Detroit is known for its storied history with electronic music and experimental music, so it’s no surprise when the rest of the world looks to the Motor City for inspiration.
The BBC recently tapped local DJ and producer Rebecca Goldberg to make field recordings for its BBC Radiophonic Workshop Travel Agency project. First launched on April 1, 1958 at Maida Vale Studios in London, the project records music and sounds for television shows. During the COVID-19 pandemic, the Travel Agency served as a way to bring its listeners to locales around the world.
Goldberg has been a pillar of the Detroit arts community. In 2017, she dropped her debut release, 313 Acid Queen, and was invited to play the Movement Music Festival and is a proud member of the artist collective Detroit Underground.
She happened to see a write-up in the U.K.-based magazine Electronic Sound about the BBC Travel Agency looking for field recordings, and Goldberg felt her history with using field recordings in her own work made her the perfect ambassador for the sounds of Michigan, so she sent a sample.
The BBC was impressed, and soon sent her on an auditory hunting expedition.
“After submitting my sample recordings to the Radiophonic Workshop in May of 2021, they contacted me back asking me to curate a trip to Detroit and the Great Lakes,” Goldberg tells Metro Times. “I spent about three months over that summer on various adventures across Detroit and Michigan to capture the recordings.”
With that confirmation, Goldberg was off and trekking the beaches of Belle Isle, the Detroit Zen Center in Hamtramck, and all the way up to Tahquamenon Falls in the Upper Peninsula, taking listeners on an immersive journey.
“As a lifelong resident and creative ambassador of the area, I wanted to [home] in on some areas that sound very familiar to Detroiters [and] Michiganders,” Goldberg says. “I could give outsiders an authentic glimpse of what it sounds like to be here. Some locations, like Belle Isle Beach and Tahquamenon Falls, are landmark highlights, and some, like Rollerskating the Dequindre Cut, focus more of an experience.”
Goldberg’s recording at the Detroit Zen Center feels like the perfect entry for the BBC Travel series, incorporating both the ring of the bells at the nearby Saint Florian Roman Catholic Church and the Muslim call to prayer that can be heard daily, showing the character of the city.
“Just like our population, we are a very sonically diverse region with city sounds, nature sounds, industrial landscapes, and the largest group of freshwater lakes on Earth,” she says. “It was crucial for me to capture the variety in our soundscapes to parallel the diversity of our residents. Music and observation induces open-mindedness. The more I create and practice, the more I expand my own mind and deepen my understanding of human connection.”
Goldberg says she used techniques she learned in her personal artistic work for the project. “I have used field recordings in various projects ranging from experimental music compositions to live performances and techno records,” she says. “I started recording simply with my iPhone, which is a great tool that is still always available to me. Now I mostly use a Tascam recorder.”
She says she embraces imperfections in her field recordings.
“I am a firm believer in first-takes and try not to overthink when it comes to recording,” she says. “Sounds are in flux and are dependent on so many factors out of my control, like weather, traffic patterns, amount of people in a public space, etc. You never know what you might capture and also never know what you might have missed. For me, this is the thrill of field recording.”
In addition to Goldberg’s recordings with the BBC, she is also hosting her own field recordings workshops called Detroit Frequency, taking attendees on a guided tour to learn how to make their own field recordings. Detroit Frequency is inspired by the World Listening Project, a global project to introduce people to field recordings and observing the environments through sound.
“I have been seeking this sort of community in Detroit to participate in soundwalks and field recording events,” she says. “I hadn’t been able to find what I was looking for, and with World Listening Day approaching on July 18, I decided to take the initiative to create my own group by starting Detroit Frequency.”
Detroit Frequency will see Goldberg lead a series of six bimonthly soundwalk events, with the inaugural soundwalk honoring the World Listening Day theme of Listening Across Boundaries. Goldberg says she will focus on the sounds of Detroit transportation and their surroundings: a ride on the People Mover, a walk along Woodward Avenue, and a trip on the QLine. Donations will be collected to benefit the Detroit-based Underground Music Academy.
The soundwalks are open to all ages and experience levels, and use of audio recording devices ranging from cell phones to professional recorders are encouraged. There is limited space and free registration required.