Field recording is the art of creating music out of the unmusical, using found sounds from literally anywhere – your room, the street, on top of a mountain – to create beats, soundscapes... anything, really.
Their history goes back to the time when sound recording first began. Early ethnomusicologists (like Oswaldo Lares who we hear about in the Venezuela episode) sought to capture the sounds of folk music traditions as audio artefacts, archiving a culture they feared would be lost in the onslaught of modernity.
"We're in this interesting time where there is this DIY culture of building these unique instruments. All these small manufacturers are popping up all over the world creating this gear that was too esoteric or strange before. Around that has developed communities that are fostering and engendering an appreciation for that kind of stuff."
Chris Child & Micah Frank
Later, field recordings were used heavily by the early pioneers of electro acoustic composition, following the advent of magnetic tape after World War Two. The French school of musique concrete were vital to its growth, utilising sound, rather than musical tones, as a means to explore the timbres of the every day. European composers like Stockhausen, Schaffer, Boulez and Xenakis spawned an avant-garde tradition which was then taken on by more popular artists like Brian Eno in the 70s and 80s and ambient producers in the 90s.
And today? Experimental musicians, sound designers and sound artists still recognise the potential of recording and manipulating the things they hear around them, creating music that can be as vast and rich as it can be contained and intricate. And it retains a strong place in the popular music tradition too – how many hip hop tracks have you heard with vocal samples that are really just cuts from the studio?
To learn some more about this most esoteric of musics, I spoke with 3 artists whose work is predicated on out of studio environments, spaces and the sound of the natural world.
First, we hear from Chris Child and Micah Frank, a pair of sound artists, producers and musicians from the US whose solo and recent collaborative work uses found sounds from sand, sea, land and air as its basis. We talked about their motivations for using field recordings, the strength of the modern experimental music community, and how they made their excellent new record, Tape Pieces, Vol. 1, which came out on their new label FOIL imprints.
I was also thrilled to chat with Yosi Horikawa, a Japanese sound artist and sound designer who released what was one of my favourite records from 2019, Spaces. He told me about his musical background, creating his own hardware, the specifics of his new record, and how evoking and exploring memory is so vital to his musical philosophy.
My co-producer Benet Serra and I also composed some soundscapes of our own to go along with the interviews – we hope you enjoy them.
"Every concrete sound is connected to someone's memory ... concrete sound can share other people's memories – It's not a selfish expression. I think it's really beautiful that we can share different memories at the same time with the same music. I think it's the most important part of my music."
Tracklist (featuring original soundscapes by Harry Stott & Benet Serra)
Chris Child & Micah Frank - Peering at Dawn (Tape Pieces Vol. 1 // FOIL)
Micah Frank - Plusform 3 Darlot (FOIL Selections Vol. 1 // FOIL)
Yosi Horikawa - Crossing (Spaces // Borrowed Scenery)
Yosi Horikawa - Letter (Vapor // First Word Records)
Yosi Horikawa - Vietnam (Spaces // Borrowed Scenery)
Kodomo - Deviation (FOIL Selections Vol. 1 // FOIL)
Chris Child & Micah Frank - Prisms & Whims (Tape Pieces Vol. 1 // FOIL)
Yosi Horikawa - Cave (Vapor // First Word Records)
Yosi Horikawa - Timbres (Spaces // Borrowed Scenery)
Yosi Horikawa - Swashers (Spaces // Borrowed Scenery)