‘Open minded’ system for searching and retrieving – Tom Rice

Tom is an Anthropologist interested in sound and the perception of sonic spaces. His first major research project was in a hospital, where he looked at the different types of auditory knowledge and acoustic perspective held by patients, nurses and doctors.

Tom also makes radio programmes, most recently Govindpuri Sound for the BBC World Service. This programme was produced in collaboration with urban researcher Dr. Tripta Chandola and was informed by her PhD research. It explored the sonic environment of a settlement known as ‘the slums of Govindpuri’ in Delhi, India. Recalling its production he reflects on the value the sound recordist gives to the material and also the value that others might add:

When he records interviews Tom is aware of the sonic space in which people are responding to his questions. In this respect, the differentiation between field recording and speech is complex, as in his work voices and ambient sounds are closely intertwined. He feels this represents a challenge when it comes to labelling recordings:

Another realisation from the Govindpuri Sound project was that he and Tripta had unintentionally and rather suddenly created a sound archive and he wonders about the future of this recorded material:

When searching for recordings made by others, Tom finds it easiest to search online and finds people usually provide useful tags. Looking for material to include in the Govindpuri Sound programme he found a rich archive of street criers in India collected by the artist Rashmi Kaleka:

He also imagines that a good way to find sounds would be to reach out to, or search within, the community of researchers and artists, tracing specific research interests. e.g. underground transport systems, sounds in hospitals or wildlife recordings. Searching this way creates scope to forge relationships with researchers, to deepen ones knowledge about the recordings and to develop new ideas for how the materials might be re-used.

For Tom, the organisation of recordings in an indexical form demands ‘open mindedness’ and an awareness of the different types of value or meaning a recording might hold. He wonders how computers would cope with or create this kind of open-mindedness. Within the framework, he feels ‘search and retrieval’ criteria for an extensive archive and database are the most important things to explore, followed by facilities to allow relational playback:


Do you identify with Tom’s needs? What are your own experiences, issues and needs when working with speech, field recordings and archives?

Use the ‘reply’ button on the top to leave a comment. Many thanks!



One thought on “‘Open minded’ system for searching and retrieving – Tom Rice

  1. Cath Clover

    Hi Tom
    I agree with your point that you don’t necessarily know what threads are contained within the work you are making, and this is the case for any artwork I’d say. You have a focus but there are many aspects that link to that focus that you may only be aware of through others’ observations.
    Your point about an interview also being a field recording is well made – the sonic details of place that come through in interviews. This is also true in terms of voice and speech and in particular colloquialisms and vernacular – the phrases that are used plus particular accents are indicators not only of place and culture but of a particular period through changes in language use, and these become more and more apparent as time passes. I am particularly interested in casual conversations and overheard conversations in public places for this very reason.
    All the best Cath Clover



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