Sampling in Lockdown: 3 producers dive into field recordings in this miniseries

In what feels like a capricious nosedive into the darkness, descending, our world during COVID-19 can sometimes feel on-edge. From resisting that urge to rub your eyes with unwashed hands to standing a safe two metres away from your best mate, the presence of the invisible enemy looms considerably large. Feeling vulnerable, the frequent sights of face masks and social distancing from others offers hope. Whilst the world remains on pause for most, such unforeseen circumstances allow us to appreciate the little things a lot more too. 

For many artists operating within the electronic music sphere, they don’t always have the ability to press pause. With most gigs cancelled for the foreseeable future, many artists are back home reflecting – a rare opportunity to find gratitude within their home settings. One big way they’ve been experiencing this is through field recordings.

Why field recordings?

Often allowing listeners to achieve a much deeper understanding of the relationship between the inner and outer realms, field recordings as an art can change the way you think about sounds altogether. Once a niche topic, the option for anyone with a mobile phone to record sounds these days now makes it a common practice, especially since lockdown measures were introduced. 

Channeling home surroundings with CHANEY

From industrial textures to artistic ambience, field recordings are one of many methods which present a wider perspective to sound design, and life itself. Swindon’s Theo Altieri personally attests to this. Known as CHANEY, the hotly-tipped, 23-year-old producer has been making the most of the current situation by repurposing his home surroundings, recording everyday sounds and crafting them into samples to underpin his distinctive swagger and vulnerability. 

Channelling his emotions through a theme of ‘lockdown escapism’, CHANEY explains:

“Using the home surroundings of my garden and kitchen, I’ve found a selection of organic, sedating sounds filled with ambience. Things like the sound of the waterfall in my garden put me at such ease, it helps me forget the conditions we find ourselves in, even just for a moment.”

Going deeper, he continues: “When I’m sat in the garden with my eyes shut, and you’re listening to these sounds, you can picture yourself in a completely different location, on vacation somewhere perhaps, and it takes away an element of anxiety.” 

Inspired by his father’s Italian origins, CHANEY also wanted to translate his passion for cooking into a live performance.“With the live jam, I went in more instinctively baring the sample pack in mind. With the kitchen recordings I used when cooking, I opted to use harder and shorter sounds such as the gas hob for hi-hats, the chopping board for a light snare drum…” he says. “I then set this up alongside my studio gear and began exploring the possibilities of these expressions.” 

Capturing raw moments: Per Hammar

Resisting technical escalation, field recordings serve as an education in the beauty of listening in itself. Tearing away from routine behavioural patterns, when you listen to your natural surroundings selectively and attentively, the opportunity for deeper exploration starts as soon as you hit record. Dirty Hands chief Per Hammar had already primed his mindset for this when headed to his studio one day in Berlin. Stopping by his local Rossmann’s to pick up some batteries for his recorder, a soothing lullaby grasped his attention: behind him was a mother singing to her baby – a beautiful, raw moment which Per then managed to capture on audio. 

In search of the final sounds for his debut studio album, ‘Pathfinder’, the Swedish native discovered a real gem with the mother singing. He says:

“The initial idea I had for my album was to have a time mark to represent what was happening currently, but within the area of Berlin in which I live. I wanted to create something suitable for listening, telling a little bit of a story and it’s up to you to dictate the vision.”

Utilizing the singing as the introductory sound for ‘Mother’, the opening track on the album, Per was very intentional with its placement. “When you’re listening to the sound, and you don’t know where it has been recorded, it is so much more mysterious. You are killing one sense, you can’t see where it’s recorded from, and that’s the beauty of it, it’s like reading a book and not watching the movie, you have to use your imagination to create the picture.” 

A true audiophile at heart, Per is a firm believer in the ambient purpose of field recording, and the enhanced subtleties they bring to a track. “If you keep a sound raw in its traditional form, as much as possible, this brings more value to the recording,” he says. “When you start to produce, you know that many producers apply different types of processing to a sound, and treat it in a certain way when maybe it doesn’t have to be treated at all. The beauty is within the original sound itself.” 

A train perspective: Gajek

Beauty also lies within the world around us. It’s remarkable how impressive our ears and minds are at filtering the sounds out around us. From birds chirping to the wind blowing through the grass, such a change in perception can reshape how we view our natural surroundings altogether. Berlin resident Matti Gajek has found resonance through recording the constant sequences of trains passing by his balcony. 

“The structure of the trains really are the spirit of North Berlin,” he says. Usually alive, detailed and urgent – just like his musical expression – Gajek acknowledges the trains have been quite the opposite since the Coronavirus outbreak: “Recently, when I’ve seen the trains go by, they’ve all been much emptier than usual. You see the lights on but there’s no busyness about the trains like there usually is, it’s quite ghostly in a sense.” 

Scribing this through his East German perspective, his natural sincerity conveys an emotional immediacy in his musical approach, a theme consistent in his forthcoming album Vitamin D. “I like keeping these recordings as original as possible, and create a distance between the synthetic instrumentals and the raw sound of my environment represents an honest conversation of the divide between West and East Germany.” 

The final point is subconsciously profound given the current pandemic – almost a reflective reminder of the freedom we used to have, and our current entitlements during COVID-19 times whilst we try and adapt to the new normal. 

With social distancing likely here for the foreseeable, it’s unlikely that we will be dancing together in person anytime soon. However, such physical separation is proving to be the defining creative anchor for some of electronic music’s most intuitive. From distinct perceptions to natural delicacies, all have found different ways of navigating through the uncertainty to enhance their individual sounds, and all have realized a new sense of gratitude to their surroundings fueled by the power of field recording. 

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