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From Streets To Sound Banks: Uses of Field Recordings

April 22, 2021 3 min read

From Streets To Sound Banks: Uses of Field Recordings

The South of India, a sonic epicenter where music is often less a performance art form reserved exclusively for the stage, more an extension of daily existence, an everyday reality. As a predominantly oral music tradition passed on from generation to generation, children are taught by their mothers, fathers, grandparents, learning to live and breathe their music more than merely just playing it.
 
Emerging from this cultural milieu are forms of music that exist off the stage and embedded within the very fabric of everyday life – on the streets, at weddings, sacred ceremonies, funerals. This is music that is rarely heard in the context of concerts or on streaming sites – largely undocumented sounds that are intertwined with a way of life in rural India. The percussive pulse of these rituals across areas of Tamil Nadu is provided by Tapattam drummers - a tradition of ceremonial drumming traditionally practiced at funeral processions by communities that were considered the ‘untouchables’ of Indian society. Occupying a unique limbo space in society, the community is both ostracized for their social status and accepted for their art form. It is through their music that social boundary lines are blurred, as the ‘Thapattam’ drumming is often part of temple processions and festivals of the upper castes.
 
Their street style beats are thunderously loud, wildly hypnotic – “There is something all consuming and incredibly powerful about 30 people playing 1 beat all together” explains  EarthMoments Director Kris Karra, recounting the experience of standing in the midst of a Tapattam troupe while recording EarthMoments’ Indian Street Drummers bundle, “This is what they’ve been doing their whole life, but you could see it was new and exciting for them to be in a recording studio for the first time. There’s a certain authenticity that we felt when listening back to these drum recordings, a powerful energy that can’t be conveyed with virtual instruments”.
 
The mystic power of this drum is used to convey a range of emotions – from sorrow and anger to happiness and ecstasy, connecting the material world of the player to his/her spiritual world. In this climate emerges a kind of primal energy that is often missing from perfectly executed studio sessions and electronic drum loops. More and more producers and electronic musicians are recognizing the lush acoustic possibilities of raw field recordings, and their potential to offer unusual soundscapes that open new gateways of inspiration and experience.
 
Capturing this spirit while recording tribal musicians in unpredictable circumstances however, comes with its own set of hurdles.  Sound Designer Yoav Rosenthal explains how he navigates around these challenges: “Every time you record tribal artists, the attention span you have from them is 10 min – 40 minutes max, so you have to be incredibly precise and set up all your technical aspects beforehand. We used 6 – 8 different pairs of stereo micing, some were directional, some were omnis, and for some of the drums we used dynamic microphones to enhance these drums within the ensemble. Everything went into auxiliary with very soft limiting to avoid peaks during the recording. It was challenging to translate the volume / energies in the room into a stereo loop – which was the end result – so what I usually do is I let them hear themselves through loud speakers to inspire them. I also engage them physically within the circle, standing in the middle, and sometimes shouting and using whistles to keep their excitement up - then we cut it out of the recording in post”.
 
The end result – a unique bundle that captures ecstatic and unusual sounds emerging from the rustic streets of South India. Sounds that can be reimagined as cinematic soundtracks, within experimental compositions, electronic spaces – limitless possibilities.



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