In recent decades, field recordings have emerged as one of the most rapidly evolving creative practices within the canon of sound arts. In the 3rd and final part of this series, Lawrence English, the Australian artist and owner of Room40 music label, continues his non-linear investigation into those absorbed in the horizon of audition.
Read Part 1 here and Part 2 here.
Irv Teibel – Environments 1
If there was a moment when field recording arrived in the popular consciousness, Irv Teibel’s Environment series is likely it. Apart from having one of the most loaded names of any field recording edition, “The Psychologically Ultimate Seashore” was the starting place for an entire genre of field recording and nature-themed LPs more generally. Until recently the connection of the piece to avant-titan Tony Conrad was somewhat downplayed. Conrad, who asked Teibel to make ocean recordings to be used in his film Coming Attractions, laid the foundation for how Teibel developed his seashore recordings. Conrad once explained that to convey the presence and affective capacity of the ocean took a willingness to bring oneself to the ocean, to become enmeshed in it. Microphone placement played a huge role in how the sound came to reflect the experience of being there. This disjuncture between the placement of the microphone and the focus of the listener is the basis of my “relational listening” theory, which I often speak about when discussing field recording as a creative practice. Returning to this recording over the years, what is amazing is the incidental elements that texture the background: a fog horn, a voice, a hint of wind. Every listen seems to reveal just a little more of the world in those moments.
Leonie Roessler – Tehrsfahan, A Sound Collage
Urban field recordings bring with them a mix of fascination and familiarity. Leonie Roessler’s recordings of Tehran and Isfahan, made during a residency at the New Media Society, capture a fluid and transitory sensitivity to these places. Cut together sharply, the pieces dwell on the lived-in qualities of the city and meditate on the reflective qualities of sound. Hammers strike stone; their regular rhythm a timekeeper of human scale. A water sprinkler spits out white noise amidst processions of traffic. A canary cuts through, at one point providing a momentary focus before it gradually fades away, its song articulating the stone and brick architectural materials that surround it. This effect is repeated with sparrows too, their chirps precisely setting out a kind of impulse response that speaks directly to the physicality of the spaces Roessler finds herself in.
KMRU – Continual
Hailing from Nairobi, Joseph Kamaru, known as KMRU, has developed a practice of field recordings as the basis for his musical works. On Continual, the field recordings, which exist as a multi-layered daydream, spur on the clouded ambient textures and voice-like tones that lilt their way across a shifting background of everyday sonics. Kamaru’s field recordings feel tangibly handmade, as if we are standing (or walking) with him in the places he has visited. They are not directed at any one event or thing, but seem to expand outward, reaching towards a threshold of awareness. It’s at this point, where acoustic detail starts to fade, that his ambient compositions seem to emerge. The blurring is evocative and at times blissfully disorienting.
Jeph Jerman – Imbrication
There is not one single recording from Jeph Jerman that adequately captures the breadth and depth of his practice. For over three decades, Jerman has been responsible for some of the most intimate and eclectic recordings that have spilled over into his musical practices in bands and also as an improvisor. On Imbrication, he melts together his solo practices of field recording and environmental improvisation. Water insects, rattling metal junk, roadside environments, and unidentifiable insects all accompany Jerman on a series of patient but directed duets. Jeph Jerman’s work is defined by this quality of patience. In many of his field recordings, especially those made around his home in Cottonwood, Arizona, we wait with him – sometimes in vain – for events to unfold. There is never nothing though; rather the subliminal spaces he brings us to invite a kind of giving over of the self to the acoustic minutiae of his world.
Amby Downs – Liminal
As an Australian Indigenous artist of Yuwaalaraay descent, Tahlia Palmer’s Amby Downs project seeks to consider place through deep listening and a sense of temporality that reflects upon the connections of ancestry and country. Her recordings, which act as a kind of de-colonization of terrain, suggest an intensely affective reconsideration of how place can be understood and how connections can be made, remade, and deepened. The recordings themselves appear as transformed echoes of their former selves, as if they are calling back through memories, tracking lines of thought and experience from a time and a place that is not available to all. Amby Downs, the name itself drawn from a Queensland station where Palmer’s ancestors were indentured laborers, is one of a number of projects unfolding internationally that celebrate first nations aural traditions and moreover the histories of listening that are increasingly being shared and celebrated.
Stine Janvin Motland – In Labour
Voice articulates space, sometimes incidentally, sometimes by design. Through her work with voice, Stine Janvin Motland tests the edges of her vocal abilities and, in doing so, creates complex readings of environments in which she finds herself. In Labour is her ode to the sounding of space. Her voice, and body, occupy space in varying ways and with varying degrees of intensity. For the album, she chose locations that presented a sonic challenge and set about interrogating the relationships between place, space, and self through performance. Her voice, reflected, seems to reveal so much about the physicality of her surrounding environments. The environments themselves reveal indications of time and place. A train departs, its iconic and rising trill a very direct link to the metro soundscapes we have come to know in the past couple of decades. In other pieces, a familiar scene of suburban dogs in chorus is the stage for a blistering vocal exchange that almost achieves a kind of interspecies communication.
Aki Onda – Midnight Radio
There are field recording projects that seek the spectral, those sounds that sit beyond our usual auditory capacities and require an interface to collect them. Aki Onda’s Midnight Radio is one such investigation. It speaks to the wonder of sonic phenomena existing, to use a visuocentric reference, in plain sight. Like sounds that sit at the very edge of our horizon of audition, Onda’s recordings of radio, whose transmission is often too faint to resolve in full, is a captivating search for clarity amongst opaque signals. Celebrating the legacy of artists such as Michael Snow, this work charts the overlapping of signals and the sometimes messy ways in which coding and decoding takes place in the airwaves around us. Acclaimed for his Cassette Memories series (full disclosure, I had the pleasure to re-issue the three volumes of this work in 2020), an ongoing practice of personal field recordings made with cassette Walkmans, Onda’s varied practice speaks to his willingness to let sound, in the moment, lead the work.