field recording

Outside-In: Chris Legg

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The latest recording in the Outside-In project comes from long-term 5:4 friend and patron Chris Legg. His field recording was made in woodland not far from Halifax in Yorkshire, in the north of England. Chris says of the recording:

It was recorded during lockdown (but the sounds are not lockdown-specific!), using an Android phone running the Advanced Audio Recorder app, in Beestones Wood, a ten-minute walk from my house. The nearby cliffs (the eponymous stones?) provide a pleasing resonance. Birdsong and other woodland sounds mingle with the drone and white noise of the paper recycling plant in the valley bottom.

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Outside-In: Þóranna Björnsdóttir

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The latest contribution to the Outside-In field recording compilation is from Icelandic composer and sound-artist Þóranna Björnsdóttir. Þóranna has written the following introduction to her recording:

In November 2017, I embarked on a journey to South Africa to participate in the 5th Annual Sonic Mmabolela workshop/residency. Conceived and directed by Francisco López, Sonic Mmabolela is a two-week programme for professional and semi-professional sound artists and composers with previous experience in the area of sound experimentation and sound recordings. It takes place at Mmabolela Reserve, in the Limpopo province of South Africa, right at the border with Botswana. It involves field work, studio work and theoretical/discussion presentations. The residency has a special focus on creative approaches to working with environmental sound recordings, as well as to the role of listening, through an extensive exploration of natural sound environments. It does not have a technical character but is instead conceived and directed towards (i) the questioning of canonical conceptions of so-called ‘field recordings’, and (ii) the development and realisation of projects of sonic creation by the participant artists/composers with the recordings gathered, and through the experience of dedicated listening in natural environments.

The stay at Limpopo and the field listening were a transformational experience for me. The impact of the sounds coming from the diverse fauna in the area stimulated all my senses, creating senses of well being, stress, fear and awe – connecting and transcending various mental associations and emotions.

At dawn on the 18 November 2017, while waiting to collect recording gear from another location, I attached my small Roland R-09HR to a windmill pumping water which was standing at the location where I was waiting. I became fascinated by the metal-scraping rusty music and rhythm this windmill was making, and the ambience it created in combination with the sounds of the fauna around. We are in the midst of a membrane between night and day. I sense, and wonder, about my being. I hear the birds sing, the wind howl, flies buzzing, insects swarming, noise, persistent, squall, dense, rhythmic, drilling. I glide vertical, swinging horizontal, deep, mighty. My perception without restrictions. Impressive surroundings surrounding my awareness, seizing intuition, strengthening hope.

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Outside-In: Kenneth Kirschner

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The next field recording in the Outside-In compilation comes from US composer Kenneth Kirschner. It’s another nocturnal recording, made on Block Island in the state of Rhode Island, off the east coast of the USA.

There’s a lovely sense of calm permeating this recording. The first 90 seconds or so are slightly more intense due to the more obvious presence of muted wind, but the soundscape soon calms and clarifies. In the foreground are assorted cricket and insect calls, all singing out at their own tempo and creating a network of ever-changing cross-rhythms. For me, this is one of the quintessential night-time sounds, and the collection that Kirschner has captured on this occasion are a mesmerising chorus. What i find equally fascinating, though, is the surrounding ambiance: never static, always conveying the vivid impression of life, activity and movement all around, while remaining completely nebulous. Possibly there’s the noise of boats in there somewhere, but these sounds are all the more enjoyable for their being impossible to resolve. It all makes for a highly effective mixture of certainty and uncertainty. Read more

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Outside-In: Ian Wilson

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The latest contribution to the Outside-In project, exploring diverse field recordings, comes from composer Ian Wilson. Unlike the previously-featured recordings, this one is nocturnal. Ian says this about it:

The recording was made on 20th April in the heart of the south Serbian countryside, just outside the village of Međureč, not far from the city of Jagodina but far enough to feel in the middle of nowhere. We’re in lockdown here from 6pm to 5am and I made the recording just after 10pm in the garden of the place we’re staying in – no human noise apart from (weirdly) some gunshots in the distance, which is unusual. A poacher, we think. I used an old Zoom H2 for the recording, which was made in what is part-garden, part-allotment surrounding the house, and this particular bird likes to sit in one of the trees at the bottom and sing all night.

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Outside-In: Simon Cummings

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The latest addition to the Outside-In compilation of field recordings is one of my own. i’m sure i’m not alone in noticing how much more prominent birdsong has become during the lockdown, which is really wonderful. i’ve been fascinated by birdsong for many, many years, and lots of my field recordings focus on birds in some way.

This recording was made almost ten years ago, on 23 May 2010, during a gorgeously hot, sunny day spent exploring the National Nature Reserve at Bridgwater Bay in south-west England, which looks out across the River Severn towards Wales. The shoreline itself was characterised by just two birds, skylarks on the beach and reed warblers in the marshes and reed beds, but moving just slightly further away from the beach yielded an amazing increase in bird numbers. The tip of the reserve is on the Steart Peninsula, and i was curious to see how far its small, single-track road could go before reaching the water. It turned out that the road abruptly stopped next to a house appropriately named At the Very End of the Road. Read more

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Outside-In: Jonathan Coleclough

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i’ve today added a new recording to the Outside-In compilation, this time by sound artist Jonathan Coleclough. If you’re not familiar with Coleclough’s work, i can’t recommend it highly enough; there are a couple of freebies available on Bandcamp, and beyond these i would cite two of his early works, Cake and Windlass, as being among his finest creations. Before turning to Coleclough’s Outside-In contribution, if you have a recording you would like to be considered for this project, please see the Call for Recordings information at the bottom of the article.

Coleclough’s recording was made beside a stream called Holy Brook. He says this about the recording:

This recording was made on 28 March 2020, at about 2pm on a windy afternoon. The location is a small bridge over the Holy Brook, Coley Park, Reading, UK. Latitude 51.442113, Longitude -0.987193; Ordnance Survey map grid reference SU 70489 71944.

The recording was made using in-ear stereo microphones (Roland CS-10EM) under fluffy wind-muffs, so you get a good stereo image listening on headphones.

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Outside-In: JLIAT

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Being in a state of lockdown, as we currently are in the UK and in many other countries, i’ve recently found myself returning to the library of field recordings that i’ve made over the years, using them as a kind of ‘escape’ into the environment during a time when it’s currently not possible to do this. It got me thinking about a possible project for 5:4, in which field recordings of places where composers and sound artists have been in previous years could be compiled and shared. These recordings would provide an immediate, vivid and potentially valuable connection to the outside world, something of a liberation from the current predicament we’re all living through, enabling us to enter into and explore the landscape vicariously through sound.

A couple of weeks ago, i began to contact various musical and artistic friends and colleagues to ask if they had any field recordings of their own that they would like to contribute. The responses are gradually coming in, so today i’m launching the project, which i’m calling Outside-In, and presenting the first of these field recordings. i’ll be introducing each additional recording as they’re added in due course. If you would like to offer a recording of your own to this project, please see the Call for Recordings at the end of the article. The cover image for the project is a photo i took on 22 March, the day before the UK lockdown was introduced. It shows the view from one of my favourite places, not far from where i live: the top of Cleeve Hill – the highest point of the Cotswolds – looking out across Gloucester, Cheltenham and Tewkesbury. Each recording in Outside-In will be accompanied by a Google Maps image of the location where it was made.

The first was recorded by sound artist JLIAT (who was featured recently during my Lent Series), in a coastal village called Burnham Norton. He says this about the recording:

Wind blowing in the marshes of North Norfolk… probably winter 2003.

Recorded on Sony Walkman MZ-R900. Brown Leg Geese? Overwinter in Norfolk from Siberia, feeding on the beet tops and roosting on the marshes.

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Collin Thomas – April Triptych

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The penultimate work i’m featuring in this year’s Lent Series is both the longest and, possibly (depending on your perspective), the simplest. Collin ThomasApril Triptych was released nine years ago on the long-defunct, Berlin-based netlabel Resting Bell. There are a number of reasons why the piece is interesting, but it’s gained a new quality most recently as society has entered its current, ongoing climate of lockdown and isolation. The piece is rooted in field recordings, and at a time when it’s not possible to roam and explore the landscape as we might wish to, field recordings are a precious reminder of the massive and miniature multifaceted natural wonders out there that, for the time being, have become out of bounds.

The field recording in April Triptych is a neutral one, inasmuch as it doesn’t sound obviously manipulated or edited (actually, it comprises three recordings made in the morning, afternoon and evening), and is less about presenting specific sound objects than providing a broad ‘open’ atmosphere for the piece to inhabit. We hear generalised ambiance, leaves and trees rustling, birds calling and singing, the gentle hubbub of traffic, the purring of a nearby engine, all of which forms a passive sonic backdrop. Two additional layers are added to this. The first begins a little under two minutes in: slow-moving harmonies articulated by soft-edged sine tones, their timbre akin to an organ. According to Thomas’ notes on the piece, these drawn out chords are “an extremely elongated renaissance madrigal”, but they are sufficiently extended that they instead take on a nebulous kind of connectivity: sometimes the chords seem to be drones, inviting no sense of a harmonic past or future of which they form a part; yet at other times such a sense is distantly projected, though rarely to the extent that we would exactly think of them as “chord progressions” (there is, if you deliberately listen for it, a cadential finality at the very end). The second additional layer, which first appears around 12 minutes in, is its behavioural polar opposite: brief, sporadic piano gestures, sprinklings of notes like small splashes on the surface of a millpond, their droplets and ripples instantly gone. Read more

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Gráinne Mulvey/Christopher Fox – Aeolus/untouch, John Wiggins – The Listened To Sound, Lee Fraser – Cor Unvers

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A new EP out on the Metier label brings together two works that each exist in an interesting relationship to real sounds. Irish composer Gráinne Mulvey‘s Aeolus, as the title suggests, takes its inspiration from the eponymous king of the island of Aeolia, names better known to us today via the Aeolian harp and its associated mode. Her piece is an acousmatic exploration of material rooted quite obviously in field recordings, though subjected to considerable amounts of processing and sculpting. Throughout, there’s a strong sense that the work is, if not about, then deeply informed by the idea of sound as the result of wind and air friction. The piece begins with, and from time to time returns to, the ambiance of the open air, to the soft accompaniment of birdsong, and Mulvey’s subsequent treatment of sounds transforms them into sheets of shimmer, or as if being propelled through tubes or tunnels, or even heard only by their reverberation, making identification difficult. There’s a lovely intimate tactility in this, made more fascinating by the hands-off nature of these transformed sounds, seemingly all the product of no direct physical contact. At various points there are distinct aural similarities to The Hafler Trio (particularly Intoutof), but for the most part Mulvey avoids the clichés of acousmatic music, producing something far more abstract, yet in which its points of origin remain (just about) tangible.

The other work on the disc, Christopher Fox‘s untouch, is the first of a two-part work (untouch—touch) for solo percussion. While the second part involves the soloist striking Thai gongs, untouch reconfigures their actions to the triggering of sine tones. There’s something genuinely uncanny about this abstraction (surely enhanced by seeing it in performance) both in the nature of the tone’s timbre – which doesn’t bear any meaningful similarity to gongs yet knowing about the second part continually brings them to mind – as well as their unfolding over time, begging the question of whether their continuity and the patterns that briefly emerge are arbitrary or closely-controlled. An intriguing, unconventional pair of works. Read more

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New digital release: Could you not watch one hour with me?

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Available today for free download is Could you not watch one hour with me?, a conceptual work i created a couple of years ago. Inspired by an act of worship that takes place today, Maundy Thursday, the material heard in the work comprises a one-hour recording made during The Watch, a night vigil that has no formal liturgy or structure, consisting solely of the silent thought, meditation, worship and prayer of the faithful. Presented in this context, my intention is to confront the connotations of that question, exploring notions of substance and absence, silence and sound, focus and lassitude, emptiness and the sacred. The work revisits from a fresh perspective the well-established idea that there is no such thing as silence. It also throws down a challenge in its title, asking, even daring the listener to sacrifice an hour to an end that may appear futile or meaningless. It is my sincerest hope that, in rising to that challenge, one might discover a depth and richness that transcends the silence, and perhaps even a glimpse of the holy.

The work is dedicated to the memory of Rudolf Otto.

For more information and to download, click here.

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Navigating the sounds of the cosmos

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It’s been with no little excitement that i’ve watched the Curiosity Rover landing on Mars this week. Astronomy has been a back-burner interest of mine since i was a boy and, not surprisingly, i’ve been especially fond of the sound recordings produced by NASA from the data received by Voyagers I and II as they’ve travelled through and beyond the solar system. So i was intrigued last year to see an independent release of something called Voyager: Sounds of the Cosmos, a large-scale compilation of these NASA recordings, made available in three versions of increasing length, titled ‘Grand Tour Edition’, ‘Standard Edition’ and ‘Legacy Edition’ respectively. However, as i’ve spent more time with it, i couldn’t shake the feeling i’d heard these before, so i did some elementary investigating. It turns out—and the compiler, one Philip Graham (aka RazorEye), admits this on the Wikipedia page—that the compilation is a bootleg of earlier NASA releases, some of which are still readily available. However, new track titles have been invented and there’s also a bit of duplicity and misguidedness going on, so for the benefit of others who love these sounds as much as i do, i thought i’d just flag up the facts regarding this material, in order to make an informed choice possible. Read more

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“a hush, almost sacred”: Steve Peters – Here-ings

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As will have been obvious from my two “Best of” posts at the end of last year (here and here), i’m very taken with the work of sound artist Steve Peters. i’ve been spending a lot of time with his work of late, and one release has particularly impressed me in all sorts of ways. Peters is clearly a composer with both an acutely sensitive ear as well as an innate sensibility to the contexts in which sound occurs; nowhere is this better illustrated than in Here-ings.

Subtitled ‘a sonic geohistory’, Here-ings takes the relatively unusual form of a book and CD, the former illuminating the contents of the latter through a combination of prose and poetry (also by Peters), plus photographs contributed by Margot Geist. Essentially, the project consisted of Steve Peters spending a great deal of time at a site in New Mexico called The Land, set aside for site-specific art that engages with the environment surrounding it. Feeling that he would prefer to let the place ‘speak for itself’ rather than asserting his own creative impulse, over the course of a year, Peters made a series of hour-long field recordings at The Land, each occupying a different hour of the day, totalling 24 hours of material. Furthermore, each hour was recorded at a different location within The Land, so his recordings succinctly capture the entirety of The Land, throughout a year, conflated into a day’s worth of sound. Read more

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