ACL 2022 ~ Top Ten Field Recording & Soundscape

What is the sound of the year?  In recent years, it might have been the sound of silence, or that of pots and pans struck in solidarity; it might have been the sound of protest, or of fire.  This year, it may be the sound of sirens or of the war in Ukraine.  It may be the last recordings of endangered birds, or melting glaciers.  A picture may be worth a thousand words, but a sound can make a similar impact, especially when it may never be heard again.

Our list also has room for a deserted port, a Day of the Dead parade, a complex under construction, and the soundtrack to an entire night, from dusk till dawn.  For better, for worse, in all its beauty and ugliness, this is what the world sounds like today.

Alexandra Spence ~ a veil, the sea (Mappa)
Comprised of two 15 minute tracks, Spence’s a veil, the sea was one of two albums the artist released in 2022 centered on recordings made in and of water. While not contesting water’s association with peace and calm, the album’s layers of drone, signal, and voice suggest the multiplicity of sounds which actually fill an ecosystem. A more uneasy than pleasant listen, on a veil, the sea, Spence collages sounds in order to craft an urgent elegy for what the sea was, and what it has become. Her sonic practice both captures and illustrates pollution, most noticeably in the field recordings interruption by other, more mechanical sounds, in order to shine a spotlight on pollution in a broader sense, and the unavoidable effects it has on our surroundings. (Jennifer Smart)

Original Review

Australian Bird Calls ~ Songs of Disappearance: Australian Bird Calls (Bowerbird Collective)
The rare field recording to catch the public’s ears, Songs of Disappearance even managed to top the Australian music chart, momentarily displacing Taylor Swift.  The importance of such a feat cannot be overstated; field recordings can make a person care and act.  Such is the point of this superlative release, which gathers the cries of endangered birds, some perhaps for the last time, appealing to the hearts of listeners everywhere.  An amphibian sequel, Songs of Disappearance: Australian Frog Calls, followed in its wake. (Richard Allen)

Original Review

Cole Peters ~ A Certain Point of Inertia (Room40)
The choice with a field recording based work is how much to process one’s recordings, how much to layer them, or how much to let their sources linger. On A Certain Point of Inertia, Peters layers sounds recorded in different locations and at different times, but a strong sense of place, or what Peters might describe as narrative, still emerges. It’s often a calming record, a spacious one, marked by the sound of wind and sea and gulls, but the emergence of more sustained drones, intermittent creaking and other noise at various moments across the record, shakes the listener out of their inertia. “Reassertion,” the album’s final track, departs from the rest of the album in its use of drone and mechanical whirring to traffic a different set of affects. This artful record gently manipulates sound to imbue the everyday with a sense of urgency, even as Peters seems to prefer his recordings speak for themselves. (Jennifer Smart)

Original Review

Daniela Fromberg & Stefan Roigk ~ Unfamiliar Home (Edition Telemark)

Originally an art installation, this album is comprised by invasive sounds from the construction projects around the Berlin apartment where the artist couple lived in 2011-2013, renovations directly tied to the gentrification of the area. What was once the residence of workers becomes the playground of the rich, an assault that we often forget is not only abstract in nature (as with upscaling prices), but base: these incisive sounds alienate, constantly remaking a known space into its contrary. The sound of development is a very material concern, experientially affecting people’s relationships with the places they call home in extreme ways, laying the ground for their eventual expulsion. In short, this is what sonic class warfare feels like. (David Murrieta Flores)

Original Review

Difference Machine ~ ніколи не змиряться (Erythroleuko Plakia)
In his seminal study Listening to War: Sound, Music, Trauma and Survival in Wartime Iraq, J. Martin Daughtry coins the term “belliphonic” to described “the imagined total of sounds that would not have occurred had the conflict not taken place,” and that carry the potential of causing physical damage (tinnitus, hearing loss) and PTSD. Triggering a heightened sense of auditory alertness, Difference Machine maps out an acoustic territory replete with sonic markers of violence, not always identifiable with any degree of certainty. Striving to decode hissing tones and drones as aircraft, air raid sirens or weaponry, fuels a creeping sense of anxiety. The subjective use of the audio recording device in the closing track “іконографія репресованих народів (Київ-Сєвєродонецьк, 23.05.2022)” takes the listener to the point of full identification, as footsteps are stopped in their tracks by explosions that grow increasingly louder and breath is held. A deeply troubling  listen. (Gianmarco Del Re)

Ukrainian Field Notes XVII

Institute of Landscape and Urban Studies ~ Bodies of Water Trilogy (Self-Released)
Melting Landscapes is the first album to appear on year-end lists in different years, thanks to its inclusion in the Bodies of Water boxed set.  This year’s sparkling new installments are Dammed Landscapes and Buried Landscapes, completing the trilogy.  Once again, the staff and students of the Institute are to be congratulated for their diligent efforts, not only in calling attention to the climate crisis, but in recording these pristine pieces.  The icing on the cake is the spectacular presentation, with elaborate liner notes, photographs and tri-colored vinyl.  (Richard Allen)

Original Review

London Sound Survey ~ From Dusk Till Dawn (Persistence of Sound)
There’s a certain sadness in hearing one of the last works of a beloved artist, especially one so on top of his game.  From Dusk Till Dawn may well be Ian Rawes’ magnum opus, suffused with a love for life and the passages of time.  While it’s impossible not to be subjective about such a recording, one may also receive it as a metaphor ~ Rawes recorded from dusk till dawn, while his body was proceeding from dawn to dusk.  He will be remembered for cherishing each, and for capturing the nuance of creatures and hours.  (Richard Allen)

Original Review

Nicholas Maloney ~ passage (Unfathomless)
If a port operates without people, does it still make a sound?  Nicholas Maloney answers these questions in definitive fashion, finding way into the location after hours, capturing the sounds of lapping, humming and buzzing.  In one sense, this is a pandemic set; in another, it’s a sharing of secrets.  When the people return, one cannot help but be a little disappointed; the machines and water were making such a sweet symphony on their own.  (Richard Allen)

Original Review

R. Weis ~ Cempazúchitl (Party With the Dead) (Self-Released)
The recording starts with a brass blast, but it immediately slows down into claps and percussive sounds. When the brass blasts are back, it becomes clear that this sound collage is more than just a reinterpretation or an archival piece: it seeks to be the party itself. Every procession in the Mexican festivity is accompanied by long planning and an aesthetic preoccupation with ‘good taste’ – an altar should be showy, but not to the point of garishness. As the recording twists the brass and shouts into a broken, estranged EDM beat, it mimics the rhythms and flows of the festivity, a mixture of slow and quiet moments with the bombast of town celebrations. In the middle – those openings between tranquility and euphoria – live the ghosts, the sounds of people going “oooh”. They walk along the procession, but they do not scare, because there is no fruitful distinction between us in the end. (David Murrieta Flores)

Original Review

Silence of Sirens ~ S/T (Self-Released)
“It’s 04:00, February 24, 2022. Deep in a soggy night we were woken up by the sound of shelling followed by a howling siren. Since then millions of Ukrainians are living in a new dimension. No matter how far from the frontline, this sound is haunting us. It’s the sound of air raid alerts. It’s omnipresent. Stuck inside everyone’s head. It’s the new silence. Silence of Sirens.” [Philipp Markovich]

The pervasive nature of air raid sirens have rendered them ubiquitous in many of the most recent releases from Ukraine. They can be neutered as ambient slices of downtempo (Lugovskiy’s Sirens of Kyiv) or spun into neoclassical drones (Natalia Tsupryk’s Kyiv). Every transformative approach is equally valid and possibly cathartic. Philipp Markovich likes to serve his sirens raw and unadulterated, compiling a 25 track collection of field recordings from each of Ukraine’s 24 regions (+ the capital Kyiv) enabling the listener to experience, in however small a way, the impact of sound on the mindset of Ukrainians and the daily toll of air raid sirens on their mental health. By co-opting John Cage’s 4’33” as a conceptual benchmark, Markovich demonstrates how difficult it would be for an artist to record “silence” in the newly reconfigured soundscape of Ukraine where the hum of everyday life is constantly disrupted by sirens drowning out birdsong, indistinct chatter, passersby and children playing. The release is accompanied by a website with an interactive map, with proceeds going to Repair Together and Musicians Defend Ukraine(Gianmarco Del Re)

Ukrainian Field Notes XVII

One comment

  1. Pingback: 2022 Best of Lists from Around the Web: Part V – Avant Music News

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