The act of creating a sense of a place or capturing a moment in time is a fairly common motif in a great deal of instrumental music, especially ambient, but it is intrinsically at the very core of these works released in 2022. Some are personal narratives or depictions of landscape either real or imagined while others are sonic interactions inextricably linked to the locations where they were recorded. Wherever they fall on this spectrum, they all offered some truly memorable stationary traveling.
Ah! Kosmos & Büşra Kayıkçı – Bluets
At the core of this collaboration between sound artist & composer Başak Günak, aka Ah! Kosmos, and pianist/composer Büşra Kayıkçı are field recordings meaningful to each artist – Kayıkçı adds the sounds of a bustling Istanbul and her father’s machinery atelier while Günak, on the other hand, contributes recordings of melting glaciers & waterfalls taken in Vatnajökull, Iceland. An architect and painter as well as a musician, Kayıkçı’s piano lines are elegant melodic structures that conceal virtuosity in the illusion of their simplicity. On the other side of the spectrum, Günak is a potent electronic sound artist and composer for theater & contemporary dance and brings rich layers of synthesizers, bass guitar, beats, and voice. Together, they create something quite beautiful and new.
Bluets is available digitally and on cassette via FUU Records.
Arun Sood- Searching Erskine
Located two miles off the northwest coast of North Uist in Scotlands Outer Hebrides, Vallay is an island that was home to a Georgian mansion built by archaeologist Erskine Beveridge in 1905. Only reachable on foot across a long beach exposed during low tide, the island has been uninhabited since the mention fell into disrepair after Beveridge’s son, and only heir, drowned while crossing the tidal strand in 1944. Searching Erskine is a spellbinding, multi-layered exploration of this area by Scottish-Indian writer, musician & academic Arun Sood whose grandmother was one of the last inhabitants of Vallay. Blending spoken word, original music, oral histories, tape loops, and field recordings from the island, Sood weaves an intricate web of sound that connects past and present and creates an immersive listening experience. The album is accompanied by a 64-page book featuring images from artists Emile Kees, Rosalind Blake and Meg Rodger alongside an introductory essay, poems and album notes by Sood.
Digital copies of Searching Erskine and the art book are available from Blackford Hill based in Edinburgh
Blair Coron- Cairn
Cairn is a touching and thoughtfully produced collection of songs by musician Blair Coron set to archival recordings of inhabitants of Scotland’s Highlands and Islands, discussing moments of childhood, folklore and people. While the album is abundantly charming on its own, you won’t want to miss the film Coron made which captures the grandeur of the surrounding landscape as well as the homely warmth of the living room where he recorded the music with the able accompaniment of fellow musicians Charlie Grey, Laetitia Pannetier, Rhona Macfarlane and Rachel Wilson.
Cairn can be ordered on CD or digitally with physical copies of the artwork available separately. The archival materials were provided by The School Of Scottish Studies in Edinburgh, Tobar an Dualchais ~ Kist o Riches, and Canna House.
Corey Fuller and Richard Skelton – Isolarii
Inspired first-time collaborations have been a hallmark of THESIS from the project’s inception and Isolarii continues this trend as American composer and multimedia artist Corey Fuller and UK-based multi-disciplinary artist & musician Richard Skelton take us on a sonic journey inspired by the idea of ‘island books’ – a unique literary form that fuses maps, history, folklore, and myth into a singular narrative. Tone, timbre, and melody are the tools they use to effectively hew out the contours of a richly imagined place while endowing it with a sense of remoteness and mystery that suggests the multitude of stories it might hold within.
Available from THESIS digitally and in two different limited vinyl LP editions along with unique art prints created by Gregory Euclide.
Erland Cooper – Music for Growing Flowers
Following his triptych of albums inspired by the land, sea, and skies of his native Orkney, Scottish composer Erland Cooper shifts focus many hundreds of miles to the south with this music he composed for the Superbloom project featured at the Tower of London during the celebration of the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee. Named for a rare botanical phenomenon in which whole landscapes are transformed by a burst of dormant seed growth, the installation incorporates 20 million seeds to cultivate and immersive floral transformation of the Tower of London. Cooper and his accompanists wove a beautiful musical tapestry for visitors to enjoy and distilled into album form for the rest of us to savor for many years to come.
In addition to digital streaming services, Music For Growing Flowers is available as a vinyl LP along with a special mix of UK-native wildflower seeds which can purchased separately or as part of an album bundle. For more about the project, you check out my recent conversation with Erland here.
From the Mouth of the Sun – A Broken House (OST)
Another fine soundtrack by From the Mouth of the Sun, this time for Jimmy Goldblum‘s moving short film that tells the story of Syrian architect Mohamad Hafez who came to the United States to study architecture on a single-entry visa and, finding himself unable to return, spent his years in exile sculpting life-like renditions of his Damascus neighborhood from found objects and scrap materials. The rustic minimalism of the arrangements incorporating piano, cello, pump organ, & bowed banjo and the plaintive melodic themes that tie them together create an almost visceral sense of loss, loneliness, and longing, but turned inwards where the embers of fond memories remain aglow. Like Hafez’s models, the music is sculpted by artisan hands into something both damaged and beautiful which ultimately becomes life-affirming.
A Broken House was released on a sold-out cassette edition by the Dronarivm label but is still available for digital download. Readers who enjoy this will also want to check out Aaron Martin’s soundtrack for The End of Medicine also released this year on Lost Tribe Sound.
Galya Bisengalieva – Hold Your Breath (OST)
Kazakh-British composer Galya Bisengalieva uses the full range of her violin with drones and field recordings of water, wind, and ice cutting to create a stunning soundtrack to the story of free diver Johanna Nordblad as told in the Netflix documentary Hold Your Breath. In it she manages to create a palpable sense of the isolation and extreme winter weather conditions that serve as the backdrop for what is ultimately a very personal story. An absorbing and surprisingly emotional film, and Galya’s score not only serves it well, but is able to stand alone as an immersive listening experience.
Released by Jealous Butcher Records on CD and 2 vinyl LP editions as well as digital download
Hugar – Rift
Inspired by the volcanic landscape of Thingvellir national park located northeast of Reykjavík in their home country of Iceland, longtime friends Bergur Þórisson and Pétur Jónsson, aka Hugar, created an equally dramatic musical journey with their arsenal of keyboards, guitars, brass, and synths & percussion. Divided into sixteen songs, Rift flows like a suite with recurring themes morphing across a musical landscape through the band’s deft manipulation of layers of sound and melody punctuated by the majestic rise of peaking crescendos.
Rift was released by XXIM Records. CD and vinyl editions of the album can be orders from Lo-Fi here.
Kinbrae and Clare Archibald – Birl of Unmap
Birl is a Scots word meaning ‘to spin’ – evoking the image of the spiral path to the top of the unfinished Fife Earth Project conceived by post-modern landscape architect Charles Jencks that sits on a large area of post-industrial land near the M90 motorway – while ‘unmap’ points to the layered abstractions and deconstructions of place the album explores that defy linear cartography. Combining spoken word and music with oral history and site-specific field recordings, the musical duet of Kinbrae and along with poet & composer Clare Archibald turn this album into their very own “revolving map of people, place, sound and language” that encompass layers of human and non-human history past and present.
Birl of Unmap was released cassette tape & CD by Full Spectrum records in the US and The Dark Outside in the UK and features artwork by Niall McCormack.
Malcom Parson – Letters From Home
Michael Scott Dawson – Music for Listening
The field recordings at the heart of Music For Listening by Canadian sound artist, multi-instrumentalist Michael Scott Dawson were originally collected with something different in mind, an album of prairie birdsong using fragments collected during walks through the pastures and farmland on the outskirts of his childhood hometown that never came to fruition. A phone call with his 95-year-old grandmother inspired Dawson to revisit those recordings and finding himself compelled to pick up his guitar and “tinker along” with them leading to the crafting of twelve beautifully realized ambient works interwoven with tape loops, piano, and other manipulations.
Music For Listening is available digitally and in a bone colored limited-edition vinyl LP edition from We Are Busy Bodies. I had the pleasure of interviewing Michael during the year as well which can be found here.
Seamus O’Muineachain – Isthmus`
Isthmus is the sixth album by Seamus O’Muineachain, a composer and multi-instrumentalist from the sea-side town of Béal an Mhuirthead (Belmullet) in the West of Ireland. Using piano as the primary narrative voice, the ten tracks form a warm and welcoming sonic exploration of his hometown inspired in particular by the topography of the peninsula where he grew up. Adding depth and color to the sonic landscape are synths, light percussion, treated guitars, field recordings captured on a smartphone, and cello parts played by Akito Goto.
Isthmus is available digitally and in a limited CD edition with Polaroid artwork from Ghost Home Recordings.
Sin Fang- Vatnajökull
Musician Sindri Már Sigfússon, aka Sin Fang, shows his considerable compositional chops here with his original soundtrack to a film about the largest ice cap in Iceland. Scant on details about the film itself, the album is a stunning blend of musical terraforming and cinematic storytelling that offers the listener a succinct but breathtaking aural journey.
Vatnajökull is available as a digital release from INNI Music.
Sontag Shogun and Lau Nau – Valo Siroutuu
Links: Beacon Sound (LP) | Ricco Label (CD box set)
Valo Siroutuu (or “Light is Scattered”) is a collaborative song cycle written on and for the island of Kimitoön, Finland by American avant-garde trio Sontag Shogun and Finnish composer, producer, & musician Laura Naukkarinen, aka Lau Nau. Incorporating in-situ field recordings, impromptu outdoor songwriting, intimate chamber arrangements and lyrics delivered both in Finnish and English, the album is an utterly charming meditation on themes place, time, nature, home, play, and language that unfolds like an idyllic dream.
Co-released by Ricco Label and Beacon Sound, the limited he LP and CD editions of Valo Siroutuu are accompanied by a 16-page art book which can also be purchased separately.
Tapes and Topographies – Floating World
Links: Bandcamp (CD/digital) | Jonathan S Hooper
Under his Tapes and Topographies moniker, composer, musician & producer Todd Gautreau provides a haunting soundtrack for the art and photography of Jonathan S Hooper as part of a special collaborative project. Thirty-Six Views of Newland Island features 36 paintings and 36 Polaroids created by Hooper focused on a small pyramid shaped island off the coast his native Cornwall (in part an homage to Japanese artist Katsushika Hokusai [1760–1849] who produced a sequence of images titled “Thirty-Six Views of Mount Fuji” in the 1930’s). For the visual project, Hooper uses the island as a “cipher through which to explore concepts of time, permanence and change”. Stating that he had long harbored a desire to combine his work with that of a composer, Hooper chose Gautreau after hearing his music a year earlier on Elizabeth Alker’s BBC Radio 3 “Unclassified” program and the expansive, undulating drones that ebb and flow through the album are eminently fitting.
Todd’s compositions create the patterns, and complex harmonic geometry that inform my sense of Cornwall’s landscape... It is music that creates space for imagination and rewards time spent.Jonathan S Hooper
Floating World is available digitally and on CD from Whitelabrecs along with a 16 page booklet of paintings, Polaroids, and liner notes by Hooper
Will Ackerman – Positano Songs
As a fan of Will Ackerman‘s deeply sensitive guitar instrumentals since first hearing them in a local record shop nearly forty years ago, I was very happy to see his first album of all new solo compositions in quite some time. In the manner of such beloved albums as Passage or Conferring With the Moon, Positano Songs showcases Ackerman’s trademark open tunings and pristine guitar work embellished by contributions from friends including Windham Hill alumni Charlie Bisharat (violin) and Eugene Friesen (cello) as well as Noah Wilding (voice) and Tom Eaton (bass and piano) & Jeff Oster (flugelhorn) with whom he collaborated on the Grammy-nominated album Brothers (2021). The album was developed from a collection of musical ideas captured on tape during a 2015 visit to the village of Positano situated on Italy’s Amalfi coast, a place where he married his wife Susan, and which holds many fond memories for him.
Positano Songs is now available digitally and on CD via West River Records featuring artwork by Anna Rita Fattori and booklet cover photo of Positano by Inge Johnsson.