Name: Matilde Meireles
Occupation: Field recordist, sound artist, and currently a research fellow on Sonorous Cities: Towards a Sonic Urbanism
Nationality: Portuguese
Current release: Matilde Meireles's Life of a Potato is out via Crónica Electrónica.

If you enjoyed these thoughts by Matilde Meireles and would like to find out more about her work, visit her official website. She is also on Instagram.

Can you talk a bit about your interest in or fascination for sound? What were early experiences which sparked it and what keeps sound interesting for you?

It is hard to trace exactly what sparked my interest. Perhaps my interest in sound emerged from a combination of language and music.

When I was a kid, I used to listen to my grandfather’s stories about the places where he lived and admired. He would play some of the music he listened to, and tell me about the things he learned from the different cultures. He would also teach me some words – Mandarin, English, Italian, Xhosa, Ronga.

Mesmerised, I would try to transpose the musicality of these words onto my notebook. I have kept this very same excitement of listening across different scales and cultures. This is what keeps it all interesting for me.

What's your take on how your upbringing and cultural surrounding have influenced your sonic preferences?

I think the previous answer sets nicely the tone for this one. My grandfather’s stories taught me that perception is tied to situatedness and culture, and that the world is diverse, not singular. They exposed me to many different forms of understanding. The languages and music in my grandfather’s stories played for sure a part.

Other sonic preferences can be traced back to a jammed tape on a portable tape recorder. I loved our tape recorder as a kid. I used it to record everyday sounds and credits of my favourite TV shows. I was also very curious and interested in understanding how each object functioned, what it was made of.

So, when our portable tape recorder “swallowed” my favourite tape I had the opportunity to do so. After assembling it all back together I played the tape back. The sounds were the same, but not quite. The magnetic tape was altered and with this the sounds I had previously recorded. Fascinated, I kept experimenting with different interventions on the tape to understand how these would alter the recorded sounds.

This feeling never left. It expanded how I related to music.

Do you see yourself as part of a tradition or historic lineage when it comes to your way of working with sound?

Hmmm interesting question.

I guess no, not really, would be my answer. I am very aware of the past and present historic lineage, but prefer to purposefully try to avoid focussing on either. It is my attempt to escape the baggage and constraints other practices might entail. It does not mean I am always successful.

Inevitably my works tend to be a mesh of field recording practices, experimental music, longform, or drone music, but also conceptual art, and documental photography.

What types of sound do you personally prefer to work with? Are there sounds you reject – if so, for what reasons?

I do not have such thing as preferred sounds.

I mostly work with field recordings and my ‘filter' is my experience of a location; what type of narrative I feel that location and moment in time can tell. All sounds are valid and interesting in their own way – from disturbances (sounds usually perceived as nuisance or mistakes), to voices, sounds that lie beyond the human hearing range, as well as low fidelity recordings.

Where do you find the sounds you're working with? How do you collect and organise them?

My projects tend to result from extended explorations of places where I am based through field recordings. They are usually made over relatively long periods of time. The various recording techniques I tend to use allow me to acknowledge the multiple sonic layers around me and various listening perspectives — including those that go beyond the human.

The final works tend to be organised in some sort of narrative form. Even if the narrative is not always obvious or linear. Some examples include Life of a Potato, MILL~MMXXI, Useful Constraints, Sunnyside.

Some artists use sounds as a means for emotional self-expression, others take a more conceptual approach or want to present intriguing sound matter. How would you characterise your own goals and motivations in this regard?

Both. The works are definitely conceptual, but also emotional. There is an overarching concept that ties each project together.

At the same time, I am the one choosing a location, making the field recordings, and organising them, so it is also personal and emotional.

From the point of view of your creative process, how do you work with sounds?

My projects start with a series of repetitive walks and listening sessions with and without microphones, at different times of the day, different days of the week, and if time permits, across seasons. I use different types of microphones to attune to what is around me — expand my listening horizon and relate to the multiple scales of sound that lie around me — within or beyond my hearing range. At the end, there is always some sort of narrative emerging, which is mostly rooted in a critical observation of my experience.

Additional elements, such as processed sounds derived from the recorded sounds, are added usually to accentuate aspects of the experience or a particular meaning related to the experience.

Which tools have been most important and useful for you when it comes to working with and editing sounds?

The most important tool for me is probably time. Taking time to listen (with or without microphones), taking time to record, taking time to compose.

The possibilities of modern production tools have allowed artists to realise ever more refined or extreme sounds. Is there a sound you would personally like to create but haven't been able to yet?

No, not really. For me, it was never necessarily about creating sounds. I tend to be more interested in letting the sounds I record inform how I organise them. What can I learn by taking the time to listen? There is a specific context alongside each sound’s texture, pitch and rhythm — what does this context suggest?

Technological developments, specifically at the microphone level, allowed me to extend my hearing far and wide. Because of such developments I can listen to vibrations on the soil, underwater ecologies, the architecture of radio signals, or natural phenomena such as lightning storms.

So don’t get me wrong, I do use and like technology, I just have perhaps a very particular and critical focus.  

Many artists have related that certain sounds trigger compositional ideas in them or are even a compositional element in their own right. Provided this is the case for you – what, exactly, is about certain sounds that triggers such ideas in you?

Sound, or a particular sound, can be the driving force of a project. But in my case, it is not necessarily sound that triggers an idea for a project but a situation. Composition, the way I approach it, is always connected to a particular extended experience of a certain space.

How do you see the relationship between sound, space and composition?

They're inseparable. My work is precisely about compositing multiple listening perspectives of a given space using (mostly) sound.

Humans are often characterised as "visual beings". In your opinion, what role does our sense of hearing play in our understanding of the world? How do sounds affect you, compared to other senses like sight or smell?

Some cultures are indeed more “visual”, for sure the Anglo-European society is. Nevertheless, we are multi-sensorial beings and all senses play a part in defining our unique way of navigating and perceiving the world.

Sound affects me, but so do touch, smell and vision. However, I am particularly drawn to the immersive quality of sound and express my ideas using mostly sound.

The idea of acoustic ecology has drawn a lot of attention to the question of how much we are affected by the sound surrounding us. What's your take on this and on acoustic ecology as a movement in general?

Ecology is about interconnectivity. I believe acoustic ecology of course has its merits, but is not particularly good in addressing this.

The language around acoustic ecology can sometimes polarise sonic experiences, by trying to categorise everything. In reality, our sonic experience of the world is more subtle and nuanced. What we call sounds are part of complex, multi-layered and intermeshed environments. It can be easy to overlook this when doing work with 'soundscapes', and it is something I try to recognise and address in my work.

We can listen to a pop song or open our window and simply take in the noises of the environment. Without going into the semantics of 'music vs field recordings', in which way are these experiences different and / or connected, do you feel?

They can be connected while being very different. Sound has a multitude of meanings. Passively taking in the sound around us and perceiving it only as music is a slightly problematic approach in my opinion. The aesthetic properties of sound are only one of the small aspects sound entails.

This is one of the reasons why I am interested in field recordings. They can be many things and tell many things. It depends on how we frame them.