Phonography is the act of listening outside of the notion of identification. There is an interest in listening to sounds for an intrinsic value that does not have to relate to an understanding of the source. This is the primary difference between phonographers and field recordists, nature enthusiasts and radio journalists. There is a lack of concern for what the intent of the “object” is, the interest is in what it reveals to me as the observer. The connection to the source is not outlawed by any means but it is not of primary concern.
The sound sources exist on their own, without the provocation of the artist; sound sources are not deliberately created as an artistic act. The natural (and unnatural) soundscapes are the primary source for most Phonographers. These sounds exist in the world regardless of the interest and attempts of the phonographer. Sounds of the city, of the forest, of the café, of conversations at a party, of crosstalk on radios, of construction sites as heard through pvc tubes strewn about the site, of massive throngs of people crying out for their particular political preference; these are all sounds that exist with their own context and purpose and their presence is indifferent to the presence of the phonographer capturing them. The phonographer frames and captures this sound, removing the context which created it and the formal qualities of what remains is the work. This contrasts with the studio environment where the sounds being heard are specifically created for the act of recording, or the Foley sounds deliberately created to add sonic believability to a film, or the NPR reporter who captures a bit of the soundscape to lend authenticity to the report, or the deliberate manipulations of present materials by explorative artists.
Secondary sound sources are those that exist but need a little prodding to come to life. This requires the use of contact microphones, hydrophones, geophones and magnetic coil microphones, or any other transducer that converts dynamic fluctuations into voltage fluctuations that can then move speakers and create sound. Concepts of source are even further removed when translating a pulsating magnetic field into audible frequencies and amplitudes. Contact mics take miniscule vibrating materials that are typically oblivious to us and amplify them to our levels of perception. This introduces issues of proportion, scale, and relativity.