourages me to study it. And as traditions (and essentially the pure act of listening) teach, sound is a direct reflection of the ephemeral state of any reality – and also a reliable way of conceiving the inter-connection present in everything, so the real excitement is found in the more spontaneous contact with the sonic reality as such. I think that’s inspiring nowadays, that we’re slowly rediscovering the universe on its sonic realm and we’re paying more attention to it.

Also, that’s why interacting directly with the sound experience becomes so important at the moment, although it has always been. Hence that’s probably the reason why we need to become deeply aware of sound in education, because our educational systems are very visual-dependent and sound is usually placed on reliance to different (semantic, metaphysical, visual, logical, musical) languages, but not regularly valued just for its pure manifestation. That situation has had a lot of consequences in our world and today there are several things we all need to fix and heal because of that.

There are many experiences waiting to be discovered and the current saturation in terms of discourses and tools is actually leading us to be aware of the roots of the problem and getting into simpler solutions directed to our ways of perceiving.

There has been a ‘liberation’ of sound over the centuries, and perhaps the crucial step on that road is to actually liberate the listener

And although there’s a long path to walk, we’re starting to liberate ourselves, which is definitely exciting. There has been a ‘liberation’ of sound over the centuries, and perhaps the crucial step on that road is to actually liberate the listener.

Possibly that’s why we need to give a special attention to educational ideas and perspectives that have been emerging towards sound and listening over history. That’s a hugely important area to focus on in order to understand the significance of sound in each one’s life and in our way of relating and inhabiting the world. Over the years we have created a lot of tools, languages, theories, disciplines and resources, but we need to be conscious of our intentions, uses, errors and perceptions, and that’s why education is a fundamental part on any dimension of our human experience, because it expands consciousness and makes the world coherent.

I think nowadays it is exciting to face the challenge and listen more and deeply, to be quieter and slower, and to be sonically educated, even beyond the cochlear dependences, so we can find the vastness, diversity and originality of sonic realities and our ways of perceiving them. That is stimulating because it strikes our actual systems and paradigms, inviting us to cultivate new practices and habits both in the young and in the adult. Schools, parents, teachers, researchers, artists and ultimately all persons have an important responsibility with that. Perhaps we all have a universal responsibility with our education, and sound is not an exception.

Is there anything readers can do to support Sonic Terrain?

Be silent and listen, that’s the ultimate goal, to invite you to explore your own sonic terrain. Also share with others, let them learn from you and let yourself learn from others (In fact, if we truly listen, we find we’re always connected and resonating, naturally sharing). I think the blog is a dynamic space, not a mere source of information, but a home for dialogue, a point of convergence and an invitation oriented to make us aware of the ‘sonic terrain’ we daily create and experience. Therefore, besides visiting the site, let’s share what you like from it, and also share your experiences and what you would like to see/listen there. That information you find relevant can be very useful for others as well.

What’s next for Sonic Terrain?

I just finished to do several changes and optimizations on the site’s structure that in my opinion can do a better job on filtering information. Also, there are some great releases coming up, I’m doing more interviews, and I have several sections/ideas in the pipeline that maybe will arise next year. Something I like about doing projects like this one is that feeling of not knowing the end, so I try to keep the site as open as possible and get surprised during the process. It is like a garden, where there are stages for everything and each element has its own cycle, so these days I’m just cultivating some ideas, time will tell.

Be sure to visit Miguel over at the Sonic Terrain blog!


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