Australian label Flaming Pines has established a distinctive identity for itself as a premium source of music inspired by nature, be it based on field recordings, more traditional compositional approaches, or a mix of both. Label curator Kate Carr’s own output is a paradigm example of the Flaming Pines aesthetic, demonstrating an approach to the musical representation of nature that does not seek to document nor to romanticise, but rather views the relationship between nature and culture as a question to be worked through without necessarily arriving at any definitive answers. Experiences of nature are not presented as being separate from the rest of our lives, even as their ability to draw us out beyond ourselves is recognised. Carr’s music is predicated on the assumption that experiences of nature are shareable, and are capable of forming a basis for meaningful human communication, even as non-human organisms and processes retain their non-humanness.
These are big claims, you may think, so where is my evidence? Exhibit A is Carr’s new album “Landing Lights”, a collusion of field recordings, guitar, bass, synthesisers, keyboards, samples, bells, and an owl horn (though obviously not all heard at once). Whereas some music that incorporates field recordings does so in such a way that the distinction between concrete and composed sounds is often not clear, Carr generally takes the opposite route, combining sounds captured ‘in the field’ with melodic phrases sketched in clearly identifiable instrumental voices. By choosing to do so, she turns the opposition of nature and culture into an issue to be debated and puzzled over, but this is not to say that her work depends on a simple antagonism between the two. Her guitar playing in particular is sensitive to the sonic qualities of the field recordings, like a mirror or an echo in which we hear the echoed sound differently. If she were a painter, one could say that her canvas conveys what it is like to see certain objects or situations existing outside it, while at the same time leaving no doubt that it is still a painting.
There are also some more abstract pieces on the album that take as their focus sounds themselves, rather than their usefulness for defining a melody, and these are perhaps some of my favourite moments. In the context of the Flaming Pines label and Carr’s work as a whole, however, it is this question of how we know and share our experiences of nature that seems to me to be the most distinctive aspect of her practice, one that distinguishes her both from the hardcore documentary phonography crowd and from musicians who only use field recordings as a means to some other end. As such, “Landing Lights” stands out as a compelling and thought-provoking release.