A deep forest. DAVID MICHAEL
(Fieldcraft 2011)

Slavek’s creek. DAVID MICHAEL
(Fieldcraft 2011)

Most of the time I think of the mp3 as the illicit and shameful progeny born of the union of that lustful old strumpet Corporate Convenience and Coercion, and her gullible companion, Indolent Listening Habits, sired in the shady side streets of Easy Culture. Well, you get my drift.

I say most of the time, but not all of the time, because mp3s do have their uses, if you’re not going to recycle them as toilet paper or fuel pellets. Until we can store long form (many hours) of at least 24bit/48KHz recordings on a pinhead we will have to make the mp3 (and of course the respectable .flac) do the one thing it’s good at, which is storing long recordings such as those under review, in which the duration stored on a single dvd disc compensates for the trade-off in quality. How you listen back is of course another issue; here I couldn’t conceive of a deep appreciation of an Amazonian environment whilst bolted to a mobile media device on the way to work. I’d rather offer a measure of respect to the subject matter and create a quiet space, set aside some time – in fact I’d completely reconsider the whole notion of how much listening time we devote to a real appreciation of recorded material. A Deep Forest Creek (mp3) is nineteen hours long, Slavek’s Creek (mp3 and flac) just over two hours.

Here we have the polar opposite of snacking on the hoof, the current fashion in listening, and something which resembles the act of feasting on a wholesome meal around a large table, in the company of friends.

A Deep Forest Creek and Slavek’s Creek are long form recordings of natural environments captured near Lake Mamori, Amazonas, Brazil, captured moreover thanks to a considerable expenditure of time and effort, outside of the time scale of this project, by several people from a range of backgrounds. The result of this expenditure has been the development of truly innovative solutions to the problem of capturing such long recordings. In recording A Deep Forest Creek, two stereo pairs of microphones were used, a pair of head spaced omnis pointing towards the creek, a mid-side combination towards the forest. On the disc we are offered both a creek and a forest recording. The housing of the recording device is described as follows:-

The recording is housed and played back from a wooden box (a memento), with outputs for headphone listening or connection to loudspeakers. Playback begins when the box is turned on, and ends with the completion of the recording, or when the box is turned off. The exact duration of the recording reflects an attempt at capturing a full 24 hours of the sound environment, limited by the logistical factors of deployment and retrieval as well as the weather.

The choice of microphone types is an excellent tried and tested combination, used to great effect in 2007/2008 by Duncan Whitley and James Wyness in their documentation of Seville’s Semana Santa, culminating in the multi-channel installation 58 Processions and accompanying pdf catalogue, though with entirely different subject and conceptual intent. Rendered as four channels the results of this combination are astounding – the contrast between the ambience of the omnis and the more focused mid-side system affords depth, width and clarity in the spatialisation of the field. Depending of the presence of a central focus, it translates to 5.1 without any great difficulty (mid –centre; sides – fl and fr; omnis – rl and rr). Coming back to A Deep Forest Creek, it’s the 4 channel version that I’d to listen to, perhaps installed for several weeks in a well-chosen listening space, so that visitors can visit and re-visit to appreciate the unfolding of this magnificent listening environment. But that would require curators with an understanding of this kind of work. Best we move on…

I immediately warmed to this work, not only because this and other works from Mamori have benefited from the tutelage of Francisco Lopez, but also because of the involvement of Rob Danielson who over many years has pioneered many if not all of the techniques involved in successful long form recording, solving storage problems, battery issues and other details of environmental field recording in ‘difficult’ locations, never advocating the purchase of expensive equipment, always encouraging new and seasoned recordists alike to adopt diy and collaborative solutions to various recording problems, to get out into the field and to experiment. He is one of the most helpful people you’ll ever encounter. For an overview of Rob’s work, have a browse through his site (unless of course you know it all, and I’ve met some who seem to think that they do) and put some time aside to read and learn positively from the results his research.

Slavek’s Creek is so named because Slavek Kwi (whose own work is reviewed elsewhere on The Field Reporter) enjoys recording in and around this location. This shorter work is comparable to A Deep Forest Creek in its depth and complexity.

In my opinion these releases and others like them surpass in concept and execution much of the field recording work promoted by the self-appointed (or institutionally appointed) priesthood, the various canonical masters and gurus of the idiom. David Michael’s research and practice seems to me to follow on much more naturally from the pioneering work of the likes of Ludwig Koch, so much so that I would suggest that his two releases are direct evolutionary developments of the work of those pioneers. These early phonographers would have been up to their ears in this kind of stuff, as would critical environmentalists such as Aldo Leopold.

So how do we go about listening to this? Certainly not all in one go, but perhaps as a project, programmed in over a few weeks, to be absorbed during periods of down time, perhaps in social settings if that’s not too radical, as opposed to having a few tracks banging away as the ‘soundtrack of my life’. But then maybe I’m old-fashioned or ‘behind the times’, not that I care much.

For those setting out for the first time into the wonderful world of field recording in natural environments, there are two contrasting and very profitable avenues to consider in the contemporary field of practice: the close framed conceptual approach and what might be called the wide-field long form. The first is for another day and requires separate discussion. David Michael’s A Deep Forest Creek and Slavek’s Creek are excellent examples of the second, though the practice already has produced some fine creative outcomes over the years.

In the midst of all this talk of forms and practices, I’ve said nothing about the recordings themselves. That’s because words are rather unhelpful at times like this. You have to listen to this work and I would urge the reader to get a hold of these dvds, to add them to your treasured possessions, and to work out a method of listening to the works over time. Hurry up though because they are both limited editions.

What I will say is that these recordings deal with fundamental issues around time, structures which unfold over time and around memory and captivation. They challenge us in new ways – this is often considered to be a salient attribute of contemporary art in general. The unveiling of the ‘sound’ of an Amazonian forest over the best part of a full day and night is a lesson in elementary taxonomy. Apart from the sounds of a variety of creatures from the animal kingdom and their interaction with the environment, I wouldn’t be surprised if a close listen revealed the inner sonic workings of the trees and plants. If you like your musical analogies, we have here in abundance an inexhaustible richness of rhythmic contrapuntal and polyphonic structures, dynamic complexity (crescendi, accelerandi and exquisite diminuendi al niente), freely improvised group and solo performances – the list goes on. Like Feldman in his string quartets we are dealing less with matters of duration and more with questions of scale.

-Caity Kerr

David Michael website
Fieldcraft discography