Field Works ~ Stations

What does the earth sound like?  Stuart Hyatt puts an ear to the ground before entering the Anchorage Museum, engaging with the earth’s geophony.  His curiosity sparks a follow-up question:  if the earth could shout, could it also whisper?   He imagines how he might correspond with the sounds of the ground: field recording mikes, seismic sensors, subterranean monitors.  Then Hyatt discovers that 280 recording devices are already in place, and his heart rejoices.  The ground work (pun intended) for the tenth entry in his Field Notes series has already been done.

Stations is sedimentary in nature.  At first, there are recordings of deep hums, translations of seismic data and the subtle sounds of underground resonances.  Hyatt invites artists to “duet” wordlessly with these sounds, creating what Ashon Crawley calls hymns.  But then the album turns metamorphic, as ten more artists are invited to reimagine the existing works.  There’s also a book, Stations: Listening to the Deep Earth, which gathers poetry, prose, photography, scientific readings and visual art relating to the project.  Those who order the book (available separately from Jap Sam) receive a download card; the bonus tracks are available with the deluxe vinyl edition.

Hyatt apologizes for the thought that the project may seem “new age,” but no apologies are needed.  The album is a expression of purity, the first nine tracks attributed to “Field Works, Stuart Hyatt, Hanna Benn, Janie Cowan, Masayoshi Fujita, Qasim Naqvi, Pick a Piper,” the tenth to “Field Works, Laraaji, Stuart Hyatt.”  And while “Station 1” does seem serene, Deantoni Parks pumps up the drums on the remix, redefined as a “review.”  Fujita’s vibraphone is heard in a different way here than on his solo albums, peering in and out of the mix, ceding the spotlight to soft vocalizations and vibrations, the latter word from the same Latin root.  And tracks such as “Station 3” already contain percussion, the music gently massaged by Olga Wojciechowska into a newly evolved form.  The first of the “reviews” to surprise is “Station 4,” as Afrodeutsche pumps up the percussion, turning the pensive piece into a dance track.  We’re so used to dancing on the earth that it’s fun to dance to sounds from the earth.

Of all the remixers, Ben Chatwin and Amulets do the best job at creating music that sounds subterranean.  Chatwin’s drones and beats, with hints of modern composition, are tailor-made for this purpose, and his version of “Station 6” comes across as a cavern into which explorers descend by rope, their headlamps insufficient to illuminate the darkness.  And Amulets performs a dextrous sleight-of-hand on “Stations 8” by retracting music and doubling the length of the original piece, highlighting the duet.

But the album’s highlight arrives at the very end.  As previously mentioned, the players change, and with it the timbre.  Laaraji graces the piece with exuberant, wordless song and laughter, a sonic extension of his Laughter Meditation Workshops.  But “Station 10” is also a reflection of what Hyatt calls “The Great Quieting” ~ the reduction of sound during COVID, not only above the earth, but below it.  Without transit and industry, the earth itself was quieter in 2020 and 2021.  Now that most nations have returned to their former levels of production, people may be less likely to put their ears to the ground and to listen to the sounds of our planet; but our planet will continue to speak, and in order to be heard, may also increase her volume.  The Field Works project is a conversation in progress, a reassurance that someone, somewhere, is listening.  (Richard Allen)

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