Field recordings and soundscapes do much more than reflect the sounds of nature. They also delve into local culture and artificial sound environments; they serve as travelogues, historical statements, and calls to political action. An environment once captured is never the same, and some are disappearing.
An exemplary field recording captures a specific place lodged in a fragment of time. An exemplary soundscape edits sources to tell a larger story, opening a window to let the light in. Each sub-genre serves as reflection and metaphor. When combined, the ten releases on this list offer a fine cross-section of sound that is available in the outer world as well, if only we would listen.
And now, in alphabetical order, A Closer Listen presents the Top Ten Field Recording and Soundscape Releases of 2014.
Chris Silver T ~ Salty Spots (Impulsive Habitat)
A simple idea becomes an elegant meditation on memory as Chris Silver T revisits the vacation spot of his youth: the shoreline of the Peloponnese. This 15-minute recording is the ideal short getaway for anyone who loves the ocean, especially those who are unable to get there at the moment. The sea is patient, and can wait for us to arrive; for now, we are still able to listen and hope. (Richard Allen)
David Vélez ~ The Wait (Gruenrekorder)
In order to capture these sounds, Vélez spent time crouching in the darkness of the Columbian forest, hoping to encounter pristine sound sources, yet fearing the approach of an unknown predator. For the artist, listening became an exercise in survival, but the home listener has the luxury of listening in the comfort of a sealed environment. To recapture a sense of primal fear, try bringing this into the wilderness, letting it play for a while, and then shutting it off. (Richard Allen)
Escape Hatch ~ Bell Recordings (Midnight Circles)
Often the most productive soundscapes are those that tackle familiar sounds in unfamiliar ways. Escape Hatch is making a career of layering and mutating field recordings; AM Train also received votes in our year-end tally. Bell Recordings echoes with intense musicality. Evocative of October, the EP is direct and disconnected at once, a series of notes that serves as a tabula rasa, absorbing the projections of the listener. (Richard Allen)
Francisco López ~ Hyper-Rainforest (Nowhere Worldwide)
This year, prolific sound artist Francisco López founded a new label and began releasing installments of The Epoché Collection. The artist scrolled through years of field recordings in search of patterns ~ rivers, rainforests, ripples. Hyper-Rainforest, initially an 80-channel installation, was recorded in 17 different countries and is one of the wettest and wild releases ever to grace our speakers. (Richard Allen)
Kate Carr ~ Lost in Doi Saket/Overheard in Doi Saket (3leaves)
Early in the year, Kate Carr completed work on the superlative sound map, Lost in Doi Saket, based on her adventures in Thailand. The site is well worth the visit, as it provides hours of entertainment and education. A few months later, a physical souvenir became available. This sound card is packed with photographs and sound art, and is small enough to hide in a curry puff. Carr’s work has been a favorite of our site since its inception, but this is her finest project to date. (Richard Allen)
Lawrence English + Werner Dafeldecker ~ Shadow of the Monolith (Holotype)
Recorded in the Antarctic and packed with snow and ice, Shadow of the Monolith is one of the coldest recordings of the year, and one of the best. The sounds of boots crunching, wind whipping and frost forming are crisp and evocative. Most listeners will never experience white-out conditions up close, but this recording operates as a sonic reflection. (Richard Allen)
Orla Wren ~ Soil Steps (Oak Art Editions)
On his latest album, Orla Wren returns to the nomadic existence that he once enjoyed, treating his surroundings like a treasure hunt. Soil Steps is a single track that wanders and shifts, investigating nooks and crannies of sound. Unlike the other works on this list, the album embraces the sounds of humanity as well as those of nature, finding in the confluence a sense of deep connection. (Richard Allen)
Tarab ~ I’m Lost (23five)
The most abstract and abrasive of this year’s entries, I’m Lost obscures its original sound sources, treating them like mulch. By chopping, dicing, and macerating his recordings, Eamon Sprod creates a new beast, a factory behemoth of grinding gears and pounding plates. We may not know what we’re hearing, but we understand the message: listen again, with new ears. (Richard Allen)
Thibault Jehanne ~ Eskifjörður (Kaon)
Eskifjörður has the distinction of being the latest album to make any of our year-end lists; even now, it’s brand new. Recorded in the fjords of Iceland, the album investigates the line between environment and commerce. By contrasting the sounds of flowing water and ancient songs with those of hammer and steel, Jehanne creates talking points for his listeners; does progress in one area mean regress in another? (Richard Allen)
V/A ~ Bird Box (Flaming Pines)
The Birds of a Feather series completed its final flight this year with CD3″ from Phillippe Petit and curator Kate Carr. The 12-disc series has provided bird lovers with a sweet collection: field recordings of specific species, embedded in complementary compositions. The lovely handmade Bird Box gathers all twelve in its nest; if you missed out, the individual releases are still available. We salute Carr and the Flaming Pines label for seeing an original idea to a satisfying conclusion. (Richard Allen)