Reviews

A Sound Map of the Housatonic River
Annea Lockwood
(3leaves. 2013)
annea lockwood sound map
The Housatonic River is a 224 km long stretch of water flowing southward from the mountainous region of Pittsfield to Long Island Sound. From 1932-1977 a General Electric facility discharged PCBs and other forms of chemical waste into the Housatonic River at Pittsfield. Decades later the situation is still so dire that the Environmental Protection Agency is considering the dredging of 688,089 cubic metres of sediment from parts of the river in order to remove the contaminants. A coalition of local residents has already begun the process of cleaning up the damage to restore affected sections to a less toxic state.

It was with this knowledge that the composer Annea Lockwood travelled to Massachusetts to record the sounds of the Housatonic River. Starting at the river’s source points Lockwood recorded the sounds of water and wildlife at 18 different locations along the river – her journey ended where the river enters Long Island Sound.

Although the bubble and gurgle of water dominates Lockwood’s recordings on her Sound Map of the Housatonic River it is not the only sound that she presents. We hear birdlife from trees overhead, a locomotive passing by, vehicles crossing a bridge, crickets, frogs, and hydrophonic recordings of water bugs. The inclusion of human industrial sounds in the recordings is a nice touch, reminding the listener that the health of the Housatonic River is vital to the existence of communities along its course.

Considering the extent that the Housatonic River is polluted it is surprising to hear the presence of so much life in Lockwood’s recordings. It would be reasonable to assume that an area affected by an ecological disaster would be rendered silent yet even in Muddy Pond, the most polluted section of the Housatonic River, it is still possible to hear life above and below the surface of the water. This could demonstrate the resilience of the natural world however we have no way of knowing what the river once sounded like – before the onslaught of chemical waste into its waters the Housatonic River might have sounded much different to the recordings presented here. It will be interesting to listen to recordings of these same locations in years to come.

Originally Lockwood’s sound map was composed as a quadraphonic installation piece; the multifarious sounds of water could be heard splashing, flowing and gurgling from different areas within the exhibition space. The recordings were also accompanied by a map which contextualised the Housatonic River into its broader geographic setting. The 3leaves label has reproduced the map as part of this release. We are able to trace the movement of the river from its source points along the 224-kilometre stretch to Long Island Sound. We listen to A Sound Map of the Housatonic River with mixed emotions; feeling sadness at the damage done to this once pristine wilderness, and a sense of wonder at what has survived.

3Leaves website
Annea Lockwood website

v-p v-f is v-n
Various Artists
(Winds Measure Recordings. 2012)
wm30
Winds Measure Recordings’ new compilation, “v-p v-f is v-n”, could best be described as a celebration of contemporary field-recording. Featuring sounds captured from swamps, oceans, barns, kitchens and city streets “v-p v-f is v-n” presents a range of recordings that illustrate the diverse interests of field recordists and the sonic richness of quiet moments. With each track averaging between 6 or 7 minutes the audience is granted enough time to sink into the listening experience where they are transported by the sounds of the exotic and commonplace.

Read more at The Field Reporter.

New York Glyptic
Scott Sherk
(3Leaves. 2012)

What are the soundmarks of a modern city? Walking through crowded streets do we only hear the constant presence of traffic, some raised voices above the low-fi drone? Is it possible to listen to field recordings of one city and identify it through its own unique sonic peculiarities? These are some of the questions that spring to mind whilst listening to Scott Sherk’s “New York Glyptic”, a new release on the 3Leaves label.

“New York Glyptic” opens with the sound of police sirens as they move along a distant street. The sirens establish a sense of spatial distance as they wail from a block in the background while other traffic drives much closer to the microphone in the foreground. Shortly afterwards we hear basketballs bouncing in an inner-city court, skateboards gliding past and helicopters flying overhead. Sherk’s decision to mix these field recordings in the first moments of the release establish a sense of place; we are listening to New York post September 11, where the act of surveillance blends with the daily existence of the city’s inhabitants.

Scott Sherk has come to field recording and sound design as a natural progression from his daily practise as a visual artist. Working as a sculptor Sherk states that he is used to working with solid materials such as metal, wood, paper and clay. Sherk’s background in sculpture has informed his approach to listening and sound design in a way that reveals sensitivity to his environment. In his artist statement Sherk says, “I began to realise that the city pulsates with many different kinds of sounds. Individually, each sound is its own object with a shape and texture … As a sculptor it is my inclination to reveal these strata and expose the inner edges and planes of sound that create this elusive shape”. Understanding sound as a form with layers to be revealed has allowed Sherk to present the sonic mass of New York in a spatially complex way. In turn we are privy to the individual elements which constitute the city’s soundscape.

A strong sense of movement is experienced while listening to “New York Glyptic”; it feels as if the sounds that stem from above and below the streets are swirling past us in a dizzying and hallucinatory state. Untouched field recordings are mixed with those that have been heavily processed, adding to the disorientation. Nearing the end of the release unrecognisable sounds bubble to the surface at an increasing rate, perhaps reflecting the overwhelming experience that living in a modern metropolis can have on our senses.

The 3Leaves label must be commended on its commitment to supporting a wide variety of works in the field-recording genre. Since it began in 2009 3Leaves has continued to present works that examine a diverse range of sounds, places and recording practises. 3Leaves also continues the tradition of the physical release in an era when the mp3 shuffle-mode has disrupted the careful sequencing of ideas by musicians and sound designers alike. We hope that this will inspire other label owners and curators so that works such as “New York Glyptic” will continue to be supported in the future.

3Leaves website.
Scott Sherk website.

BUITI BINAFIN
Frédéric Nogray
(3 Leaves. 2012)

A ten-minute tropical downpour greets the listener in Frédéric Nogray’s “Buiti Binafin”, a sonic exploration into the Punta Izopo mangroves of northern Honduras. Home to the Garifuna people, descendants of African slaves brought to Honduras in the 1600s, this is an area whose once pristine environment is now threatened by the activities of economic development. It was with this knowledge that Frédéric Nogray visited the region with his recorder, capturing the sounds endemic to Punta Izopo before they are silenced.

“Buiti Binafin” is a composition divided into three parts. Following the density of the tropical storm Nogray moves us into a more spacious domain further downstream in “Buiti Binafin’s” second section. As the rain eases a chorus of life emerges. Birds call from our left and right, trees sway gently in a breeze, cicadas pulsate, a woodpecker vigorously pecks into a tree trunk. Considering the amount of wildlife that moves around the microphones it is interesting that each birdcall or cry from a monkey finds its own clear space. At no time does the biophony become blurred or overpowering.

“Buiti Binafin’s” final section is preceded by the calls of a Howler Monkey warning of an approaching motorboat. As the boat sweeps past we move from the depths of the mangroves to the coastline. The familiar crashing of waves is placed against the exotic Montezuma Oropendolas, a bird whose exceptionally unique call is achieved by swinging upside down from tree branches. It is a fitting place to end the composition, with Nogray having taken the listener through the twisted trajectory of mangroves to the river mouth.

Aside from the motorboat a lack of industrial sounds distinguishes Nogray’s recordings. Listening to the plethora of bird and insect life that characterises the local biophony it is difficult to believe that mangroves around the world are under threat. A sense of urgency overwhelms Buiti Binafin’s listening experience with the awareness that such places are becoming increasingly rare. We are reminded of questions that have so often been posed in the past decades: what have we lost, what will remain, what great silence might one day pervade these areas? In this context “Buiti Binafin” is a powerful work, the value of field recording confronting the listener with sounds from the precipice.

3 Leaves website

Two Films
JOHN GRZINICH
(and/OAR. 2012)

Electrical power-lines humming above open farmlands, lifeless branches hitting ice-coated wires, waves echoing as they lap inside pipes; these are only a few of the sounds captured by John Grzinich in “Two Films”. This mesmerising DVD, released by the and/OAR label, unveils the sonic life that envelops us, unheard without the aid of microphones or the inclination to listen. Born in New York, and currently living in Estonia, Grzinich has been working with sound composition since the early 1990s. Only more recently has he seriously focused on film as a creative medium.

Read more at The Field Reporter

John Grzinich website
and/OAR website

Sceneries from the Castellated Wall.
YASUHIRO MORINAGA
(Galverna 2012)

Using words to describe sound can often be anathema to the emotional experience of listening, our reactions to its temporal nature existing beyond the mental processes used by our everyday lexicon. This fact is clear when listening to “Sceneries from the Castellated Wall”, a sonic tribute to imagined landscapes and time by Japanese sound designer Yasuhiro Morinaga. Implementing field recordings from the streets of Ireland and Sicily’s Ear of Dionysius Morinaga effectively builds territories both real and mythological, from the past and present, in what could be considered one of the most intriguing releases of 2012.

Read more at The Field Reporter
Yasuhiro Morinaga site.
Galaverna site.

Prairie.
D’INCISE
(Obs 2012)

The genre of drone music has found a powerful voice in Swiss composer D’incise. During the past decade he has worked on several releases that have pushed this hypnotic medium into new territories. The latest release from d’incise, “Prairie”, continues this exploration of the minimal, stretching field recordings of various objects beyond their original forms, transforming them into unrecognisable sounds with their own tonal and emotional resonance.

Read more at The Field Reporter

d’incise site.
Obs site.

A Quiet Position.
VA – curated by Jez Riley French
(Impulsive Habitat 2012)

“A Quiet Position” is a sublime new release of field recordings poetically capturing the subtle sounds that exist in common areas. Curated by Jez riley French “A Quiet Position” showcases the way in which field recordings meditatively transport us into the present moment, where the passage of time exhibits an elasticity that cannot be found in another art medium.

Read more at The Field Reporter

A quiet position site.
Impulsive Habitat site.

Steel Glares and Night Shadows.
FIVE ELEMENTS MUSIC, DENIS SHAPOVALOV
(Obs / Still Sleep 2012)

What sonic potential lies beneath the surface of natural materials? How can these be unleashed to create a mood unrealised in their natural form? These questions are explored in “Steel Glares and Night Shadows”, a new collaborative release by Russian sound artists Five Elements Music and Denis Shapovalov.

As the title suggests “Steel Glares and Night Shadows” is both industrial and dark in tone. Loops of manipulated sound merge with deeply pitched drones, creating a dystopian soundscape which never loses its tension. There is little to distinguish the five tracks from one another, each running between five to fifteen minutes. Yet this is not a criticism. Over the course of “Steel Glares and Night Shadows” the artists immerse the listener into a hypnotic world where sounds border on the edge of familiarity.

In “Steel Glares and Night Shadows” the treatment of the original field recordings uniformly renders them into an eerie metallic tone, resulting in mental images of deserted industrial zones at the onset of night. In this composition there is little hint of any biophony, instead the sounds that reside within cement and steel dominate the soundscape. We are left to guess the source of tiny clicks and scratches that gently appear from the depths of the composition, though from reading the artist statement we can assume they are primarily generated from interacting with metal, glass and wood. However identifying the source of each click and scratch isn’t the main focus of this release. Instead “Steel Glares and Night Shadows” intends to take us into a deep emotional state through the swirling mass of treated sound.

Read more at The Field Reporter
Still Sleep site.

17 M. ROEL MEELKOP
(Echomusic 2012)

Roel Meelkop is a sound artist based in the Netherlands. His experience in sound design is extensive, having composed pieces for gallery installations, live events, and dance performances. In his new work, “17 M”, Meelkop plunges into his archives to rework some old sounds he has previously worked with, alongside others unreleased until now. “17 M” is concerned with the dualities that exist within sound, especially relating to tone, volume, and melody. The result is a composition which is unified, paradoxically, through its exploration of sound’s oppositional qualities.

Read More at The Field Reporter

Roel Meelkop site.
Echo Music site.

The Pier. Ian Holloway.
(Quiet World. 2012)

The pier in Holloway’s title was once home to a bustling entertainment site. Built in Swansea, Wales, its elegant Victorian architecture stretches over 200 metres into the local bay. It is now in a state of disrepair, yet Holloway managed to record the pier while it was still a thriving place of recreation for locals and visitors alike. As we listen to Holloway’s recordings the ambience of the pier is brought back to life, if only for a short moment. By the end of “The Pier” we have been presented with a study into a small regional place, the release highlighting some central attributes inherent to field recording.

Read more at The Field Reporter

The Pier at Quiet World.

North North 18:58. JODA CLEMENT + TOMASZ KRAKOWIAK + PAU TORRES
(Homophoni. 2012)

Compositions using field recordings generally fall into two categories: those that describe a location, and those which explore environmental or social themes. However there are also compositions which enjoy experimenting with the qualities of particular sounds, where the musicality of field recordings is manipulated into an unrecognisable form through the tools available to the composer. North North 18:58 belongs to this later category. Devoid of any specific location it encourages the audience to immerse themselves in heavily distorted synthesised lines which weave their textures around a recording of a storm.

Read more at The Field Reporter

North North 18:58 at Homophoni.
Joda Clément site.

Taurion Trou De Lapin – DALE LLOYD
(Kaon Records. 2012)

Taurion Trou De Lapin is a new work by Dale Lloyd which continues Cedric Peyronnet’s “River” series. For those who are unaware of this series, “The River” is an exploration of the sounds pertinent to the Taurion River Valley in France. Over three years Peyronnet recorded the subtle sounds of water and animal life in this region before inviting more than 20 sound artists to produce works based on his field recordings. Dale Lloyd’s Taurion Trou De Lapin is the first release in the third season of “The River”. It is a beautiful and curious blend of field recordings which transports the audience beyond the literal geographic space of the Taurion Valley into a much more phantasmagoric world. By the end of Taurion Trou De Lapin we have taken a mental journey through the rabbit hole, and much like Alice we are privy to the wonders and anxieties that reside in our own mind.

Read more at The Field Reporter

Taurion Trou De Lapin at and-oar
Dale Lloyd’s site.

Arches. YANNICK DAUBY
(Touch 2011)

Wolves have occupied a special place in the mythologies of cultures around the world since time immemorial. Ancient stories of wolves are often divided into those which describe them as either agents of good or evil. Roman and Turkish foundation myths describe their descendants being raised by wolves, whilst Islamic, Scandinavian and western European cultures highlight their malevolent side. In the Bible there are 13 references to wolves which metaphorically illustrate human greed, lust, and dishonesty. From this it is no surprise that the howl of the wolf is culturally loaded. The listener reacts to the wolf’s call in ways prescribed by their dominant culture, with feelings of fear or respect.

Read more at The Field Reporter
Yannick Dauby website.
Touch website.

Wild World. WILDLIFE RECORDING SOCIETY
(British Library. 2011)

Wild World is a two-cd release which presents field recordings of untouched spaces from around the globe. The recordings date from 1988 to 2007 and were contributed by various members of the Wildlife Sound Recording Society. The first c.d transports us to the woodlands and lakes of the European continent, while the second c.d features sounds captured in the forests of Australasia and South America. The focus of the field recordings is predominantly centred upon birdlife, however other animals including squirrels, indri, frogs and a hippopotamus also feature in the release.

Read more at The Field Reporter

Wildlife Sound Recording Society website
British Library website

El Pajaro Que Escucha. DAVID VELEZ.
(3leaves. 2012)

El Pajaro Que Escucha, (the bird that listens), is the latest release from David Velez. Using field recordings from the Columbian coastal town of Palomino Velez has created a work which provokes an intense emotional response. For one hour Velez presents a slow stream of sounds from Palomino’s forests and beaches. Central to the tone of this piece are the aircraft whose engines affect the location’s tranquility.

Read more at The Field Reporter

3LEAVES website

David Velez website

Agua da paz. CORDELL KLIER performs ERIC LA CASA recordings.
(Impulsive Habitat. 2012)

Most field recordists have experienced the moment when an unanticipated sound triggers compositional ideas. These moments serve as reminders to be flexible in our approach to recording and listening. This was the case for Cordell Klier in his latest release Agua da paz. While searching the internet Klier chanced upon a site featuring sound files of water recorded by Eric La Casa. Drawn to their emotional resonance Klier began to explore the different textures and tonalities of water. When Klier received further recordings from La Casa he created two deeply sensitive works collectively titled Agua da paz.

Read more at The Field Reporter

Klier performs La Casa: Agua da paz

Four Objects. JEZ RILEY FRENCH.
(Engraved Glass. 2011)

Jez riley French’s Four Objects is an exploration into the amplification of sound miniatures. Over the course of forty minutes French directs his microphones towards four different objects, including: a piezo disc microphone, a teasel plant, a slate window, a tea flask. These pieces are strategically presented without any compositional intent, each of them being unmodified field recordings. As stated on his website French questions the use of processed sound, concerned that it is removing our ability to listen. Four Objects can therefore be read as an exercise in listening, a form of anti-composition which challenges the audience to become fully immersed within its microscopic worlds.

Read more at The Field Reporter

Jez riley French: Four Objects

Jez riley French website

South Gare. CHRIS WHITEHEAD.
(Linear Obsessional Recordings 2012)

Chris Whitehead’s latest release South Gare is an examination of the sonic space that exists between the industrial and natural worlds. The title South Gare refers to a north-eastern coastal area in England. Here a gare, breakwater, presides over an area of reclaimed land on the River Tees. This is an area under pressure, where the creatures residing in the sand dunes and mud flats are forced to coexist with the factories nearby. Whitehead describes the division within the landscape as a place where the “skyline is dominated by industry … yet the Gare is popular with birdwatchers and walkers”. It is within this bleak space that Whitehead explores the sonic overlap of the two zones. Listening to the tone of South Gare we are privy to a sense of unease that exists there; the threat of industrial expansion being ever-present.

Read more at The Field Reporter

Chris Whitehead: South Gare

Chris Whitehead’s Website

Berlin Fields. STEVE RODEN.
(3leaves. 2012)

Steve Roden is an American sound and visual artist from Los Angeles. He rose to prominence in 2001 with the release of Forms of Paper, a work commissioned by the Los Angeles public library featuring the manipulated sounds of books being handled. It was with this work that Roden became known for an extreme form of ambient minimalism termed lowercase.

In Berlin Fields Roden continues his exploration of the minute sounds which surround us in our global culture. Based on field recordings Roden made while travelling through Berlin, Paris, and Helsinki Berlin Fields presents a psychological account of what it is to feel displaced while travelling in foreign lands. The field recordings that Roden presents reflect the sense of dislocation we often feel when placed in an exotic environment, using our auditory faculties to while away the hours.

Roden’s sonic journey throughout Europe is largely one of interior sounds. His field recordings reflect the slow passage of time for someone alone/isolated in their hotel room: feet on a ceiling, the drone in a bedroom, birds outside a window.

At times Roden participates with the soundscape of these interior spaces through his manipulation of objects found within them: he moves jars on a table, he audibly touches a radiator with his hands, he plays a sardine tin.

Whenever exterior sounds are presented, such as the bells of Notre Dame, they are often overshadowed through the amplification of the sonic miniature that surrounds him. Roden’s exploration of the lowercase aesthetic ensures that peripheral sound events become central to our experience.

Roden’s interest in the sonic possibilities of domestic objects and spaces seems contrary to the expansive idea of travel. For the audience these recordings become as much about domestic and liminal interiors as they do an exploration of Roden’s own mind. It is here that Berlin Fields finds its subtle tension. We are moved to question if the subject choice of these recordings is the result of someone who has retreated inwards, someone unable to find a tangible connection with the foreign world outside. In this sense Roden’s field recordings reflect the reality of international travel for many of us.

Berlin Fields is packaged beautifully by the 3leaves label. In a world of digital downloads it was refreshing to insert Roden’s c.d into the c.d-player and read the accompanying text on the inner sleeve. Here’s hoping that more labels will follow suit.

3leaves website

Steve Roden website

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