BEST FIELD RECORDINGS The Best Field Recordings on Bandcamp: February 2024 By Matthew Blackwell · March 04, 2024

Bandcamp hosts an amazing array of field recordings from around the world, made by musicians and sound artists as well as professional field recordists. In this column, we highlight the best sounds recorded outside the studio and released in the last month. This installment features recordings of languid rivers and fire-scorched forests; parking garages and Underground stations; a Hindu temple and a blacksmith shop.

Brunhild Ferrari

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Vinyl LP

Brunhild Ferrari spent much of her life in the background of her husband Luc Ferrari’s career; as a founding member of the Groupe de Recherche Musicales and a pioneer of musique concrète, he left behind a vast archive that she collected, curated, and at times co-created. Fifteen years ago, though, Brunhild stepped out with her own compositions and has been slowly building an impressive discography. Here we get two pieces of masterful musique concrète that unspool like a daydream. “Ext​é​rieur​-​jour” (Exterior: Day) is a scene from an imagined film in which sounds transform uncannily into one another. A whimpering puppy becomes buzzing flies become clanking machinery, as if a drone shot is whisking our attention away from domestic concerns to some distant but encroaching danger. “Le Piano Englouti” (The Sunken Piano) is the original version of a piece that was recorded live with Jim O’Rourke for a Black Truffle release. This is a calmer take that still maintains its tension as field recordings from the Aegean Sea, a Japanese island, and a pachinko parlor are deftly combined. Throughout, the titular piano struggles to emerge, only to sink again into the onrushing tide of sound. These are significant and welcome contributions from a composer who, at long last, is getting her due as an immensely important creative force.

Vel Vel

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Vinyl LP

Thaipusam is an annual festival in honor of the Hindu god Murugan; in Singapore, it is celebrated with a pilgrimage to the Sri Thendayuthapani Temple, where participants present offerings of milk to the deity. Along the procession route, devotees sing, chant, and dance with bells and cymbals while musicians play drums like the pambai, thavil, and urumi and wind instruments like conch shell horns and the nadaswaram. Some carry milk pots in elaborate structures called kavadi, while others pierce themselves with a vel, a representation of Murugan’s divine spear. Ramesh Krishnan of the arts collective Sistrum recorded Thaipusam celebrations from 2012 to 2016. When festivities were canceled for the first time in more than 100 years due to the Covid-19 pandemic, Sistrum initiated a multimedia project to celebrate Thaipusam in their absence. Featuring six years of recordings carefully edited to represent a trek across the traditional route, Vel Vel is the next best thing to experiencing the ecstatic ritual for yourself.

Jean-Luc Guionnet, Eric La Casa, Philip Samartzis & Dan Warburton

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Compact Disc (CD)

A commercial parking garage is not usually where you’d want to record. There are people and cars and uncontrollable echoes bouncing off concrete. But this is exactly why the quartet of Jean-Luc Guionnet, Eric La Casa, Philip Samartzis, and Dan Warburton found the idea appealing; to adapt to the building’s odd resonance, to improvise with uncontrollable occurrences. In 2007 the group collaborated in the garage underneath the Cité de la Musique in Paris, with Guionnet on saxophone, Warburton on violin, and La Casa and Samartzis recording. In 2021, during a Covid-19 lockdown, they had to record separately, with Guionnet and La Casa in Paris and Samartzis in Melbourne. The earlier recordings are a collaborative exploration of a completely unpredictable space (see the symphony orchestra suddenly piped into the garage in track two). The latter recordings are quieter and speak to the distance between participants: air vents and refrigerator units rattle and hum in Australia while a saxophone wails into emptiness in France. Though they were recorded 14 years apart, the two pieces complement one another perfectly, showcasing the dynamic breadth of sonic activity in spaces we normally take for granted.

Ian Wellman
The Night the Stars Fell

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Compact Disc (CD)

The Night the Stars Fell documents the aftermath of forest fires in Southern California. Ian Wellman recorded the desolate landscape, adding cassette tape loops and shortwave radio static to create an austere ambient drift. We hear the resonance inside a derailed railcar and the clatter of a decaying house, stark portrayals of a place made uninhabitable. But the real subject here is the wind “which drove the fires that burned the forests where the sounds were recorded.” The unceasing wind activates everything in its path, making the blasted terrain sing out. This is a haunting record, chilling in its beauty and honest in its encounter with the aftermath of disaster.

Heejin Jang
Dream Signal

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South Korean composer Heejin Jang is a master of mangling music into bracing new forms, erasing the boundary between reality and nightmare. Last year’s Consistency took field recordings of wind and water from the Yeongdeunggut and Hado-ri areas of Jeju Island, South Korea, and worked them up into swirling, chaotic masses. Dream Signal consists of excerpts from a 2020 concert in which Jang began with busy urban field recordings—traffic, sirens, conversations—played them LOUD, and layered them until they morphed into frighteningly alien soundscapes. Even for those averse to noise music, the world that Jang conjures is too compelling to resist—one peek inside the haunted house and you’ll want to check out every room.

Yuko Nexus6 & Takahashi “Takakhan” Seiji
Mushoku In Excursion

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Compact Disc (CD)

For Mushoku In Excursion, Yuko Nexus6 and Takahashi “Takakhan” Seiji first recorded an hour and seven minutes of audio near the Uji River in Kyoto, Japan. They then used that tape to record various manipulations of guitar and piano—tuning, playing, and cleaning—that treat them more as objects than instruments. All of a sudden, the recordings drop out to reveal the contents of the original tape, and a discussion between Seiji and Nexus6 intrudes, backed by gently flowing water and bird song. This back-and-forth between improvisation and conversation troubles the nature of performance—when are they performing and when are they not?—and adds an element of uncertainty, even for Seiji and Nexus6. As they say in the liner notes, “We love the unexpectedness of things being beyond our control.”

Jem Finer

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Compact Disc (CD)

Underground was recorded at the request of British painter Jock McFadyen, who enthused to sound artist Jem Finer about the noise of the London Underground line between Bethnal Green and Liverpool Street. He asked Finer to record this active segment to accompany a show of his paintings of tube stations. It soon became apparent that the hubbub of the passengers and squeal of the tracks were not fitting background sounds for an art gallery, so Finer changed tack. He recorded the quiet moments between trains and slowly realized that the entire Underground was itself a resonating instrument, its tunnels and chambers creating complex echo and reverb. “Will Arrive in 5 Minutes,” the second track here, is a largely realistic representation of the Underground, which Finer then stretched into an ambient drone for the first track, “The Next Train on Platform One.” Here he accompanies the Underground with his hurdy-gurdy, highlighting and amplifying the space’s natural resonance and creating an immersive duet with what, to him, must be the world’s largest musical instrument.

Thomas Fleischhauer
Aporee Illustrations

Udo Noll’s Aporee Soundmap is perhaps the largest collaborative field recording project in the world; since 2006, it has amassed tens of thousands of recordings linked to specific locations all around the globe. Thomas Fleischhauer has trawled this collection, mixing and matching recordings and adding his own instrumentation to create an album on selected themes including rain, wind, melting ice, markets, and even a motorcycle Grand Prix. Skimming the long list of credits gives you an idea of its scope: London, Casablanca, Ljubljana, Bogotá, Chicago, and Tehran are represented among many others. Despite this diversity, Aporee Illustrations rallies these sounds into a coherent whole, subtly complementing the recordings with droning synths while letting them speak for themselves. It’s an exciting introduction to Aporee’s almost limitless archive.

Tzu Ni
4 Methods of Loci

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4 Methods of Loci features three modes of working: Taiwanese sound artist Hung Tzu-Ni recorded in a blacksmith shop, a ceramics workshop, and her own art installation to gather the sounds of manual labor. “指軌 Point Track” is a recording of a journey to Taiwan’s Xinsheng Iron Shop and of the work done there; waves of cicadas alternate with the clamor of heavy metal. The final two tracks take work done at the European Ceramic Work Centre in Oisterwijk, The Netherlands, as their source. On “溫度與弓 Bow & Temperature,” Tzu Ni plays along with a violin bow, while “金屬天使塵 Metallic Angel Dust” post-processes the sound of crackling porcelain into a chiming digital soundscape. “風切蝴蝶效應 The Butterfly Wind Cut Effect” is a recording of her own art installation of the same name, which features strips of aluminum foil blown by fans to recreate the Korean rainy season experienced at Incheon Art Platform. Taken together, these recordings showcase a bewildering and beguiling set of sounds, changeable and fluid despite the hard steel and brittle porcelain from which they came.

Liis Ring
I found what I was looking for

Photographer, musician, and field recordist Liis Ring found what she was looking for in Japan: nothing tangible but rather a state of mind. She knew upon arrival that she would be making an album about the trip, and so kept her recorder handy. The album begins in a cramped domestic space with a ticking clock and rattling appliances before opening out into an idyllic natural space with frogs, crickets, and birds. Over top, a chiming guitar fades into a wandering synth and then a delicate vocal, the whole piece becoming gradually lighter than air. At the end, the only sound left is the rain—Ring has retreated indoors again, but this time with a renewed sense of calm.

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