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Podcasts — Field Recordings brings the outdoors indoors

Arts

Podcasts — Field Recordings brings the outdoors indoors

The new series consists of gentle, everyday sounds from the world, and it’s a tonic for those in self-isolation

Balm for the soul: 'Field Recordings' features the sounds of locations around the world © Alamy

If you’re going stir-crazy and longing to be outside during self-isolation, do not despair, as the new podcast Field Recordings brings the outdoors indoors. Dreamt up by Eleanor McDowall, the British producer behind such gems as the BBC Radio’s Short Cuts and the international documentary strand Radio Atlas, the series asks audio creators and sounds artists to go out into the world and record what they hear. There are no introductions and there is no narration — in fact, there are no words at all. It’s just gentle, everyday outdoor noise.

That McDowall has assembled her ode to the outside world just as we have retreated indoors is a coincidence, but it’s exactly what we need right now. I have been listening in the dead of night, awake and twitching with anxiety, and have found the series soothing, medicinal even. In these testing times, the sound of life happening outside really is a balm for the soul.

The opening episode, recorded by Camilla Hannan, comes from Golden Gully in Australia and was recorded at dusk. About nine minutes in, against the gentle hiss of cicadas, a pair of kookaburras suddenly erupt out of nowhere, cackling at each other like elderly smokers after a night on the tiles. In Puerto Rico, Ariana Martinez has recorded on the shore of El Combate, a beach on the Boquerón area of Cabo Rojo. It was empty at the time of recording, so all we hear is the sound of lapping water as vividly as if we were right there dipping our toes in the sea.

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These slices of ambient sound aren’t entirely devoid of human life — fittingly, given the podcast’s title, the third instalment is recorded in the middle of a field, in this case St John’s Park in Brooklyn, where buses swish past, teenagers chatter and helicopters sometimes buzz overhead. Elsewhere there are atmospheric sound dispatches from rainy South Africa; from a woody and windy cross-country ski trail in Quebec; and a tropical rainforest in Sri Lanka, recorded just as the insects and birds are waking up, their calls taking on the rhythms of electronic music.

Particularly poignant is the episode recorded recently in Rome by Daria Corrias, with the city in lockdown. There are church bells, barking dogs, occasional car horns and the sound of people singing raucously and somewhat tunelessly on their balconies. There can be joy, it tells us, even in the midst of a pandemic.

Jon Mooallem, the American writer behind The Walking Podcast, in which he goes for long and mostly silent walks around the Pacific Northwest, is either a genius or a joker. Having spent several hours in his company listening to little more than the sound of his boots crunching on leaves — “No talking; just walking” goes the tagline — I still haven’t decided which. Right now, however, his recordings make a strange kind of sense.

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