Latvian producer Selffish is very technical minded, who likes to accurately capture the serenity of his wildly beautiful home country. Bvdub, focuses on the feelings in moments, whose recordings reflect more his mood from which he builds motives of music from. And Berlin based duo Native Instrument use a combination of field recordings, and previously collated, archived nature sounds, to create abstract, sonically-manipulated music. Each artist discusses their approach and philosophy to recordings, providing examples of their work.
Andrew Eigus is Latvian ambient producer Selffish who works with minimal landscapes, beats, textures, and field recordings from the local environment. On his records you can hear the sound of the sea, the rain, wind, and feel of the sullen, and atmospheric landscapes from which he takes his recordings. “There are many areas in Latvia where one can enjoy walking in solitude, listening to and, in my case, recording nature and urban sounds, such as the sounds of retreating sea waves, or industrial noises of the port of Ventspils at night.”
What motivates you to take field recordings?
I enjoy taking field recordings, as they capture unique moments in time and can tell about places and people. I get inspired by a successful take, which serves as the inspiration for a track I will later create.
I am always thrilled by the possibility to record something new and rare. For example, I was invited by some ornithologists to record specific bird sounds. During one of such trip I recorded the howling of a lone wolf.
What is your recording setup?
I enjoy recording quieter sounds. This is a primary reason for me to invest into quality equipment whenever I can. For example, when I recorded drizzle, it was possible to capture the sounds of the tiny drops falling onto wet leaves and, together with remote industrial sounds in the background, the recording allowed for an extremely imaginary cinematic experience.
I use a pair of Sennheiser RF condenser microphones, specifically MKH 40 and MKH 30 in MS configuration, and a modular Rycote windshield system (with suspension and a windjammer). I normally use either a boom pole or a sturdy Manfrotto tripod which the Rycote pistol grip perfectly fits. As for the recorder, I use the Tascam HD-P2 that records straight to compactflash cards. I also use the high-end microphone preamplifier Lunatec V3 by Grace Design. The V3 has S/PDIF output, and HD-P2 has S/PDIF input, both devices can be connected with a short coaxial RCA cable. Both require battery power when AC is not available, so I use a couple of Tekkeon MP3450 batteries for both devices on location. The main benefit of this setup is there’s no compromise on sound quality.
How do you process the recordings?
The Lunatec V3 has two positions, which I use at times to eliminate undesired ultra low frequencies while recording. I aim to keep my recordings as natural-sounding as possible, but sometimes I have to use the EQ to handle certain issues. FabFilter Pro Q2 is my operational tool of choice to work with. It’s an extremely versatile EQ plugin with a real-time, pre-post spectrum analyzer, and a number of other useful features.
I also try to keep projects at the same bit-depth and sample-rate as the recordings. This ensures that no resampling or bit-depth conversions takes place. Having said that, there are high quality software tools available to convert audio files if absolutely necessary. One such tool is SoX – a freeware, multi-platform CLI program that offers a great number of sound processing options. It also features a super clean resampling algorithm.
How do you incorporate the recordings into your music?
From my recent album He She Them Us the track ‘Epilogue’ features a recording of an old man who lives in the Latvian countryside. He talks about his unwillingness to move elsewhere and his desire to see out his final days in his home. It’s a very emotive and powerful message that inspired me to produce this piece.
check out more Selffish here.
Through his prolific output, bvdub connects the heavily emotive with the sound of ethereal nature, and is one of the most respected artists within the realm of ambient music. “I use field recordings in almost everything I make,” he states. “Even if you don’t really know they’re there, they are, buried way below the surface, so heavily manipulated you wouldn’t know what they are, forming a part of the subconscious experience.”
When did you start making field recordings?
I started making field recordings before I even made music – well, electronic music. In the early ’90s, a guy in one of my experimental media classes in college brought in these tapes of an entire trip to Africa. He went completely alone, and recorded the entire trip from beginning to end, all in audio, and didn’t take a single picture. At first I thought it was one of the stupidest ideas I had ever heard – until he hit play. Within seconds, I was completely transported to where he had been, and everything he had seen – or at least what I thought he had seen. Which was the beauty of it. It was a completely life changing experience, and I went out that same day and bought my first field recorder, an M-Audio one I knew nothing about but which fit my budget, and just started recording everything.
After that I became quite obsessed with the whole concept, and bought a couple more – another M-Audio and a Tascam I believe – to have in different places, like my car or bag, so there would always be one with me wherever I went, and I wouldn’t have to realize I should have brought one after it was too late.
What equipment do you use?
Now I honestly just use my phone. This has been a point of interest, shock, dismay, and even contention among other artist friends who share my passion, but at the end of the day, I just got tired of always worrying about carrying a recorder on me. Nowadays most phones can record in 24bit WAV anyway. What else do you need? Well maybe other people need more, but it works for me. Sure, purists will claim it doesn’t pick up everything more high-end setups do, and they are right, super high-end rigs will pick up things you would have never heard even with your own ear, but my recordings focus purely on what I can actually hear. Things I never would have heard are interesting, but they don’t relate to what I use field recordings for.
Plus it helps me capture a lot more. There are times when I don’t feel like holding a recorder, or more often when they make me feel self-conscious, and will opt not to. But the phone is organic, as strange as that sounds. Like everyone, my phone is always there, and basically always on. Besides, I’ve never been an audiophile. I love sound. Sound that makes me feel. I don’t really care what resolution it’s in, or how insanely clear it is. With my mess of a mind, nothing’s ever that clear anyway.
How do you process the audio?
I try to leave it as raw as possible, and will only really process it in accordance to what it needs to convey. What the sound actually was, and what I heard (or remember) are often two completely disparate concepts. How it appears in the track needs to reflect how I heard it – whether that coincides with objective “reality,” or my own. So in some cases it is completely raw, because that’s what I remember. In some cases, it is more heavily processed, even beyond recognition because to this day, that’s still how I remember it. It really depends on what I’m trying to say or why it’s in there, but I never just process any sound (field recording or otherwise) for no reason.
What do you like to take recordings of?
Over the years I began to have an instinct for when I need to record. It’s really hard to explain what that motivation is, or how that knowledge comes, but I just suddenly know this is a place and time I will never want to forget. Like all people, I am very conscious of it during less ordinary times, like when I travel, and get to find myself in places I have never experienced before, and possibly never will again, but often am equally compelled during the everyday, when I just suddenly know there is something, even the most “ordinary,” that represents everything about a moment, a day, or existence itself.
There are more extraordinary times and places, times where your life is contrasted against places new places that question new meanings, from walking along the Moskva River all night in sub-zero snow after I locked myself out of my AirBnB at two in the morning, or resting on a mountain in rural Japan after I just got to play a set as the sun literally rose behind me, to being completely lost in the suburbs of Prague at god knows what time in the morning after I drastically overestimated my ability to navigate signs in Czech. Then there are the others, like my cat’s soft snoring while she sleeps, her super gentle half-meow when she talks, the euphoric sound of my neighbors’ kid as he plays in their driveway, or the nearly pure silence of my street at night. These are all small threads of my everyday; small on the surface, but giant down beneath.
How do you integrate recordings into your music?
The clearest example would be on the album Don’t Say You Know, which I recorded throughout a lengthy trip in the Chinese countryside. I brought a streamlined selection of equipment with me that I knew I would use, and set about not only chronicling the trip and places, but the way they mirrored the isolation and ostracization I was experiencing at the time in China, after living there way too long. The goal was to not only attempt to address the feelings I was grappling with, and the fact that those who were causing it had no idea the psychological damage they were causing through what they surely thought were innocuous, meaningless actions, but also the psychological factors and events surrounding it, and my attempts to tame the demons. After all, how you feel about anything lies with you.
The idea was to stay in friends’ families’ homes, which they were all kind enough to accommodate, and spend as much time as I needed in each location to make one track representing not only that part of the journey, but one aspect of my overwhelming issue with isolation, one specific situation that added to it, and at the same time, one possible solution, or idealized ending, through which I could somehow make it to the other side. I hoped that through that incremental journey, I could somehow make some headway into solving, or at least understanding, my dilemma, and the anguish it was causing.
The first day in each place was spent doing nothing but field recordings, not unlike my classmate some 25 years ago. I tried to experience as much as humanly possible in the environment around me, from spending time with families, to volunteering in local schools, to just walking through endless fields, encountering who I may, doing anything I could to be a part of the people and humanity around me, and the environment itself, recording everything from the most human of interactions, to animals, objects, and silence. The following morning, I would pore over the recordings to choose the most impacting moment of the day, that best represented the situation and emotion I was attempting to address. Then I locked myself in a room and built a track around it, telling the rest of the story. When that was done, I said my goodbyes and moved on to the next place. This continued for six locations until the album was complete, at which time I returned to the city, only to find the whole experience had made my issues with isolation even worse. But hey, at least I tried.
check out more bvdub here.
The collaborative sound project consisting of Felicity Mangan and Stine Janvin Motland was initially built around the reconstruction of archived field recordings of animals. Together they created a vocal and electronic reamalgamation of natural sounds, in a visionary format defined by their 2017 EP ‘Camo’. Taking to Native Instruments, Native Instrument discuss why they work with specific sound sources, and how it impacts and influences their work.
How did you get ahold of the animal sounds you originally used?
Felicity: When we first started, I had already been playing from a native Australian animal archive of sound effects CDs. I was playing the sounds directly from CD players, creating loops and shifting the pitch. The CD contained sounds of insects, frogs, birds, and famous animals’ like the koala, emu and lyrebird. I had been using these sounds in different projects, and was particularly interested in them because of their natural rhythms and pitches that sounded more like synthetic or electronic music, which was inspiring to work with.
What quality were they in and how did you treat them?
Felicity: The quality of the recordings are variable. Hissy and lo-fi recordings, which we like to work with, give us our ‘lo-fi, bug beats’ that you can hear in our EP Camo, released on Shelter Press.
Stine: In our recent material, we include more digital effects and tools, so the sound appears less gritty, but there is so much rhythmicality in nature, we try to alternate between the grid controlling the raw sounds and the raw sounds controlling the grid.
What processes did you use to convert this audio into music?
Stine: We started by using the effects on our Roland 404 samplers, pitchshifter, delay and ring modulator. The studio recordings are a way to develop new material, that we later modify and structure through software.
Felicity: We use Reaper as a composition tool, then we deconstruct the composition by returning the treated sounds back into our samplers to be played and manipulated in the live context. We like the samplers because they don’t take up a lot of physical or visual space when adapting to playing in different types of venues.
How do you add vocals to this?
Stine: My initial approach is to interpret the sounds coming from our field recordings, and then create a vocal version, so not necessarily imitating as exact as possible, but to make sounds that blend in, and could maybe be perceived as mutant creatures. I’m also using a delay effect to extend my voice, allowing me to create layers of textures sounding like distant bird calls or a closed-miked ants nest.
What is this hand built mechanism you use to mimic the sounds of insects?
Felicity: I work with coils and magnets or transducers to resonate found objects in order to make self-built loud speakers, playing with the idea of how insects use the membrane of plants to amplify their sound. This is something I do as a solo project.
Where do you take your recordings from?
Felicity: Found animal sounds CDs, bird recording records and the Internet, recording directly into the computer or sampler. Plus some self made recordings from outdoors, which we make with either our phones, and sometimes a portable recorder.
How does the format of the recording effect the desired result?
Felicity: I am interested in sampling from the archives and from the Internet because you can discover different sounding qualities and characteristics in and around the animal sounds. For example, including and working with the imperfections like beeps and crackles that you can hear on bird call records and then mix them with the animal sounds, while mimicking techniques and ideas from electronic or techno music.
Stine: As our project is more about adapting the field recordings, we don’t spend time exploring field recording techniques, as much as searching for sounds with the right quality. We are looking for undefinable sounds, and sounds that can be perceived as both organic and mechanical.
Where do you go to take field recordings and why?
Stine: We don’t really have a regular spot. I usually bring a portable recorder when traveling, just in case I stumble upon an interesting sound. The Sony PCM- M10 sounds pretty good, and it’s small and handy. It also has plugin power for your external mic. I also recorded a lot of great sounds just with my smart phone. Mono of course, but you can always make it sound more full and stereo with a bit of editing.
Felicity: What l liked about sampling from the CD, was that the recordings had been close miked, so you can’t hear also of the ambient background sounds since the animals are in the foreground, making it easy to mix separate animal sounds together to make hybrids or blend sounds with other players.
Do you have any tips for taking field recordings?
Stine: It depends on what you want to do, but if the musical composition is more important than the sound quality of the recordings. The Internet is a great source of material, so are your immediate surroundings.
Felicity: It’s also good to collect a variety of recordings with different textures and characteristics, so when it comes to mixing and editing you have a lot of material to work with.
check out more Native Instrument here.
Selffish by Ludmila Anisimova
Native Instrument profile by Lyndal Walker