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Field Recording

by Byron Westbrook

All images courtesy of the artist.

There are actually two recordings here, made many months apart and then superimposed on one another. For me, each would qualify as play—as both scenarios only involved turning on a recorder in a particular space, without any intention of producing a proper piece. More than anything, each was straight documentation.

In the first, made in upstate New York, I activated a large concrete grain silo with sticks, voice, and whistling. I leaned my microphones into a portal on the edge of this silo and sang into it, singing overtones related to the pitches I heard inside.

The second is a stereo recording made while rehearsing at Phill Niblock's loft. I don't play synthesizers live and was trying out a performance setup that I never ended up using. I sustained separate tones from different speakers, resonating the room. The choice of pitches was arbitrary, probably just reactions to the rattles in Phill's congested space.

Some time later, when I uploaded the contents of my recorder to a computer, I noticed something unusual: these two recordings, not adjacent to each other at all, were almost perfectly in tune with one another. In both, the root tone is about 138 Hz—a very sharp C#, an interstitial note that would not even be found on a properly tuned piano at A440. This is a fairly uncanny coincidence.

These recordings play over each other very nicely, almost too nicely. It is almost disposable as a composition but quite interesting as an occurrence. I'm fascinated by what it suggests—that there is some kind of dialogue over time, between presence in different spaces. And then there's the idea of something in the present playing along with something in the future. I was drawn to both of these spaces, and I'm curious about what my attraction might illuminate. Could they be related to each other in other ways? Are they speaking to each other via my voice?

My work contains a number of threads that are seemingly unrelated: field recordings, music performance, and socially engaged installations. I'd like to think of this as a reminder of their connection, their shared resonance.


Byron Westbrook is an artist and musician based in Brooklyn, NY. His work has been presented at Walker Art Center (Minneapolis), ICA London, Cafe OTO (London), Fridman Gallery, Pioneer Works, Experimental Intermedia Foundation (NY), Human Resources (Los Angeles), Disjecta (Portland, OR), Instants Chavires Art Space (Paris), Fylkingen (Stockholm), the LAB (San Francisco), among many others. He has recorded releases with Root Strata, Los Discos Enfantasmes, and Sedimental Records. Body Consonance, his new album, will be released October 13 on Hands in the Dark Records.

Threshold Variations—an immersive environment focusing on the synaesthetic play between light amplitude, sound volume, and the threshold of perception—will be running September 9 at Abrons Art Center Studio G05, as part of Westbrook's residency with ISSUE Project Room.

field recordings
experimental music