Tuesday, 1 November 2011

by the roads and the fields

image from here

I went to the post office the other day and the parcel waiting for me was an LP of By The Roads And The Fields by Crescent. Crescent are a Bristol band, formed in the early nineties and By The Roads And The Fields was released on Fat Cat Records in 2003, their fourth album. I was very excited to take it home and listen to it and as I was doing so, I was reminded of the ideas about lo-fi that I used to write about. It occurred to be that I hadn’t gone in much depth into the idea of lo-fi in relation to music and that this record would serve as a great example.

I have one other of Crecent’s albums: Little Waves, and what is great about the artwork of both is that they include, in the notes, details of how each song was recorded and from where samples and field recordings were sourced (For Example: “New Leaves – Recorded in my old room with the windows open, you can hear the swallows (maybe swifts) flying past in the break half way through”). This demonstrates the awareness the band have of the role the recording technique plays in the outcome and overall atmosphere of the record made.

Outside of the lo-fi music scene, the general wisdom is that recording technology should serve as a means to capture as clearly as possible and with optimum audio fidelity, the sound of the performer. Studios are designed to mute all external noise from the recording space and digital recording technology has removed the idiosyncrasies and perceived flaws of the old analogue recording systems. Lo-fi, as I have stated in previous articles, deals in the rediscovery of these defunct technologies and the use of these idiosyncrasies as contributors to the atmosphere and aesthetic of the outcome.

Recording with tape is wonderful because you are able to introduce analogue compression by pushing recording volumes into the red. The result of this is a distortion of the sound rather than clipping of the sound waves, as would occur in digital recording. Recording on tape also introduces more background noise into the recording. This could be perceived as a flaw, but could also be interpreted as a dimension of the recording itself, creating the sensation of a physical space, ideal for minimalist playing styles. The sound of silence itself on tape could be considered "interesting".

Other great records that make use of the characteristics of recording on tape in Bristol alone include Headfall’s
Stars Don’t Shine To Noise and FránçoisLes Anciennes Falaises. Both of these even make apparent features of the warping of tape. A Copycat tape loop is also used on Stars Don’t Shine To Noise and By The Roads The Fields, with a unique outcome on each. Albums by I Know I Have No Collar include recordings made of instruments played down walkie-talkies and Field Recordings by My Two Toms has a song recorded half way up Mount Snowdon.

The point is that throughout By The Roads And The Fields, the audio quality of certain instruments or sounds is deliberately degraded or manipulated in order to alter the overall atmosphere of the recording. The Outcome is a unique, rich and occasionally mysterious sound that bears listening to again and again.

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