For those whose 2013 resolutions included “listen to more field recordings”, this is a great place to start. Oregon’s Daniel Menche has released a huge number of recordings in the past twenty years, including entries in the fields of experimental music and drone, but his field recordings and soundscapes have become his bread and butter. We first became aware that he was posting raw recordings to his Soundcloud page via The Wire‘s Office Ambience list a year ago, and since that time the list has continued to grow. Having outgrown that site, Menche has moved everything to Bandcamp and in so doing made Raw Recording Series (Volume One) an official release rather than a series of tracks.
It’s important to note that these works don’t always seem like raw recordings; in many instances, they come across as sculpted works. Even a raw recording has a discernible beginning and end, while the choice of section is determined by the artist as well. Perhaps one section is clear while another suffers from wind shear; perhaps one is overly sparse, or another overly cluttered. Menche has a fine ear not only for sound, but for its presentation, and these pieces present a wonderful cross-section of his work. Due to their variety, they also serve as a valuable introduction to the world of field recording.
Admittedly, 5 hours and 22 minutes is a long time to spend listening to an “album” (at this point, perhaps it’s better to refer to this as a collection). For purposes of home listening, I divided these tracks into ten segments, ranging in length from that of a CD3″ (“Ant Hill”, “Electrical”, “School Basements”) to that of an album (“Rain”, “Wind” and “Waterfalls”, each clocking in at around an hour) and burned each to a separate CD-R. After enjoying them for the better part of a year, I added the latest tracks on a trio of new discs to form a complete set. It’s all a question of what attracts the ear ~ those who prefer trains will find a nice disc embedded here, as will those who enjoy caves, ferries or even ski lifts. The download is free; it’s okay to pick and choose.
“Electrical” (formerly “Electrical Power Lines”) is the best electric-based sound presentation since offthesky’s Flourescent. The piece is intricately shaped, showing development and variety over the course of its dozen minutes. Listening is like tuning in to the sounds just outside our houses – the sounds sensed by bats, but seldom heard by humans. “School Basements” (formerly “Empty School Basements”) rests on the outskirts of drone, with traffic and unidentified clacking that sounds like pool balls. A close relative is Simon Whetham’s equally compelling Mall Muzak. In this instance, the “music” unfolds over the course of half an hour, and is busy enough to make one question the initial description of the basement as empty. Sometimes it seems to be raining inside, but this may be the result of a leaky pipe or cranky heater.
At 76 minutes, “Rain” is the longest selection here, although for purposes of this release it’s been divided into two parts. The most appealing passages present the sound of rain on metal and/or glass, lending musical resonance. As the tempest builds, the volume slowly increases. These pieces don’t “develop” as much as they might in a soundscape, but this is a particularly long and well-captured storm. A highlight is the stereo division that occurs at the midway point, which makes the listener feel as if they are in a barn with two doors. This welcome contrast continues throughout the second part. “Waterfalls” (formerly “Waterfalls and River”) allows those who follow Menche’s releases to get a glimpse of the raw materials used in Kataract (to this listener, his best recording to date); while “Wind” provides a full sonic snapshot of a storm, from drizzle and breeze to all-out maelstrom.
There’s much more to investigate here, not only for newcomers but for fans. This Whitman sampler of raw recordings should be enough to draw listeners to the rest of Menche’s catalog, especially the aforementioned Kataract and the just-released The Sky Below and the Earth Above. Afterwards, there will be one less resolution remaining, but a new world of sonic possibilities ahead. (Richard Allen)