ACL 2016: Top Ten Field Recording & Soundscape

soundscapes-of-summerFew people would guess that the Field Recording and Soundscape section of our site would also be its most timely and political.  And yet, as this year’s selections indicate, the genre is far more than nature recordings. While these continue to have their place, they also hint at much larger stories: climate change, disappearing environments, the usurping of nature by noise.  This year’s selections also touch on pressing societal issues, from the effects of terrorism to street protest to poverty to urban alienation.  These recordings can be downright lovely; they can also terrify.  More than anything, they are relevant, an aural reflection of modern global life.

And now A Closer Listen presents The Top 10 Field Recordings and Soundscapes of 2016!

Andrea Borghi ~ Fuochi Rituali di San Giuseppe (Unfathomless)
The first of three entries from Unfathomless on this year’s list, Fuochi Rituali Di San Giuseppe includes some of the longest, most pristine fire recordings we’ve ever heard, honoring a Tuscan ceremony that brings communities together for a night of revelry and rebirth.  As a result, the recording possesses a warmth that extends beyond the beauty of its fire.  (Richard Allen)

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Bethan Kellough ~ Aven (Touch)
Icelandic geothermal vents, South African winds and Bethan Kellouogh’s violin join forces on this geography-defying recording.  By adding the strings to the winds, Kellough builds on their already-pervasive power, amplifying their dramatic surges while caressing their calmer lows.  Together they form a symphony of air and bow.  (Richard Allen)

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David Vélez & Bruno Duplant ~ Moyens Fantômes (Unfathomless)
When new technologies replace the old, information becomes lost in the transition.  This extended work contains the sounds of Beta, VHS, floppy disc, laser disc and more, sputtering while degrading, creating their own “new” voices.  The album is an ode to forgotten formats whose time in the sun was all too limited.  If we make analogies to human existence, all the better.  (Richard Allen)

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Flavien Gillié ~ Matagne-la-Grande (Self-Released)
Bracketed by the tolling of church bells, this lovely soundscape sings of an ideal morning, inviting listeners to throw open the blinds and welcome the dawn.  The recording may inspire those who live in the cities and suburbs to adopt a bucolic state of mind, and in so doing to gain the strength needed to surpass the struggles of the day.  (Richard Allen)

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Izabela Dłużyk ~ Soundscapes of summer (LOM)
This is our favorite soundscape of the year, and it comes with our favorite story.  The artist, blind from birth, has an extraordinary ear for field recording, and she puts it to great use in these Polish forests, creating a soundscape that stretches from sunrise to sunset.  She’s just realized her lifelong dream of traveling to the Amazon forest to record macaws in the wild.  Her journey is an inspiration and we’re eager to hear her sonic travelogue.  (Richard Allen)

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Joseph Sannicandro ~ a sea without a port (Galaverna)
Joseph Sannicandro’s a sea without a port packs its bags and takes a trip to South America. Music is transportation, but the often overlooked field recording is a direct dialogue. Take this metro train and you’ll feel the culture, the history, the rich depth of artistry, and even the climate. There are no preconceptions inside the music; crime and tourism, poverty and paradise are all here. The field recordings are then gently processed and shaped. The seemingly random sounds cement themselves into this unique recording, and transience becomes permanence. Viva Mexico!  (James Catchpole)

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Mikel R. Nieto ~ Dark Sound (Gruenrekorder)
Dark Sound tells a story that few want to hear, but that all need to hear: a story of a culture obliterated by greed and “progress.”  The black book contains black prose and even blacker thoughts, while the field recordings provide a soundtrack to desecration.  The sounds of nature continue to vibrate beneath the machines, but they do so with progressively weaker sounds.  We strain to hear them as we strain to read their stories, and yet we must.  In the words of Martin Niemöller, First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out …. (Richard Allen)

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S/QU/NC/R ~ OUA_BF (Bordille)
What does a city sound like after a terrorist attack?  Are the differences palpable or barely perceived? François Larini climbed onto a roof to record the sounds of Burkina Faso after attending a funeral for a friend.  Through this aural lens, he ~ and by extension, the listener ~ listen for danger as well as hope.  The birds still chirp.  The traffic still passes.  Is life still good?  The act of creation provides its own response.  (Richard Allen)

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Vanessa Rossetto ~ The way you make me feel (Unfathomless)
We’re fairly confident that this is the only album on our list to include Michael Jackson, whose song inspires the title.  Rossetto uses the song as a metaphor for the experience of urban alienation: while walking the streets of New York, she noticed all the lonely people, and recorded all the lonely sounds.  Depression led to obsession, obsession to hearing, and hearing to healing. (Richard Allen)

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Various Artists ~ Tiny Portraits Series (Flaming Pines)
Flaming Pines’ Tiny Portraits Series entered its best phase to date with a series of four CD3″s inspired by streetscapes: Josten Myburgh (Australia), 9T Antiope (Paris), aag (Mexico City) and Jacqueline George (Cairo).  The series is already up to 16 installments, and we’re hoping for a box set.  Over the years, Kate Carr’s label has proven to be a fine resource for bite-sized and full-sized works alike, and Tiny Portraits’ commitment to theme has helped it to become one of our favorites.  (Richard Allen)

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