Various Artists ~ Fieldwave Vol. 1 & 2

As series editor Nick Luscombe noted in January 2020, an increasing number of composers have been incorporating field recordings into their productions, partially due to the convenience of cellphones.  The first volume of Fieldwave was published as a way to highlight such artists.  Since then, a lot has changed.  For many in lockdown, field recordings became the most available form of fresh recordable sound.  Vol. 2 presses even deeper into this accumulating field.

This being said, the project’s first sound is that of song.  But Hojo + Kraft subvert expectations with whispers and trolley sounds, creating an otherworldly collage.  Soon there is breath, followed by wolf howls, a fine overture.  Ian Chambers offers a sonic report on “The Regent’s Canal,” replete with church and bicycle bells ringing in tandem as trains pass by.  For Now with Darren Hayman capture an endearing snippet as a child yells, “Ling!  It’s so hot!  So hot!”  Thunder threatens in the background; bees buzz as hawkers sell “Yellow Flowers!”  “There’s a lot of creatures around here,” notes another passer-by; and then the floodgates open.  Luscombe himself contributes pure Tokyo birdsong, one of many tracks to honor the art itself; those who order the tape will also receive a harrowing half-hour of Hong Kong protests, recorded by Nonclassical founder Gabriel Prokofiev: not the final protest, only the last huge gathering before the pandemic.

Suffice it to say that things did not improve between January 2020 and October 2021.  To listen to these recordings back-to-back is to fold over time.  Vol. 2 concentrates on Japan, including field recordings made in Japan by British visitors. Sugai Ken leads the volume with the sound of flowing water, a peaceful contrast to the end of the last cassette.  As Japanese culture is particularly in tune with nature, it’s no surprise that field recordings would resonate in the nation as well.  But motorbikes disturb the reverie, a reminder of the encroaching noise pollution of our species.  Mat Eric Hart rescues bicycle bells from the rain, a continuing (yet welcome) sub-theme.  A train sounds a human-like whistle.  In a nearby temple, as the rain subsides, generations gather in song.

Midori Hirano treats the rain as a beautiful backdrop for her piano, or the other way around.  She invites footsteps and conversation to operate as instruments in a serene symphony.  As in the first volume, some selections are more musical while others prefer the music of the environment.  On “Tsumagoi Walking Project,” Lee Sparey transforms the sound of footsteps into percussion, saving money on drums, while DissolvingPath allows precipitation to form its own percussive patterns, enhanced by human splashes.  Halfway into “Water Dragon,” the sonic field erupts, creating the album’s sharpest dynamic contrast.

Overall, the second volume is more cohesive than the first, thanks in large part to the geographic theme.  While listening to Vol. 2, one experiences a sense of holiness through temple recordings and titles such as “8 Million Gods in a House,” a lovely, tinny, bell-toned piece that briefly includes cowbells.  In this and other pieces, there seems to be a battle between serenity and disturbance: a dog, a car, a service announcement.  Moments of Zen are difficult to come by and even harder to sustain.  And yet Luscombe and others find them, and offer them to our ears.  The Shinto blessing that concludes Vol. 2 is as raucous as the Hong Kong protest that ended the first, while bearing a completely different tone.  The implication is that inner peace is still available, even as the outer world remains in tumult.  (Richard Allen)

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