around-past-away: a thing I didn’t do

I don’t often write about the specifics of my own work but I wanted to share an experience I had working on a project that recently came to fruition.

I received a grant from my school to produce an experimental field recording album titled around-past-away which also is the titles of the tracks. This was an idea which has, I guess, been inevitable considering my obsession with nature, hiking, and contemporary music. It was equally inspired by my first encounter with field recording as an art form which came in no less of a package than Michael Pisaro and Greg Stuart’s 3-disc album Continuum Unbound.

This is an amazing art form because it has a power to produce a work which has very little to do with the intentions of any artist. Each project of field recording involves a set of boundaries in which an infinity of possibilities exist. The “recordist”, if this can be turned into a word, only sets some limits such as the recording device, the length of the recording, and some post-production things. The material is completely contingent upon the event. As Joe Panzner would say, the field recordist simply “wills something in that which occurs”(The Process That is The World 2015).

My boundaries for recording were my handheld Zoom H4 recorder and a low-budget wind screen.  I set an additional, “artistic” boundary that I wanted to attempt to portray some kind of motion through the field.  As a backpacker, I am obviously influenced by nature sounds as I experience them while moving.  And each project on the album was inspired by a very specific sonic experience I have had while backpacking.

around, the first track on the album, was taken at a secluded lake at a Boy Scout camp I used to attend. The power of that lake to carry and reverberate sound was always astounding to me and I remember taking many walks around it. The track involves me setting the recorder next to the lake and playing a native american flute at certain intervals while circling the lake.

past was inspired by a very specific waterfall near Sewanee, Tennessee which I came across while working there one summer. The track is a gradual cross-fade among recordings taken differing distances away from the falls such that it gives the aural impression of walking past the falls.

away is a sort of sentimental work.  At the end of each backpacking trip I go on, I spend a whole day walking toward the sound of highways and cities while approaching the parking lot where my car waits. Then I unceremoniously get in and drive away. The track involves a cross-fade across 3 recordings taken in Congaree National Park, the South Carolina State House grounds, and the side of a highway respectively. These portray the fading out of nature sounds into city sounds. Meanwhile, a flute plays/improvises a simple melody constituting the constant human perception among the changing aural landscape.

When I finally heard the final mixes of these projects, I was proud of them in a very interesting way. I had, I suppose, willed their existence in the sense that they would have not come into being without me. But I had very little to do with the quality of them and the interesting parts of them. The things that make me love the tracks have nothing to do with me and everything to do with the ducks on the lake in around, the waterfall’s ferocity in past, and the jungle-like density of activity in Congaree on away to name a few.

So I write to share my experience doing a thing which I did not do. And to share the surprise I felt when, experiencing the end result, I found it was intriguing. It is something extremely impersonal which nonetheless resonates with my very personal feelings and world views. It is as though I did not create it and indeed I didn’t in a way. But I feel as though I could have willed it and indeed I suppose I did in a way.

 

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