Award: “Other Music” First Runner Up, 2002, COVR
If you travel all the way into Papua New Guinea's interior from any direction you'll ultimately come to the country's Southern Highlands Province. Travel inward further still, and you'll reach Mt. Bosavi, an extinct volcano rising to eight thousand feet. In the northern foothills that ramble six thousand feet below lies a vast mid-montane rainforest. Bosavi is the name its two thousand residents give to the land and to themselves.
Since 1976 I've been a regular visitor here, learning how Bosavi people create a sense of place in the rainforest ecology. I've studied how birds are named and known by their sounds, and how their voices connect the forest world to the spirit world through myths and rituals. I've been taught how poetry creates maps of forest trails, and why these song paths hold memories of people and land. I've realized that sound deeply shapes the Bosavi world, and that listening is a vital way of participating in it.
I've given my ears to this sonic way of knowing, this Bosavi acoustemology, and on Rainforest Soundwalks you'll hear a touch of what I've encountered and tried to absorb. Think of it as a sonic suggestion of what it might be like to live in a different auditory body and another sound world.
So how did I get here? After making documentary LPs in the 1970s, I came upon The Tuning of the World and the World Soundscape Project of R. Murray Schafer. His insistence that research on acoustic ecology be disseminated as musical composition led me to experiment with soundscape radio in the 1980s. And that led to Voices of the Rainforest, my 1991 CD for Mickey Hart's series The World -- a sound portrait of the rainforest environment and of the vocal, poetic, and musical forms it inspired for Bosavi people. Many naturalists and sound artists responded by requesting a recording devoted completely to Bosavi's forest ambiences. Ten years later, here it is.
State of the art—takes you right into the soul of the forest
Steven Feld's ambient soundwalks in the Papua New Guinea Bosavi rainforest are breathtaking in their beauty and technical virtuosity. . . . It's a world we don't often hear, but it's an incredible world of compelling, engrossing, consuming sound.
One of the best environmental recordings ever to emerge from my speakers, Rainforest Soundwalks is an all-possessing listen; play it loud and your pets will go insane. Fantastic!
Richard Henderson, The Beat
Rainforest Soundwalks presents a four-panel retable through the threads of which a listener may wander, from the extreme figure/background contrast of the first track to the luscious thread of the last one, where every single component is a soloist in its own right. “The ‘soundwalk’ takes place in the head and body,” says Feld, “in the way of listening, in the attention to the surrounding/motional sound field. These are composites, not just of the height and depth, space and time of the forest, but also a history of listening, my history of listening and being taught to listen, over twenty five years. That’s why I call it an ‘acoustemology,’ a sonic way of knowing place, a way of attending to hearing a way of absorbing.” Rainforest Soundwalks offers a unique experience. The manipulations to which Feld subjects his sounds are subtle but unequivocal, as if “reality” were always ready to slip into the hyper-real. Accepting, stressing, and punctuating the compositional will of the sounds he uses, Feld keeps us unsure as to whether we are listening to the forest the way it is or the way he listens to it.
Carlos Palombini, Leonardo
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