In compiling these field recordings, some artists traveled to distant lands, while others stayed at home. Some added instruments, others computer processing. Some of these releases are in love with certain places, but each one is in love with sound.
An effective field recording is more than just a sonic photo of a specific time and place; it’s a recording that speaks to larger themes, such as history or home. In like fashion, an effective soundscape is more than just a jumble of sounds; it’s an investigation of sonic properties that brings new ideas to the table.
The artists below best exemplify what it means to take a closer listen. In response, we listened to them, and liked what we heard.
And now, in alphabetical order, we present A Closer Listen‘s Top Ten Field Recording & Soundscape Releases of 2013.
AIPS Collective ~ Postcards from Italy (Oak Editions)
Postcards from Italy, the album, grew out Postcards from Italy, Gianmarco Del Re’s fabulous interview series for Fluid-Radio, in which he interviewed Italian electro-acoustic artists about their work and the regions in which they live. Each of the participants on this record is a member of AIPS, a collective of Italian artists working with field-recordings. Each track consists of a set of field-recordings made by one member shaped by another. This deceptively simple concept produced an album of remarkable compositions exploring the intersection of identity and place, as diverse as Italy itself, somehow clinging together with a sense of cohesion. (Joseph Sannicandro)
Chris Watson ~ In St. Cuthbert’s Time (Touch)
The Lindisfarne Gospels bear images of the Holy Island, and Chris Watson’s field recordings capture its sounds. It’s hard to make a good field recording today without modern intrusions such as planes, but Watson does a great job concentrating on the wide variety of birds and the soft tug of the surf. In so doing, he creates a spiritual exercise, a reflection on ancient faith that passes through the filter of modern sound. (Richard Allen)
David Vélez ~ Unseen Terror (Echomusic)
The editor of The Field Reporter nearly placed two albums on this list, as isolation matter also found support from our staff. In the end, unseen terror won out, an experimental work reflecting the three stages of catastrophe. The cover depicts the closing scene, in which everything gets smashed. But unlike The Hulk (“Hulk Smash!”), Vélez is concerned with the sound of smashing ~ an antithesis to the sound of silence. The work may not be terrifying, but it’s terribly good. (Richard Allen)
Daniel Blinkhorn ~ Terra Subfónica (Gruenrekorder)
An investigation of sound and sub-sound, Terra Subfónica offers a vast array of timbres: heartbeats and clocks, coral creatures and children’s toys. This rich, engaging, and fulfilling work is sequenced in such a way as to produce a feeling of ongoing surprise. Blinkhorn takes an obvious delight in his subjects, and his mood is contagious. (Richard Allen)
Guillermo Pizarro ~ Glasswerks (Self-released)
Guillermo Pizarro’s live shows are a spectacle to behold, lingering somewhere in the haunted boundaries between experimental music and performance art. His roaring soundscapes are a treat to experience in person, and on Glasswerks, Mr. Pizarro has managed to bottle such invigorating lightning in recorded form, for which I couldn’t be more grateful. This is the definition of envelope-pushing music. (Zachary Corsa)
João Castro Pinto ~ Ars Abscondita (OTO)
The work of this Portuguese artist can be difficult to comprehend, as it offers a combination of the traditional and the untraditional: drain pipes, Tibetan bowls, a calliope. These sources are then combined in an unconventional manner, as sharp edits and sudden fades as balanced by full, rich tones. This hidden art becomes the basic of a beguiling set, that challenges listeners to encounter familiar sounds in an unfamiliar way. (Richard Allen)
Kate Carr ~ Songs from a cold place (Flaming Pines)
Pilgrimages in the name of artistic inspiration are nothing new in the underground music world. A change of scenery can easily shake the dust from a period of creative decay and rejuvenate the necessary senses. Australian soundscape ingenue Kate Carr’s spring trip to Iceland birthed this incredible collection of field recordings layered with exotic langspil and gentle glockenspiel, and this is definitely an artistic journey worth taking. (Zachary Corsa)
Monte Isola ~ Niebla (Wild Silence)
Myriam Pruvot’s trip from Brussels to Chile may have taken her out of her physical comfort zone, but it brought her to the middle of her sonic comfort zone. Instead of filling her suitcase with tchotchkes, Pruvot filled her ears – and recording devices – with the sounds of hulls and dogs. After returning home, she pasted them all into a sonic scrapbook, along with poetry, song and travel writing. The result blows away any slide show. (Richard Allen)
Simon Whetham & Slavek Kwi ~ Exchanges Across a Dinner Table (Tentacles of Perception)
This pair of collaborators sorts through sound like scavengers through a junk pile, rescuing the best bits while leaving the rest to rot. Flies buzz above the lot, while bicycles and balloons, motors and saws are rescued from the sonic debris. Exchanges is thick with detritus, but pure in intention. What begins as trash ends up as a buffet. (Richard Allen)
Steve Wilkes ~ Hear Cape Cod Volume One (Hear Cape Cod)
More than any other album this year, Hear Cape Cod Volume One brings field recordings to a wide audience, and it does so without compromise. The first disc captures local sounds that cannot be mistaken for those in other coastal regions: morse code from the Chatham Marconi Maritime Center, voices in the Pilgrim Monument stairwell. The second compiles musical works from Goldmund, Loscil and more, utilizing the sounds of the Cape. Together, the set is as a blueprint of how to share the sounds of a region. (Richard Allen)