Lost Sounds: Ode to Earth

Lost Sounds: Ode to Earth

On the occasion of Earth Month, we asked our friends at Voice for Nature to collaborate with us on a special playlist. Here, we have a beautiful collection of songs that either feature sounds from mother Nature, or are heavily inspired by Nature.

The Voice for Nature team journals about some of their favorites on the playlist:

Sueño en Paraguay (El Búho Remix) – Chancha Vía Circuito
This ‘Dream in Paraguay’ is an example of eléctrica selvática, music that incorporates the sound of bird call, insects, rainfall and other natural sounds into rich electronica soundscapes. The organic and electronic fuse, to the point that it isn’t always clear which is which. I guess that’s the point, right? That in the right hands, with care and respect, the natural and modern world can exist in harmony, with glorious results. The song features two prominent proponents of the genre, Latin American DJs, Chancha Vía Circuito and El Búho. I for one could get lost in the world they create for hours. Unsurprisingly, there is plenty more eléctrica selvática in our list.

Begin Again – Nick Mulvey
A gorgeous tune about a grandmother the singer never had the chance to meet, but also a song that eloquently captures the idea of human’s connection with the natural world around us, that “ the blood in you and me is as old as blood can be”, all played out over gently pulsing latin-flavoured guitar and percussion – just perfect.

Improvisation: Singing with Nightingales – Sam Lee
Not only does Sam Lee incorporate bird song into his music, he duets with them live, inviting other musicians to join him and the birds in improvisational pieces such as this (video here). Who knows what the Nightingales make of it, but the results are spell-binding.

Mirla – Monte
The Mirla is a South American thrush with a soft, melodious and varied song. After being regularly visited on his terrace by the same bird, Colombian musician Simón Mejía started recording its song, noticing it get bolder and more vocal each day. Sadly, one morning he found it lifeless on the floor by his house. As a homage to the bird, he built a song around recordings of its sweet vocalizations, backed by a charanga beat. Despite being tinged with melancholy, the song is an infectious treat.

No Man is an Archipelago – Sea Power
The British rock band Sea Power have rarely done things by the book, so when they recorded a soundtrack for the 1934 fictional documentary Man of Aran, which portrays the premodern daily routines of the residents of the Aran Islands, off the West Coast of Ireland, it wasn’t a huge surprise. These islanders’ lives were intimately linked with the tempestuous North Atlantic, where they would fish for Pollock, Mackerel, and even Basking Sharks. This tune captures the power and glory of the ocean; all crashing cymbals and swelling strings; an undercurrent of electric guitar with soaring trumpets riding the waves! Well that’s what I hear anyway! I can just imagine it soundtracking the next Blue Planet series.

An Undiscovered Paradise – El Búho, Ian Urbina
Musician El Búho combines Dub, IDM and Electronica with the rhythms, traditions and melodies of Latin American folk and the organic sound of waterfalls, birdsongs and crackling leaves. As an environmental activist, El Búho also finds ways to use his music to promote and protect the very same subjects and elements he incorporates in his music. In 2020, he took part in New York Times author Ian Urbina’s project The Outlaw Ocean (well worth checking out). This is the opening track of the resulting Agua Profundas EP, which includes spoken-word extracts from Ian’s book over eerie ocean sounds, intended to “..convey some of the dualities of the sea — the ominous threat of oil drilling along with the hope brought by brave activists, and the captivating beauty, but dark mystery of the ocean deep.”

Hoppípolla – Sigur Ros
Hoppípolla was the theme for the BBC Natural History Unit’s 2006 series, Planet Earth. To this day, I still get goosebumps watching the opening theme. This series really felt like an event, and although this song wasn’t written for the series, Sigur Ros’s rousing anthem is one of few songs that could ever have matched the scale of the images on screen. Planet Earth will probably never be surpassed in terms of the way it brought the Natural world to people’s living rooms, with an artistic cinematography, grandeur, and detail that had never before been achieved. This song, for me and many others, will forever be intrinsically linked to all those feelings of awe and wonder.

Agua – Monte
Agua is a track taken from Simón Mejía’s soundtrack to the Stand for Trees documentary Sonic Forest. The film follows Simón’s journey into the jungles and mountains of the Colombian Pacific, to “discover the richness of Earth’s most megadiverse places through its local music and its people..”. In the documentary, Simón compares walking in the forest to meditating, “you go into a special trance, and the sounds are a key part of the process”. Agua is just that, a trance that drenches you in layers of cascading rhythm and melody and transports you to the Colombian Pacific. The rest of the documentary and album is equally as vivid.

Dust in Cloud – David Ridley
Like Agua, Dust in Cloud is another song inspired by water. In fact, these two tracks flow beautifully together when listened to sequentially. The song is part of composer David Ridley’s concept piano album, “Be like Water”. Each song in the album captures the character of a different point in the water cycle, be it streaming, lapping, evaporating or falling. Dust in Cloud’s delicate archipelagos dance in circular rhythms, slowly climbing as you wait for the inevitable downfall. I listened to this while walking through drizzle on the way home from the shops the other day, and despite getting slowly soaked, it was truly magical. Please note: can also be enjoyed in the warm and dry.

Detectorists – Johnny Flynn
This is the theme song for one of my favorite TV shows, The Detectorists, a touching and highly entertaining ode to friendship and hobbyism. It is also writer, Mackenzie Crook’s love letter to the English countryside, featuring lingering shots of wildflower meadow, woodland, and other bucolic treats. Musician Johnny Flynn wrote all the music for the show, including this beautiful theme tune, a gorgeous finger-picked piece full of longing, inviting us to “search through the loamy earth” and “climb through the briar and bramble”. Every time I listen to this song, it moves me to grab my boots and coat and do just that! Also worth checking out Johnny Flynn’s collaboration with Nature writer Robert Macfarlane.

The Great Animal Orchestra Symphony:1 – Richard Blackford, Bernie Kraus
Bernie Kraus is a legendary bioacoustic recorder, who has created the most expansive private collection of animal sounds in the world, with over 4,500 hours of material, capturing 15,000 different species. Through this process, he also realized something profound, that these separate voices only make sense in the context of all the other natural sounds around them. Each voice must find its space or time, its own frequency, rhythm or tone, to cut through the wall of other sounds around it. The Great Animal Orchestra is a collaboration with composer Richard Backford, trying to capture this sense of sonic layers and competing sounds, rising and falling through the day and seasons. It is a dramatic journey that starts with duetting gibbons in the rainforest, past strident violins and cicadas, through rumbling thunder and tumbling tuba lines, to finish on the plaintive call of a humpback whale.

Waterfalls in Ocho Rios – Equiknoxx
With ‘Waterfalls in Ocho Rio’s, dancehall collective, Equiknoxx, made up of producers Gavin “Gavsborg” Blair and Jordan “Time Cow” Chung, sprinkle processed bird song over shimmering harp, creating a laid back beat. It’s not normally my jam, but there is something very evocative about this track, transporting me to a calming blue lagoon under running water.

Coyote’s Last Laugh – Country Joe McDonald, Bernie Krause
The song starts with a coyote howl, a sound which calls to something very primitive within us. As humans, we are still built to respond, even if most of us live far beyond any roaming packs. I for one love that feeling….a call of the wild to momentarily spike the heart! The rest of the tune settles beautifully though, pairing Bernie Krause’s desert recordings with Country Joe Morgan’s exquisite guitar picking. As the title suggests, the Coyote is left with the final say, accompanied by cuckoo, owl, and cicada to close out the track. I’d recommend the whole album actually, Natural Imperfections. It’s perfect for meditation or deep relaxation. At a time when, in the words of Bernie, “little by little the vast orchestra of life, the chorus of the natural world, is in the process of being quietened” the album provides a momentary respite, and reminder of wilderness.

Coroico – Chancha Vía Circuito
Many of the songs in this list feature the sound of birds in some way. This is no surprise, really, being the most vocal and melodious of the different animal groups. So when I heard the recognizable soft rattle of frog call in the opening bars of Coroico, recorded by Chancha Vía Circuito high in the Bolivian mountains, I knew it had to feature (amphibians represent!). It also happens to be another lush example of eléctrica selvática, quickly becoming my new favorite genre, its name drawn from the Spanish and Portuguese for jungle, selva. It does make you wonder what other nature / music fusions could be out there…forest folk…riparian rap….busha nova? The mind boggles.

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