The practice of delving into ambient field recordings to inspire and flesh out a piece of music is one that spans the history of electronic music itself; as long as we have been able to exactly and honestly record the sounds we hear all around us, we have been able to directly take inspiration and input from those sounds to create something that resonates deeply with listeners.
Here, we’ve rounded up eight resources that, in various, interesting ways, make use of field recordings, either to enhance their music, inform their listeners or to simply share a little slice of life.
Read more about ‘found sound’ in The Dummy guide to found sound.
London-based producer Lukid (pictured) has a Soundcloud packed full of contemplative moments and snatched, skittery recordings that put you into his frame of mind. More than a collection of music, this page is a sonic exploration through the producer’s influences and surroundings; taking you home on the bus with him, outside on a walk with him, and just generally into the throng of his London home. The place you live in sonically shapes you – it moulds how you talk, the sounds you notice and ignore, the sounds that you imitate and the sounds that you cherish. Getting into Lukid’s sonic atmosphere is a submerging, strange experience, allowing you to hear more of him even though not listening to sounds that he himself has created; the beeps and murmurs of this bus journey to Penge are, in particular, surreally moving, despite going nowhere in particular (except to Penge).
- Mark Garwell
Mark Garwell’s Soundcloud bio paints a picture of a man disillusioned with, and stubbornly against the pursuit of, perfection in music. Electronic music presents its creator with the opportunity, after all, to be obsessively, neurotically precise about their work. Unlike the unpredictable squeaks and pops and crackles of the world around us, music can be crafted and moulded to an infinite degree; in electronic music, the temptation then becomes to tweak away at sounds until they are artificially perfect, adhering exactly to your vision. As rising producer Vessel told us recently in our interview with the Young Echo collective, “When you make electronic music…you’re participating in a dialogue with not only your own creative self, but also a machine, and for me a lot of the pure fucking staleness of most of dance music is the fact that it’s totally seamless and pristine and polished and digital and shiny. And it’s sterile, to me.” Mark Garwell, whose Soundcloud bio says he was a techno artist in the 90s, has let go of this compulsion for sterile perfection – “I just do one take tracks and upload them, no endless fiddling with level and retakes, I hear it, I do it, and thats fucking it [sic].” The process, for Garwell, is one of hearing and then doing. He lets the world speak, and then he takes what he can from it to make his music. The jolts of ‘Pop corn making’ are a particular favourite of mine on this page, evoking angry, Tourettes-esque steel pans and aggressive Blawan beats. The fact that Garwell chooses not to even edit out the sound of his iPhone receiving a text message is also a ridiculous, and apt, touch.
The snippets of New York that are available to hear on hellsattik’s Soundcloud are so subtle, and yet so vivid, that they illustrate perfectly the impact that found sound can have. It only takes a whisper of ambience, a drifting wave of overheard music, a near-silent hum of sunshine, and your mind is transported to somewhere else; it’s beyond what can be created, or measured, or repeated. It’s spontaneous, and often very quiet, or even dull – but it takes you there.
- Field Sounds
This Soundcloud presents a collection of field sounds gathered precisely and exactly for the purpose of ending up here. With a documentary-like approach, the sounds are categorised and labelled, designed to have a certain effect and so certainly more engineered than the other Soundclouds featured here. These sounds come from an array of locations and events, though, broader spread than the others, giving you the opportunity to have an aural peek into baseball games, carnivals and fireworks displays. These are out-of-the-ordinary, stop-in-your-tracks kinds of sounds, and so less representative of the kind of ongoing, immersive influence that everyday noise might have on an artist – rather, they encapsulate the moments when sound really grabs you, and really carries you away.
- Sounds on my way to work
Again, this Soundcloud page is more of a concentrated and collaborative effort. Built by people from around the world each sending in a recording of their journey to work, the page chronicles the footfalls of several people through several cities, for the purpose of being displayed here. Aside from the sneaky, gleeful feeling that can come from being permitted to eavesdrop on the life of someone else for a little while, this project also reveals the stark differences between one person’s sensory experience and another. Great for vicariously living through somebody else, and for being wowed at the thought of just how many different perspectives there are out there in the world, soaking up an infinite number of meaningless, endless noises.
- Favourite Sounds
This project collates different field recordings from around London to create an interactive, aurally enhanced map of the city. Click on any of the blue spots, and take a listen to the recording that pops up, to be transported around London ears-first.
- Meg Robertson
Meg Robertson is a radio and digital producer based in New York, and as such, her Soundcloud has a journalistic slant. With a desire to document, her recordings show a commitment to truthful representation, and to thrusting you, as the listener, into the very heart of an event, by wrapping your senses up in it. To hear the mournful singing of a candlelight vigil captured in a short snapshot, distant and haunting, cut through with the murmurs of the surrounding crowd and faraway sirens, is to be placed right in the middle of that vigil. When listening to these found sounds, the feeling is that you are no longer a listener, relating to a work by the artist, but that the artist (or recorder) and listener are simultaneously wrapped up in the same experience. Meg Robertson’s journalistic approach reinforces that, bringing her Soundcloud followers into the middle of the stories and events she covers.
- Found Sound
This Tumblr collects records, tapes and general snippets found in second-hand shops and markets. An endless trove of forgotten, crackly memories, it evokes a strange kind of nostalgia for something that you don’t quite remember, providing unpredictable insights into a life that isn’t quite yours.
For more about found sound, read the Dummy guide to found sound.