ACL 2015: Top Ten Field Recording & Soundscape

LawrenceEnglishVientoLetterpressThis year’s top field recording and soundscape albums travel to global extremes, from the frozen Arctic to the heart of the jungle.  They commute to congested cities and retreat to quiet streams.  They fall in love with frogs and olives.  To listen to these recordings is to engage with one’s own environment and to recognize the beauty of others.  Some of these works are soft and subtle; others are crowded and cacophonous.  Taken together, they enhance our experiences of sound and life.  Congratulations to Gruenrekorder, who continues to lead the field and has two albums listed here.

And now, in alphabetical order, A Closer Listen presents the Top Ten Field Recording and Soundscape releases of 2015.

Artificial Memory Trace ~ Klank Avonture Van Mmabolela Wildsplaas (Eter)
Unusual field recordings are conceived in the misty, dark swamps. Artificial Memory Trace records the choked croaking of frogs and the shrill buzzing of insects, but strange rumblings shake the earth, too. It’s enough to make you feel slightly uneasy – this is a deep part of the swamp. Thunder rocks the sky. Just above the surface of the dark, oily water, you can just make out the black, calculating eyes of an alligator, staring at you. The field recordings are manipulated as they’re united with electronics.  (James Catchpole)

Review and purchase link

Enrico Coniglio ~ OlivElegy (Impulsive Habitat)
This audio documentary captures the process of time-honored artisanal production of olive oil, a product which since ancient times has been deeply linked to the character of Italy and its people. On OlivElegy one encounters the sounds of olives being collected, the churning of the mill, the sound of machines as the oil is pressed. And importantly one hears the joyous sound of the workers, inseparable from the process. The machines create rich, engrossing drones, with pulsing low ends and slow polyrhythmic clicking that exceed documentary purposes and that are sonically interesting on their own. Significantly, this mill is located just a few kilometers from the city of Assisi (as in Saint Francis, the namesake of the current Pope), and is operated by the nuns from nearby monasteries. Created using binaural microphones, OlivElegy must be listened to with headphones to conjure the feeling of being there. But despite the realism of the stereo effect there is a musical, narrative quality in the framing and composition of these recordings that one would expect from an artist of Coniglio’s talents.  (Joseph Sannicandro)

Review, streaming and download link

Kate Carr ~ I had myself a nuclear spring (Self-Released)
How do we understand the natural cycles of a river when they are altered by rampant industrialization? What effects, seen or unseen, does a nuclear power plant have on the environment? On the economy? With I had myself a nuclear spring Kate Carr documents a stretch of the river Seine in order to explore such questions, juxtaposing the natural with the technical to suggest a powerful metaphor for much more powerful relationships. Her soundscape moves from the sounds of a desolate town near the recessed river after an overflow to the electromagnetic interference captured by hydrophones in the river. Above the water there is still the sound of abundant wildlife, while gentle swells of feedback and electrical noise blur together, driving the narrative forward. The track-titles give some sense of place, but much of the album works through gesture and abstract suggestion. Composing with field-recordings can draw conceptual power from such associations, and Carr’s work is exemplary in this regard. (Joseph Sannicandro)

Review and purchase link

Lawrence English ~ Viento (Taiga)
Viento is the sound of an Antarctic blizzard, captured on site: one of the bravest field recordings we’ve heard in recent years.  Few people willingly subject themselves to such conditions, but English’s courage is our gain.  While listening, one can imagine the whipping wind, the wailing rails, the white-out conditions.  The artist has been recording winter sounds for a decade, but these are the coldest he’s ever captured.  (Richard Allen)

Review and purchase link

Lewis Gilbert ~ Roundstone (Gruenrekorder)
The Atlantic Ocean calls out to you. The infinite heartbeat pulsates through the grey waves as they rhythmically crash onto the shore. The wind bruises your face, blowing your hair every which way and rustling your jacket. The low skies are permanently cloudy, and like a spirit afraid of the afterlife’s light they refuse to move on. The sky has forgotten its blue. This is the sound of nature – 100% natural music.  (James Catchpole)

Review and purchase link

Mark Vernon ~ Things That Were Missed In The Clamour For Calm (3leaves)
What happens when noise battles noise?  Do the tones cancel each other out, or create a new entity?  Is our clamour for calm causing us to miss important sounds?  These questions and more are investigated on Mark Vernon’s latest work, a Sri Lankan soundscape that beguiles as it unfolds.  The wealth of sounds is astonishing; this is one of the richest cityscapes one will ever hear, presented in compact form.  (Richard Allen)

Review and purchase link

R. Schwarz ~ The Scale of Things (Gruenrekorder)
The human ear is unequipped to hear the wealth of available sound.  R. Schwarz flips the script on The Scale of Things, amplifying sources that are foreign to the common listener.  At times, one imagines the specific sources, but it’s just as likely that the ear is being fooled.  By embracing the seldom heard, Schwarz opens new avenues of listening.  (Richard Allen)

Review and purchase link

Terje Paulsen ~ From a Nearby Bay (taâlem)
From A Nearby Bay is a unique recording. It isn’t your standard field recording, either. The propeller of a plane juts into the rhythm of the river as it flies up above, and the water ripples and lightly splashes against the side of the boat. As we recline, experimental tones – often acute and very sharp – pierce the serenity. Water runs over a processed drone in one constant and flowing motion.  (James Catchpole)

Review and purchase link

Tommy Perman, Simon Kirby and Rob St. John ~ Concrete Antenna (Random Spectacular)
As the soundtrack to an interactive art installation, Concrete Antenna brings the listening experience to those who might not otherwise be able to enjoy the work in person.  This combination of artistic packaging, informative essay and evocative recording is a credit to all of the people involved, from musicians to designers.  Even without the visuals, the music impresses; “Church Bells” is especially lovely.  (Richard Allen)

Review and purchase link

Yannick Dauby ~ tsi̍t lâu tsuí 一流水 (Discrepant)
If Roundhouse (above) is the placid sea, tsi̍t lâu tsuí is the active shore.  Walking the sands of Peng-Hu, the artist collected an array of sounds, which he took back to the studio for amplification and molding.  The album soon became more than the sum of its parts.  The listening experience is far from soothing, but reflects a full engagement with one’s aural environment: the good, the bad and the ugly, mixed together in a sonic stew.  (Richard Allen)

Review and purchase link


  1. Pingback: 2015 Best of Lists from Around the Web: Part IV « Avant Music News

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