‘Audio Archiving’: A Mindful Alternative to Photography

smartphone with wired earphones

We’ve all heard the saying, “A picture is worth a thousand words.” Well, if that’s true, I think a sound could be worth a million. In a world saturated with visual stimuli, we often only rely on photos to capture the essence of our experiences. I believe a sound can be equally, if not more profound in this regard. Think about it — when you capture a picture, you freeze a single frame of an experience. But with audio, you can capture an entire ambiance, one that oftentimes goes far beyond what the eyes can see. Through these nuanced sounds — whether it’s the rustling of leaves, the laughter echoing in the background, or the hustle and bustle of a city — you allow yourself to revisit memories in their rawest form. I have been recording sounds in my everyday life for the past few years, and I’d like to share what I’ve learned from my experience.

This practice of capturing audio must have started at a concert some years back. At first, my intentions for doing so were probably to save myself from the embarrassment of taking a bunch of photos/videos in a crowd. And although it did save me the embarrassment, I quickly realized it also made me more present in the experience I was having. I no longer had to constantly think about when to best capture the moment with my phone. I no longer had to experience life behind a screen. Through audio recordings, I was able to fully experience my surroundings, confidently knowing I would have a meaningful record to access at a later time.

I began to repeat this method of audio recording beyond the concert venue — at the neighborhood park, at a dinner party with my friends, and even on Thanksgiving at my grandma’s. Upon revisiting my audio collection, I realized that, unlike a photo or video, I felt a stronger connection to the medium of sound. My memories of these moments were more vivid, as I was often more present in my surroundings during the time of recording, making each audio file much more meaningful to me.

Most recently, I have found myself taking audio recordings while on my solo travels abroad. Unlike with friends and family, traveling alone puts the responsibility solely on the individual to form their own perceptions and memories. While abroad, I only had myself to recount my past experiences, and I think that’s what made audio recording so convenient in this setting. I was not distracted by constantly feeling like I needed to get the best photo, and it was easier to just immerse myself in fully being present with my travels, contributing to a richer experience. Here are a few of these recordings from my travels:

A jazz funeral in the French Quarter, New Orleans
Call to prayer in Bukhara, Uzbekistan
A stroll in the Borghese Gardens, Rome
Tea-drinking with a family in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan
The ‘Singing Fountains’ in Yerevan, Armenia Reflecting on my ‘audio archive’, I’m genuinely grateful for what this practice has taught me. From the comfort of my home, the sounds of these recordings transport me to the places and the times I miss most. Closing my eyes, I can immerse myself in the audible experience all over again. I can only wonder what sonic memories I’ll capture next.

CJ Andrews —
Research Manager