Berlin Fields

steve roden
edition: 222
3 Leaves

  1. Berlin Fields

liner notes:
dear akos,
i have now a piece finished for three leaves. germany was great, but my original plan was not so great… so i followed an intuited new path. the recordings were all made during my journey – some in public spaces, some in natural landscapes, some in airports, as well as carsten seiffarth’s apartment (where i was staying). as you know, i have never released a “pure” field recording – by pure i mean no manipulation to the recording itself. of course, i am not a nature recordist, nor a culture recordist, as much as i tend to use recordings as source material. so, your offer to make a work that was not processed or layered was quite a challenge, and i wondered what i could possibly offer to the field of field recordings that already exists. fortunately, your offer to do a record for 3 leaves arrived at a shifting point in my work, for i have been making recordings that are much more performance based – field recordings, so to speak – not only recording the landscape as it is, but the landscape as it hosts a human action. a lot of this came about while thinking about rolf julius’ work, and how he managed to situate sound into a landscape without disrupting it… sometimes an artwork overwhelms a landscape and sometimes a landscape overwhelms an artwork, but julius managed to always create a sympathetic relationship between the two. while i was in berlin last october, i performed at a memorial evening celebrating julius’ work, and i felt i should allow certain characteristics of his work to challenge me to do something less familiar and less comfortable… so i ended up performing with 3 small tape recorders and a harmonica – no pedals, no mixer, no processing and no actions other than facilitating an interaction between these elements with my hands and mouth. the field recordings that make up this work reflect such ideas – as some are the sounds of things discovered on site (such as a squeaking light in an airport); while others contain sounds that were activated through “performance” in sympathy within an landscape (such as moving jars on the surface of carsten seiffarth’s kitchen table). i don’t mean to make this sound more thought out than it was, as for the most part i simply wandered around berlin, paris and helsinki, and tried to acknowledge sounds or situations that moved me… and within such moments finding or seeking a small bit of reverie through listening and sound making. sometimes simply hearing a situation was enough, while at others i felt a strong desire to play along…

  • reviews:
  • Berlin may be the lucky city that graces the title, but Berlin Fields was also recorded in Paris and Helsinki. It’s an odd travelogue, 19 sonic vignettes captured as often by happenstance as by intention. One imagines the artist wandering through vast fields, or even city dumps, alone and intrigued. Oh look, a jam jar! I wonder what it would sound like on this broken tabletop. Hey now, a sardine tin! Jeepers, who would ever discard a perfectly good radiator? Birds, traffic and conversation provide a natural backdrop to his explorations. Roden’s childlike curiosity is akin to that of Diego Stocco, but without multi-tracking. In his hands, every object possesses an intrinsic appeal, a sound waiting to be coaxed out through interaction. In this sense, Roden becomes the “jar whisperer”, the artist who posseses the patience to woo the inanimate. As a child, it’s likely he filled glasses with different levels of water and tapped them with spoons, or used icicles as drumsticks on frozen ponds. The passive traveler asks, “What does this sound like?” The active traveler asks, “What could this sound like?”, and makes an effort to find out. A deep bass thump on an empty cylinder is the best example: an object noticed, engaged in conversation, and respectfully left intact. While the album is a solo production, it makes one wonder what a group of sonic strollers might produce: an improvised, site-specific concert of found sounds. Post-processing might accomplish the same thing, as would the blending of these vignettes into a single, break-free piece. But as appealing as these suggestions might sound, they would interfere with the purity of the recording, as well as with its purpose: to demonstrate the potential of hidden auditory sources. Those bottles might be worth tapping before recycling. The old muffler might sound better when removed from the car. The walls of one’s house may be richer sonic environments than one can imagine. Best of all, these noises are free. This egalitarian approach to music reminds us that sound art is not the territory of sound artists alone. As the prophet declares, listen, then, if you have ears.

    richard allen, a closer listen
  • Berlin Fields is a sonic journey not limited by national boundaries, city limits, or material limitation. Roden perambulates, recording as he goes with the immediacy and quirks that come from using both portable recorder (a Sony PCM-D50) and phone. Exploring intuitively, Roden brings together 19 sonic vignettes via “finds”: things discovered; and “activation”: objects performed on site.

    Using intuition as  a guide, Roden’s interactions and sonic interventions – “play” in every sense of the word – are both learning tool and platform for his creativity. Unearthing a vocabulary spoken by quotidian things, Roden coaxes tables, radiators, sardine tins and all manner of chanced upon paraphernalia into speaking their curious and complex language. Mindful of Rolf Julius’ artistic philosophy, Roden introduces performances that sit congruently within, and do not disrupt, the sites he happens upon on during his travels through the capital cities of France, Germany and Finland.

    The land- and cityscapes, formal architecture and informal spaces Roden explores act as host for his interventions.  Instead of  simply absorbing his bodily movements and thought process, such places create a consonant dialogue with his soundings, saturating their own particular sounds – indeed atmospheres – within Roden’s wanderings.

    Roden is both player and listener in a world sounding with music, and musical with sound. His actions are delicate insertions that proliferate: actions, soundings, reactions that spread into, echo, and synergise with the world. His performances activate the specific place, space and object with microscopic precision – the knowledge of a shaman. Ripples of tone singe the edges of a bird-filled landscape bestowing it a glowing aura; rhythmic motions on cavernous metal are “touched by hands”, jam jars are caressed across tables to intone chanting, a poetry of sorts. Such soundings act as a bridge, directly connecting body (and being) to location; a marker for experience.

    What is evident in Berlin Fields, is that Roden respects the sonic world around him. He is playful, mischievous perhaps, but most of all he listens with the ears of the ancient, the sacred. His motivation, simply, is to work with situations and sounds that move him – that teach him something new or different – that in turn drive him on to explore new environments, situations, objects and the places they inhabit.

    Ultimately, Roden brings one closer to an intimate world of reverie – an aural terrain that heaves, resonates, clips, scrapes, chimes and drips a mystical, ancient language.

    Helen Frosi
  • Steve Roden is an American sound and visual artist from Los Angeles. He rose to prominence in 2001 with the release of Forms of Paper, a work commissioned by the Los Angeles public library featuring the manipulated sounds of books being handled. It was with this work that Roden became known for an extreme form of ambient minimalism termed lowercase.

    In Berlin Fields Roden continues his exploration of the minute sounds which surround us in our global culture. Based on field recordings Roden made while travelling through Berlin, Paris, and Helsinki Berlin Fields presents a psychological account of what it is to feel displaced while travelling in foreign lands. The field recordings that Roden presents reflect the sense of dislocation we often feel when placed in an exotic environment, using our auditory faculties to while away the hours.

    Roden’s sonic journey throughout Europe is largely one of interior sounds. His field recordings reflect the slow passage of time for someone alone/isolated in their hotel room: feet on a ceiling, the drone in a bedroom, birds outside a window.

    At times Roden participates with the soundscape of these interior spaces through his manipulation of objects found within them: he moves jars on a table, he audibly touches a radiator with his hands, he plays a sardine tin.

    Whenever exterior sounds are presented, such as the bells of Notre Dame, they are often overshadowed through the amplification of the sonic miniature that surrounds him. Roden’s exploration of the lowercase aesthetic ensures that peripheral sound events become central to our experience.

    Roden’s interest in the sonic possibilities of domestic objects and spaces seems contrary to the expansive idea of travel. For the audience these recordings become as much about domestic and liminal interiors as they do an exploration of Roden’s own mind. It is here that Berlin Fields finds its subtle tension. We are moved to question if the subject choice of these recordings is the result of someone who has retreated inwards, someone unable to find a tangible connection with the foreign world outside. In this sense Roden’s field recordings reflect the reality of international travel for many of us.

    Berlin Fields is packaged beautifully by the 3leaves label. In a world of digital downloads it was refreshing to insert Roden’s c.d into the c.d-player and read the accompanying text on the inner sleeve. Here’s hoping that more labels will follow suit.

    jay-dea lopez
  • ”And you, you want me not to stop
    Looking, listening, seeing, hearing,
    You even have words to offer
    For me to see further and know more. “
    -Yves Bonnefoy, Voix sur le fleuve.

    This is, above all, a story taking an epistolary form as the booklet contains a letter from Steve Roden to Ákos Garai, director of the label 3Leaves who released this disc. As usual, the artist took the time to explain his approach, adding to his letter a list of recorded places and objects. Not so much to give us a ready-made concept of how to think about his work, but rather to remove this question entirely and make us completely present as we listen to his creation.

    From this approach, Steve Roden offers us the fascinating sonic journey, sometimes stationary, sometimes moving, of his body amidst the recording of bystanders all around him. He alternates between contemplation and action while playing with and manipulating objects in his daily life. A feeling of serenity emerges from this approach, whith caresses, light touches, and subtle incarnations where the place becomes contextualized, where details and overall impressions are juxtaposed. The point, here, isn’t to disregard humanity within the soundscape. On the contrary, everything strives to live within the peace of objects found again, calling for the living and the dead in places loaded with memory (Walter Benjamin’s Archive Reading Room in Berlin, the Mémorial des Martyrs de la Déportation in Paris).

    Listening to the album becomes intense, as an intimacy is created through the process of field recording. We go along with Steve Roden in his wanderings, and find the silence, bordering on loneliness (the same solitude that is necessary for the listening process), revealing a much more populated place than we first imagined.

    And like a medieval alchemist, Steve Roden manages to deeply touch us as he brilliantly transforms the banality of everyday life into something infinitely precious; into sound images that will accompany us for a long time. A long time indeed.

    Flavien Gillié, translation by Rodolphe Gonzalès
  • Veteran deep listening sound artist Steve Roden released multiple recordings in 2012, one of which was “Berlin Fields”, a single 40 minute piece largely composed of field recordings. 

    Many albums of the field recording genre simply pay omage to the underrecognized beauty of nature, whether remote or right under our noses.  Most of the these recordings attempt to capture the natural environment as it is, without imposing any kind of human stamp on it.  With “Berlin Fields”, however, Roden’s statement is more personal and complex.

    Rather than focus on a single environment, Roden provides snapshots of a plethora of environments, and doesn’t exclude sounds of man-made or mechanized nature.  His choices reflect the at times dreary tone of a routine, domestic existence.  From the beginning of the record, it’s as if the listener is literally placed into Roden’s life: a soft, quavering tone from a wind instrument patient sounds atop a bed of background noise in which one discern police sirens, people talking, the general bustle of the street.

    Half-heard fragments of conversation become a theme as Roden contributes recordings of several densely populated public locations.  Rustlings, hissings and slidings become eerie in this disembodied form, as the listener is unable to see the actions that corresponded to the sounds.  Roden soon gives the piece completely over to these sounds, as all human voices disappear for the mix for many minutes.  Particularly notable is the firm, insistent sound of a ventilation system paired to the singing of birds high in the trees; the sound of their altitude is pleasant.

    The next notable development is a segment of sluggish metallic percussion that sounds like Roden is drumming on metal pipes.  It is possible he sequenced the rhythm out of samples he recorded, but actually it sounds more organic than that.  This passage has a heady, ritualistic air which compliments the continued feeling of being outdoors.  Wisely, Roden extends this section for upwards of 8 minutes, letting the listener become fully engaged in the rhythm.

    The following stanza is mostly hushed, like a basement.  I hear dusty, wooden rattlings and scratching sounds like determined tunneling through dirt.  At one point a muffled airplane passes overhead.  After this, we are treated to a soothing lullaby, sung by a woman over a crackling radio, which serves to combat the relentless chug of subway trains in the backdrop.  At this point we are roughly halfway through the running time of the album.

    The third quarter of the piece is its quietest quadrant.  The lack of sound in the foreground causes the listener to fixate on the faintest whisp of distant music (likely the drum beat of a pop song playing on someone’s radio), or the imperfect yet pleasing rumble of a car’s engine.  The sounds of traffic and the noisy rattling of beans inside a cup or bowl do most to fill the space over the next few minutes.

    As the album nears its end, the grimy din of the city has grown close, and it seems we’re jogging down the sidewalk, judging by the rubbery slaps of shoes on the pavement.  Several hallucinatory flashes follow, featuring water, birds, metallic groans, skronks and taps, glimmering bells and unidentified machines.  In the last minute, it is as if we are submerged, and this causes the sonic activity to cease.

    What a fascinating journey in sound, what a wonderful concise presentation of so much vital information.  I love this album, and highly recommend it to anyone open to field recordings. 

    josh landry, musique machine