Field Works – Ultrasonic

Photo by Anna Powell Teeter

Commissioned by National Geographic and releasing May 1 on Temporary Residence, Ultrasonic is the project of Colorado field recordist and musician Stuart Hyatt (Field Works). The ultrasonic recordings are of a rare bat subspecies found only in rural Indiana, and Hyatt’s recordings have been reworked by a plethora of ambient and experimental artists. The likes of Eluvium, Mary Lattimore, Felicia Atkinson, Christina Vantzou, Chihei Hatakeyama, Jefre Cantu-Ledesma, Sarah Davachi, and Machinefabriek all contribute to Ultrasonic.

Eluvium’s ’Dusk Tempi’ kicks off the record, wherein cool harmonies resound against the lighter inflections of the creature, as if bouncing off the walls of a cave. It makes for fascinating music, more in the vein of Cooper’s Martin Eden project thanks to its cooler, dusk-settled atmosphere, the sun a flaming, descending orb, painting the sky in brilliant-but-diminishing streaks of light.

Musical instruments entwine with the sound of the often unfairly vilified and demonised bat to create serene and astonishing sounds. Echolocation is embedded into the music, sitting at the heart of every composition, and it makes Ultrasonic a truly unique and innovative record. All of the artists treat the bats with respect, merging and moulding the sounds together to create music in harmony – and in sync – with nature and humanity. Although they work together, in unison with one another, nature is the more dominant of the two. The human instruments, built by human hands, are as present and as active as the creatures are, but the instruments revolve around nature. As a document, a learning tool, and as ground-breaking music, Ultrasonic is an extraordinary symbiosis, at once peaceful and highly original.

‘Noveller’s ‘A Place Both Wonderful and Strange’ could have emanated from a sci-fi soundtrack, disconnecting listeners from a familiar landscape and dropping them into alien terrain, as well as exposing them to foreign speech. Their language is a high-frequency communication, and in similar ways, musicians often use experimental frequencies as a means of communication (and as a form of communion), either sharing their results with the masses or creating music for the sake of its creation and a passion for music. The end result is the same: music is a language, and the waves of sonar aren’t limited to the natural world.

Serene sounds link into strobing synths which are high on intensity, but they gradually calm down to reveal a cavernous world. Like eyes adjusting to a darkening cave, it may take a few moments to acclimatize to the musical landscape, but once you’re in, you’re in. The synths are stretched out with long tails of reverb, matching the deep echoes of a cave, and the music pulls you deeper and deeper. Just as we produce notes with our voice, bats also emit soundwaves and vocalisations. It’s a form of organized, rhythmical sound…in other words, according to the ‘official definition’, it’s music.

Music is a part of living and nature’s music perhaps precedes our own imitations. Birds will still be singing their music long after we have gone. Nature’s music originates before the dawn of humanity and will outlast its end. Recently, the music of nature has risen in volume, replacing the noisy whine of a jet engine or the squeal of a car tyre. Although set in Indiana, USA, the music crosses borders, going between the country of the artist and back to America. It’s worldwide, as is the message. Nature’s plethora of wonderful, exotic harmonies are never dulled, and on Ultrasonic, music, humanity, and nature link hands to form a new Eden.

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