An expert field recording requires more than just a good weather-resistant microphone. One needs a feel for one’s subject matter, a discriminating ear, and the ability to make sound so powerful that it makes up for the lack of sight. The best field recordings bring to life specific times and places, serving as travelogues for listeners. In like fashion, an effective soundscape uses field recordings as a base, but manipulates them and/or adds instrumentation to create a fuller piece that often adds up to more than the sum of its parts: a fiction that seems like non-fiction because it captures a greater truth.
The artists in this year’s list bring us to other lands; they celebrate the elements of earth, air and water (but sorry, no fire this year); they aurally reflect the passing of time. Our artist of the year in this category is Kate Carr, who is not only represented by her own work (Return to New Caledonia), but by her Flaming Pines label’s brand-new Birds of a Feather series. As both artist and executive, Carr continues to set a high standard for the industry.
And now, in alphabetical order, we present A Closer Listen’s Top Ten Field Recordings and Soundscapes of 2012.
@c ~ Re:Fujaco (Galaverna)
Recorded in the mountains of São Pedro do Sul, Portugal, Re: Fujaco is a trek through a beautiful village, its people and way of life. Starting innocently enough, dark undercurrents soon emerge amidst electronic stalling and a touch of drone; all is not as it seems, giving this release a distinct edge of secrecy. Above all, it offers us a highly detailed feel of a place that, until recently, we had never visited. (James Catchpole)
Being ~ Folkestone Lighthouse (Wist Records)
Those who procure a hard copy of the Folkestone Lighthouse EP are fortunate indeed. In addition to the lovely sounds of Danny Norbury, Craig Tattersall, Jez riley French and the lighthouse itself, they receive photographs, a map and a bit of history. This is more than just a field recording or musical release; it’s a document of an era that will soon pass away. (Richard Allen)
Craig Vear ~ ESK (3leaves)
In the Northern Hemisphere (where this was recorded), winter is just around the corner. This release traces the progress of the River Esk through the seasons, incorporating the sounds of wildlife, wind through the trees, and eventually (and unfortunately) the intrusion of commerce. Very few wild spaces are left, but Vear preserves the sonic signature of one that remains. (Richard Allen)
Daphine and Lyndsey ~ Seascape No. 1 (Kiks)
Lo-fi field recordings of the sea off the Lincolnshire coast. It doesn’t sound too promising but it proves to be a powerfully captivating work – possibly because I spent my early years a few miles down the road, by the sea, and have these sounds hardwired into my brain. But a psycho-geographical connection is not necessary to delight in the sounds of Seascape No. 1 which is, in the first half, waves crashing to the shore with the occasional ghostly voice coming within range of the microphone. The second side of the tape is more concerned with the ambience inland, recording the sound of the sounds being captured, the wind in the grass acting as so much tape hiss. Lovely. (Jeremy Bye)
Kate Carr ~ Return to New Caledonia (Flaming Pines)
Remembrance and return. Kate Carr returns to a holiday to fully explore its sonic possibilities. Inside the music, the jungles of New Caledonia come into reach. Reef fish, insects, rain and even a coconut instrument are spread throughout a dense sound-world teeming with life. Through this record, it’s possible to glimpse a whole new world – one that can now be explored through music, and returned to over and over again. (James Catchpole)
Lee Noyes & Radio Cegeste ~ to orient themselves with coastlines (idealstate)
My personal choice for album of the year, this collaborative effort is nothing if not an example of minimalism at its most moving, heart-sweeping best. For connoisseurs of all things static and radio-flavored, this album is a cornucopia of abundant sounds, and holds together remarkably well as a cohesive statement. The best argument for the validity of experimental music anyone has made this year. (Zachary Corsa)
Luca Sigurta ~ Bliss (fratto9)
The cover is of a harbour, and so is the music. Sigurtà’s been quiet as a solo artist for some time now, but Bliss is a strong comeback, an unsettling album of awkward tones and disquieting hums. It builds upon the opening track – which is the field recording root of the piece – with metallic drones on subsequent pieces, that underline the industrial past and present of the docks. The mood gets darker and more claustrophobic over the course of the album and the seemingly simple ingredients in Bliss weave a spell; it’s an album to be played loud and immersed in and the sensation of twitchy paranoia by the end contradicts the title somewhat – whatever you’re feeling, it’s probably not bliss. (Jeremy Bye)
Saåad ~ Confluences (BLWBCK)
There is power in a river. What we might look at as a babbling brook to row upon during summer can turn overnight into a destructive, unstoppable force of nature, when the chiming splashes turn into a roar. So a work that has been commissioned to capture the personification of a river – in this case where two rivers meet – should carry some serious firepower with it. Fortunately, Saåad are up to the task, combining field recordings with solid blasts of guitar-based sound. And that’s just side one of the tape – the second half is the untreated sounds of the river(s); given the hums and tones here, it underlines that mother nature herself produces the best soundscapes. (Jeremy Bye)
Simon Scott ~ Below Sea Level (12k)
The British Fens are the setting for this journey into rediscovery. Scott set out to find the wonder he had once set aside, and thankfully for his listeners, he found it. This combination of field recording, guitar and processing can be heard in two different versions: as a suite of tracks and as a single long-form drone. It’s hard to tell which to recommend; together they paint a fuller picture of the environment that inspired them. (Richard Allen)
Various Artists ~ Birds of a Feather Series (Flaming Pines)
Now that the Rivers Home series has ended, Flaming Pines has put together an even more alluring treat: a dozen CD3″s, each concentrating on a single bird. So far we’ve heard entries from Porya Hatami, Michael Trommer, Darren McClure and The Green Kingdom, covering (in order) the black woodpecker, the great northern loon, the black kite and the great blue heron, and we’ve been impressed by every one. Our Christmas wish for 2013: a beautiful boxed set, collecting them all. (Richard Allen)