Documenting Maritime Folklife: An Introductory Guide
Part 2: How to Document
A researcher's level of craftsmanship with tape recorded interviews is
evidenced not only by interviewing skill, but by the ability to produce
recordings of high quality. The achievement of high-quality sound recordings
relates to the type of recorder, microphone, and tape used, the way the
equipment is set up, and the choice of recording site.
recorders, if carefully used, can give very satisfactory results. By
and large, more expensive models ($200 - 500) offer the best
performance, but good results can be obtained with less-expensive machines.
Although the size of the very smallest recorders may be attractive, researchers
should consider that slightly larger machines often provide some of the
following desirable features: the use of larger batteries and hence greater
battery capacity; an easy-to-read volume (VU) meter that indicates the
recording level (and often the condition of the batteries as well); a
line- or auxiliary-level input to permit the copying of other recordings,
recording of an event directly from a public address system, or the like;
and, occasionally, the ability to choose between automatic and manual
control of recording levels. The very best recordings are made with professional
open-reel equipment. In the near future, this equipment will likely be
surpassed by a new generation of portable digital recorders.
are structured so that the informant does most of the talking, a monaural
recorder will probably suffice. Even with the use of a clip-on
microphone an interviewer's questions will be heard, although with an "off-mike" quality.
On the other hand, if the interviews are structured as dialogue or if
interviews are conducted with two or more individuals, a stereo recorder
and two microphones
may well be called for. A stereo recorder may also be useful for recording
events or activities other than interviews. A professional sound recordist,
however, may be needed to make a high quality recording of, say, a church
service or the verbal exchanges between workers on the deck of a fishing
vessel. And certain types of musical performance may best be recorded
in a studio.
Regardless of the type of recorder, the two most important
factors in producing a good recording are the placement of the microphone
control of ambient sound. External cardioid, lavaliere, or clip-on microphones
are recommended over internal, built-in microphones that pick up excessive
amounts of machine noise and ambient sounds. Because ambient noise increases
in proportion to the distance between the microphone and the subject,
it is important to place the microphone as close as possible to the subject's
mouth. A cardioid microphone can be attached to a boom and suspended
and in front of the subject's head. A lavaliere or clip-on microphone
can be easily fastened to the subject's clothing.
The type of recording
tape used is an important consideration. For best results, use high-quality,
name-brand tape. Researchers who use cassette
tapes usually select sixty-minute cassettes (thirty minutes per side).
Longer tapes--those over forty-five minutes per side--are thinner and
more susceptible to stretching or breaking. Cassettes held together with
are better than those held together with glue because they can be easily
disassembled for repair of broken or jammed tape. Researchers who employ
open-reel machines usually prefer tape with a thickness of 1.5 mils because
tape of this thickness is stronger and subject to less "print through" than
The recording site is another important factor in achieving
high-quality recordings. Since field interviews are usually conducted
in a subject's
home or work place rather than in a sound studio, the researcher must
select a location within such areas offering the best possibility for a
recording. This might mean choosing a room with carpets and curtains,
which minimize the reverberation of sound, or selecting the room furthest
a noisy street. If a television or radio is playing, or a fan is whirling,
the researcher might request that they be turned off during the interview.
Although fieldworkers may feel hesitant about these requests, those "who
work carefully with good equipment convey to the informant how much they
value his words and thus produce a flattering and positive
In order facilitate the preservation of a field recording,
copies should be made as soon as possible and used for cataloging and
the original tape can be spared the wear and tear. In short, the original
recording should be viewed as the "master" and protected accordingly.
1. Carl Fleischhauer, "Sound Recording
and Still Photography in the Field," in Handbook of American Folklore,
edited by Richard M. Dorson (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1986),