This is a massive undertaking by any stretch of the imagination: a 7-LP box set with a hardcover book and download, featuring dozens of our favorite artists and dozens more new to our site. It may seem pricey, but considering its breadth, this is actually a bargain. For those interested in the intersection between field recordings and music, Metaphonics is a must-have.
It all starts with the field recordings of sound artist Stuart Hyatt, who finds musical frameworks for a multitude of treasures. From this point, the artists spike off in all different directions, seeming to cover every color in the musical spectrum. Some are percussive, others contemplative, others in awe of the music of the spheres or the silt. Hours of wonder pass while one sits and listens and reads.
Initial Sounds is a double LP, while the other six are single LPs. Geophony delves into glaciers and volcanos, Cosmophony the sounds of deep space. Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith provides a relaxing Buchia journey scored to running and rushing water. Gazelle Twin shares a different side of her already complex personality on “Into the Flux,” which sounds nothing like anything on her recent album; the artist seems always to be looking forward, and the nuance of this recording ~ ticking, humming, and layered contemplation ~ raises our already-high esteem. The meditative “Flow,” on the other hand, is recognizable as the work of Visible Cloaks, a fine companion to 2018’s Reassemblage. The shift at 4:35 is the most distinguishable mark, as the track seems to end before relaunching on a different frequency. Even Dan Deacon tones it down a bit on “Potentially Lahars,” offering rapid-fire notes backed by rushes of what one assumes are eruptions, toppling into a dense lava drone. The Field and Pantha du Prince each offer side-long tracks on the space-themed LP, the first featuring observatory dialogue, the second ready for a quiet rave. Despite our love of vinyl, it’s important to point out the presence of a Hyatt bonus track (a few are sprinkled about) on the digital version, which may bring to mind Ben Stiller’s classic “eruption” dialogue from “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty.”
Born in the Ear covers “the collision of urban and rural” in Pennsylvania’s Lancaster County. Paul de Jong‘s opener is especially pretty, the phrase “all these things are real” repeated in speech and song, with full instrumentation and sharp mastering. A choir launches Eluvium‘s “They Coat the Land in Names,” backing the poetic phrases of multiple narrators. The track is so effective that one wonders if Eluvium might consider recording a whole album like this. The inspiration of Erik Anderson is behind these evocations, bringing out the best in Loscil, Juana Molina, Greg Davis and The Album Leaf, but the less familiar Forrest Lewinger turns in the warmest, most community-minded piece. Stuart Hyatt brings it all home in “The Last Long Walk.” We hope the people of Lancaster get to hear this.
“After I got into the cave, it was as if the cave itself turned its lights on.” This beautifully captured sentence from 89-year-old Mary McGrath Curry encapsulates the mood of Glen Rose Formation and the beauty of the Texas landmark. The Field Works Ensemble provides the music, a blend of pedal steel and light orchestration, followed by a series of remixes from Dntel, Matmos, Lusine, Raﬁq Bhatia, and Luke Abbott. As one might expect, the remixes enter at a different angle, from Dntel’s playful percussion to Lusine’s danceable drips. Matmos highlights the phrase “fish – with – white – eyes”, punctuating it with splashes. Everyone is tasteful, despite the fact that no one plays it safe.
Pogue’s Run conjures images of Annea Lockwood, tracing the flow of a waterway from start to finish. Eluvium chimes in again, along with Benoit Pioulard, Marcus Fischer, Rafael Anton Irisarri and William Tyler. The timbres remain gentle for the first six tracks, which is fitting for the flow of a river; Irisarri’s abraded “Into the White” is the most understated, a fine balance to Tyler’s declarative prose finale “Pogues Out Walking.” Hyatt then teams up with Julian Marchal and Mary Lattimore on The Fair State, which begins with a government disaster declaration before interposing recordings from the Indiana State Fair. The most political of these LPs, The Fair State expresses anger and disappointment in the promises of public officials, but does so in a way that highlights the nobility of the working class. “People are so nice!” declares one person in the wake of the welcoming of Syrian refugees. “Indianapolis welcomes everybody.” If only Public Service Broadcasting had continued to explore new territories (instead of the Titanic), they might have stumbled upon something like this. Finally, The National Road is a 12-artist, 12-song cycle built around Hyatt’s field recordings walking a single Indianapolis street, inspired by Italo Calvino’s Invisible Cities, coincidentally the inspiration for the recent Wang Wen album as well, even more coincidentally released four days apart. Lullatone, Lali Puna, B. Fleishmann and more make contributions, all part of a greater tapestry.
We haven’t even gotten to the book, but suffice it to say that the entire project is meant for those with long attention spans ~ so if you’ve read this far, you’re the target audience. The Field Works Listener’s Guide adds depth and context to the vinyl recordings. The interconnected essays and photographs are edited by Hyatt along with Janneane and Benjamin Blevins. Bernie Krause‘s forward serves as a letter of recommendation and an invitation to explore. Therein lies the irony: Metaphonics is a world in a box, celebrating everything that is not confined to a box: the beauty of nature, relationships and the infinite. It’s a reaffirmation of everything we believe in: important, yes, but oh-so-enjoyable as well. (Richard Allen)