When listening to pure, unadulterated field recordings, the conscious mind is aware that it is hearing history rather than composition. The fallow deer steps and honking mating calls of “movement (holkham) #1” are no studio creation; they unfold in real time, on a cold winter night in October 2010. And yet the unconscious mind sketches musical narratives: this is the buildup, and the crescendo will follow. When it does, in the fifth section of the extended opening montage, the unconscious mind then exclaims, “Yes! This rocks!” But in this case the “rock” is the cumulative presence of thousands of geese. While listening to this piece, one muses about the distance that lies between sounds; in person, a couple sounds at a time may be adequate, but in a recording, the greater density draws the greater attention. In person, a paucity of sound may mean safety, while overload means danger; but in a recording, an overload means excitement. A snuffing single buck has nothing on the sound of a rising flock. Tawny owls, ducks, robins and the previously mentioned geese welcome the dawn with a cacophony of pleasant agitation, and at 26:31, whoosh.
Peter Toll is well aware of natural human expectation, and thankfully caters to such expectation by sequencing his latest collection of field recordings from thin and distinct to thick and multi-faceted. While it may have been difficult to resist the urge to catalog his recordings in chronological order, the layering by loudness works to the recording’s advantage. A love for the nature reserve (owned by the Earl of Leicester!) shines through in Toll’s keen attention to individual sounds, his detailed liner notes and the tenacity of his recording sessions. Toll’s repeated, extended visits to Holkham were necessary in order to capture the varied sounds of its disparate habitats.
While the first piece travels from the hall grounds to the marsh and woods, it also contains a subtle foreshadowing: the cries of cattle, the scuttling of squirrels, the sound of distant waves. The second piece melds the whistling of pine winds to the shuffling of the shore; the challenge is to identify the moment in which the sources shift. Toll was especially fortunate to catch the launching of seedlings, which has rarely been captured by microphone. “movement (holkham) #2” is the fieldwork mirror of a band’s crowd-pleasing set closer, active from start to finish, bursting at the seams with untethered sound. In a (very) alternate universe, one might imagine concert attendees yelling “Trees!” or “Seas!” as the artist emerged from the curtains for an encore.
Yes, it’s rock: wild, untamed, and closer than we might imagine. These are the sort of sounds that led our ancestors to imitation, and eventually to music. For those in tune with the natural world, there’s no substitute for the real thing. (Richard Allen)