Today is Earth Day. Tonight on Echoes we’ll celebrate with an Earth Day Soundscape, but you create your own soundscape any day with these 11 recordings that are drawn from nature.
1 Wendy Carlos – Sonic Seasonings
Released in 1972, Sonic Seasonings was ambient before ambient was coined. Taking the form of Antonio Vivaldi’s “Four Seasons,” Carlos orchestrated four side-long soundscapes designed to be “part of the decor.” Carlos weaves gentle, often reedy synthesizer melodies through chirping birds on “Spring,” phase-shifted church organ drones across crystalline bells and wind on “Winter,” and she seems to simulate an alien space landing on “Summer,” mimicking nature with her synthesizer.
2 Robert Rich – Nest
It was close between this album and his 1989 album, Rainforest. On that album, Rich synthesized his own virtual rainforest, but on Nest he uses environmental recordings he made in Australia where he was inspired by the nesting of tree frogs there. He weaves synthesizer textures, spare piano, gongs and flutes in a slow motion dusk that floats like mist on the forest floor.
3 S. Carey – Range of Light
It’s hard to bring naturalistic imagery into song without sounding like John Denver, but S. Carey does it on his ethereal second album, Range of Light. The title comes from the writings of naturalist John Muir and many of the lyrics are drawn from his inspiration, even when Carey is writing gorgeous love songs to his family like “Alpenglow.”
4 Uakti – Aguas da Amazonia
The collaboration of composer Philip Glass and the Brazilian new music group, Uakti, is a natural. Uakti plays instruments that are a cross between the PVC pipe percussion of The Blue Man Group and the exotic sound sculptures of the late Harry Partch. They play PVC pipe covered with skins, a wooden box with latex strings, marimbas made from glass bars and violins made from gourds. Marco António Guimaráes created these instruments and arranged them for Glass’s charming compositions inspired by Amazonian rivers.
5 Rena Jones – Driftwood
Rena Jones’ 2007 album, Driftwood, follows the life of a tree from “From Star to Seed” to “Driftwood.” It’s an entrancing album that’s as much about Jones’ translucent laptop compositions as her gifts on cello, guitar, violin and clarinet. Compositions like “Photosynthesis” and “Driftwood” have an almost classical flow as her strings and clarinet articulate Arvo Part-like lines of liquid inevitability while rhythms pulse, shudder and ping through the melodies.
6 Bernie Krause – Equator
Bernie Krause was one of the early pioneers merging electronic music and environmental sounds, most famously done on In A Wild Sanctuary by Beaver & Krause in 1970. But in the 1980s, Krause committed himself to sonic ecology, recording environments across the globe. He would orchestrate these natural sounds into compositions, sometimes purely natural sounds, other times reinforced with some gentle synthesizer underpinnings ala Sonic Seasonings. That’s what he does on Equator.
7 Paul Winter – Earth Voices of a Planet
The Godfather of environmental music, it’s hard to pick a CD from Paul Winter. But his 1990 album, Earth-Voices of A Planet seems a perfect merging of Winter’s chamber jazz folk sound merged with environmental sounds. Spotted owls, elephants and whales (many recorded by Mickey Houlihan) are joined by Winter’s soprano sax and musicians like Glen Velez, Rhonda Larson and Eugene Friesen in ecstatic songs like “Cathedral Forest.” Winter rises above New Age clichés for this genre.
8 Jalan Jalan – Bali
Jalan Jalan was a studio project from the Japanese Pacific Moon label. They took the sounds of Balinese gamelan and combined it with pianos, flutes, small percussion and environmental sounds into gentle refrains. It owes much to Brian Eno’s Music for Airports, with its sense of elegiac repose and resigned melancholy, particularly tracks like “Firefly Sanctuary.” The canon form in which most of these pieces are written and the stately pace they follow make this music seem like it could go on forever, and you wish they would.
9 R. Carlos Nakai & Keola Beamer – Our Beloved Land
In this meeting of Native flute and Hawaiian slack-key guitar, these two artists create a music born of their native landscapes. Though most of the tunes are Hawaiian in origin and largely arranged by Beamer, he lets Nakai take them out into the deepest southwest desert, tumbling them through canyon echoes and ancient chants of his own. Nakai and Beamer’s voices, despite intoning different sounds, come together as one. The rhythms, played on percussion instruments from Hawaii, the southwest and Africa are trance-like and ceremonial.
10 George Winston – Forest
There are no nature sounds here, but George Winston has always been great at evoking seasons and landscapes with his piano. This was his first post-seasonal CD and it found him exploring new modalities on songs like “Tamarack Pines” where Winston extracts from the minimalist canon of Steve Reich with a nod to Terry Riley’s “In C” in constructing a cyclical journey. On “Forbidden Forest” he plays with inside-the-piano effects while “The Cradle” draws from the jazz harmonies of Larry “Khalid Yasin” Young, the late jazz organist.
11 Brian Eno – Ambient 4: On Land
This is possibly the most surreal use of environmental sounds ever. Eno used nature sounds mixed with acoustic sounds and some synthesizer, but blended them using musique concrete techniques to create imaginary landscapes. Many of them are named for geographical locations, but in this sonic transubstantiation, the locations are completely in the mind, even when born from nature.
Hear An Echoes Earth Day Soundscape tonight.
John Diliberto (((echoes)))
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