Sound Environments 2: Woodlands by Stuart ChalmersRelease date: December 14, 2018
As its title makes entirely plain Sound Environments 2: Woodlands sees Stuart Chalmers take us on a wander through the woods. Assuming the rain stops hosing down for a couple of hours I think we could all use a little walk in the fresh air amid the calming presence of the trees at this time of year. Or any really. I like a bit of Chalmers every now and then but he’s a prolific type, a quick check of his bandcamp page and I make this his thirteenth release of the year. That’s the sort of output even his best mates aren’t keeping up with. “What, another one? No mate, not had a chance yet. Sorry”.
Chalmers is perhaps best known for experiments in plunderphonic murk, tape manipulation and sound scavenging but there are other elements to his work. He improvised and recorded these pieces out in the forests of Yorkshire and Cumbria later editing and processing them with what appears a quite light touch approach. Obviously there are field recordings here but slate xylophone, oak woodsticks, bones, pine cones, seed rattles, beech nuts, metal fence, bamboo and stone percussion are also listed as well as the swarmandal. The swarmandal is an Indian type of zither that brings a glorious cascade of percussive string sounds. It features on maybe half of Chalmers’ releases and probably about half of the time here. It dominates the first track ‘Dark Wood’ which takes about a minute and a half to get going but is a fine example of the sort of lovely things he produces with it.
Overall the results of Chalmers getting out and communing with the forest spirits is a set of multi layered and textured pieces somewhere between the calmer landscapes of Jonáš Gruska and Woven Skull in outdoor freeform mood on His Cattle Are Pets and He Goes With the Moon. Chalmers suggests listening with headphones to get the full benefit of panning effects and certainly the closer you listen the more details you begin to notice. It’s not exactly an ambient record of calming nature sounds, it moves and changes a little too dramatically and doesn’t smooth over the stones and thorns that come with lying on the forest floor. On ‘Woodland Gathering 2’ there’s a water pipe and a set of splashing sounds that I find oddly quite jarring, ‘Woodland Gathering 3’ is all clank and scrape with even the distant suggestion of menace. On ‘Forest Ritual’ he layers up some deep rolling percussion and a curious drone for a moment that most recalls Woven Skull.
Calming things down again ‘Enchanted Forest Dream’ features the burble of a stream and processed sparkling swarmandal notes that create exactly the effect the title suggests. The final couple of tracks take this calmer path punctured by calling birds and the familiar distant roar of an airplane. As a way of putting a little back Chalmers is donating half of sales to The Woodland Trust who do fine work caring for and protecting some of our wild spaces including several of the woods this was recorded in. He includes a set of images of the various sound sources and nods to all manner of traditions and tales associated with the mystery and enchantment of forests. If you can’t get out for an actual walk in the woods, you could always put this on your headphones and see where its evocative set of sounds takes your imagination.