The use of field recordings
in chill-out music productions
“The earth has music for those who listen”
– George Santayana
Field recordings have been used on numerous ambient / chill-out albums in the past decades and is still a common ingredient on ambient productions these days.
Often, sounds of nature spring to mind, which fits the relaxing atmosphere of certain styles of ambient music. But any kind of sounds can be used to infuse music with organic elements to get a certain vibe which is grounded in physical reality, although you will see that it can be the other way around as well, where field recordings are the leading elements in the production.
In this blog I will give examples of both types of productions. Also you’ll see how certain artists approach and use field recordings in their music. This can serve as an inspiration for your own chill-out music productions.
Field recordings as main element
in chill-out music
Field recordings can be the main (or even only) element of a production, often branded as relaxation or New Age music. In these productions, field recordings are often present throughout the entire album and may or may not be accompanied by music.
One example is an album called ‘Songs of the Humpback Whale’ from bio-acoustician Roger Payne. He produced an album of whale songs using whale recordings made by US Navy engineer Frank Watlington in the 1950s during a mission in Bermuda. The album unexpectedly was a huge success and went multi-platinum. Excerpts of the album were used in songs by other artists like Kate Bush and also appeared in movies like Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home.
Due to the popularity of the album, a huge number of albums containing whale recordings were released for people to relax to.
Photographer, cinematographer and field recordist Dan Gibson made many hours of field recordings of nature all over the world. Samples of his albums were used on numerous chill-out / ambient albums.
Apart from albums that were solely containing the field recordings, he produced also the hugely successful Solitudes series which sold over 20 million copies worldwide. On these albums, his field recordings were combined with relaxing, mostly classical, music.
One last example (there are many more) I’ll discuss in this category is fieldrecordist, music composer and sound designer Dough Quin. He makes fieldrecordings from all over the world, including the recording of endangered and disappearing habitats.
His albums range from pure field recordings to electroacoustic explorations based on natural sounds.
Below is a great example of how cool nature sounds. These are not sounds coming from a synthesizer, but from underwater weddell seals.
Chill-Out Music Experience
a unique 10-day Chill-Out Music Production workshop in Logic Pro in the ultimate chill-out environment of Andalusia – Spain, featuring Martin “Youth” Glover
Field recordings as supporting elements
in chill-out music
Often field recordings act as an inspiration for chill-out music artists. But instead of using a complete unedited field recording, pieces of the recording can also be combined with music, giving the field recordings a more supporting role. Effects like reverb and delay can be applied to the field recordings, so that they blend in nicely with the music. Or the recordings can be completely altered to form new sounds which still could have an organic character.
Brian Eno – Ambient 4: On Land
The first example is from the Godfather of ambient music: Brian Eno. On his excellent ‘Ambient 4: On Land’ album, Eno perfectly blends sounds from nature with acoustic and electronic music to form an organic synergy between the two. Field recordings and music act as equals.
Yosi Horikawa is a Japanese composer and producer who makes extensive use of field recordings, but in a different way. Not only does he use field recordings to create an atmosphere, he also transforms bits of recordings into drumsamples and rhythms. In the documentary ‘Searching for Sound’ below, you’ll see Horikawa’s fascination for creating instruments and sounds from scratch and his love for sounds of nature which he captures with his surround mic setup.
The KLF – Chill Out
In 1990, The KLF released their landmark album ‘Chill Out’. This album influenced many artists with its prominent use of field recordings in combination with electronic music. It consists of many samples and edited field recordings that are woven together like a collage.
The album documents a fictional night-time journey through the US, beginning in Texas and ending in Louisiana. It feels like a roadtrip across the US Gulf Coast states with field recordings of moving trains, sheep, radiostations and music from artists like Elvis and Fleetwood Mac.
The idea behind this, is best described by KLF member Bill Drummond. Talking about the rave scene in the UK, he stated: “When we’re having the big Orbital raves out in the country, and you’re dancing all night and then the sun would come up in the morning, and then you’d be surrounded by this English rural countryside … we wanted something that kind of reflected that, that feeling the day after the rave, that’s what we wanted the music for”.
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Interested in field recording?
If you want to explore what field recordings can do for your music productions, check out our Chill-Out Music Experience workshop. Part of the Experience is making field recordings in the beautiful environment of Andalusia.
A unique 10-day Chill-Out Music Production workshop in Logic Pro in the ultimate chill-out environment of Andalusia – Spain, featuring Martin “Youth” Glover.