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Archive for August, 2017

Josh Jones from Bird Guides review of The Beauty of The Sound Approach

Posted on: August 31st, 2017 by Niamh Murphy

The concept of a 12″ vinyl EP of bird song is not an idea that immediately jumps to mind. I will therefore admit to feeling a little bemused when I first heard that innovative publishers The Sound Approach had released exactly such a thing, entitled The Beauty of The Sound Approach. Having spent my teenage years delving in to my parents’ old record collection and subsequently developing a deep interest in electronic music, I’ve grown up with vinyl – yet I didn’t have anything ‘birdy’ on my shelves, so I was naturally intrigued. On receiving a copy, I was thoroughly impressed; it encapsulates everything there is to love about vinyl yet also manages to be a fine advertisement for exactly what The Sound Approach is – the very best in bird acoustics.

With an exterior draped in classic Sound Approach livery, it’s an instantly identifiable product, albeit not the shape we’re accustomed to. A matt-black sleeve design with teal-green trim is punctuated only by a title and the typically enchanting artwork of Killian Mullarney. Opening up the gatefold ‘album’ reveals an introduction to this latest work set against an epic Alaskan vista, with the vinyl sleeve itself decorated with big, wide-open spaces that would look equally at home strewn across the inside cover of an early Seventies prog-rock release, as part of a design dreamed up by Storm Thorgerson. In fact the intense whirring of wings at the end of the Black Grouse recording on side A did quite remind me of the explosive ending to Pink Floyd’s On The Run …

Design is such an important part of any vinyl release and this most certainly excels, but what about the record itself? Side A is a dedication to individual bird songs (the exception being Red Deer) from various ecosystems around the globe. Each is very individual, creating its own distinct ambience and resonating with the listener in different ways. Knowing the dire plight of Yellow-breasted Bunting, I couldn’t help but feel melancholic as I listened to a male utter its beautifully rich yet charmingly simple refrain from a perch in eastern Siberia. In contrast, it’s hard not to smile at the excitable chattering of Marsh Sandpipers as they gather on a Russian floodplain for the forthcoming breeding season.

While side B is also listed as individual species, by the producers’ admission, they are less focused on individual performers and more on the general ambience of a setting. Again, the mood of these varies greatly – from the freneticism of a group of Long-tailed Ducks or the familiar urban bustle of House Sparrows and Feral Rock Doves to the almost haunting bellow of a Eurasian Elk echoing around a Polish marsh. A favourite of mine, however, was recorded in Kuusamo, Finland, in the early hours of 9 June 2010. I don’t want to spoil it – just have a listen. It’s utterly fabulous.

Vinyl is loved for the richness and clarity of sound it is able to convey and each recording on The Beauty of The Sound Approach is of such high quality that, when powered through a good sound system, makes for a genuinely spectacular acoustic experience. Without wanting to be too clichéd, the recordings are so exquisite that on closing your eyes it is very easy to imagine yourself there, in the moment, as if you were the listening dish taking it all in. Playing the record in the dark made it all the more atmospheric.

There’s also a USB stick included with further recordings and biographies of the team involved – a nice additional feature that again demonstrates the thought that has gone in to this product. A pull-out sleeve provides notes on each recording, with each ‘track’ described succinctly yet evocatively.

The concept of this product is a little niche (only a minority has access to a record player at home these days) but with the vinyl format becoming increasingly popular again in recent years, could this be the precursor to further releases of a similar ilk? Having enjoyed this offering so much, I certainly hope so – this is a genuinely inspirational release. It is very clear that it has been curated with an immense amount of care and thought by a team at the top of their game. Each recording is moving, stirring and educational in its own way. Some will find they evoke fond memories, while others will no doubt be motivated to seek new experiences off the back of a listen. The Sound Approach’s aim has always been to popularise the study of bird sound and raise standards in this field. This certainly achieves that.

Click here to visit BirdGuides

Josh Jones – Bird Guides – 31/08/17

Mark Pearson of Rare Bird Alert reviews The Beauty of The Sound Approach

Posted on: August 29th, 2017 by Niamh Murphy

The latest release from The Sound Approach team is perhaps the one most befitting of that description, being a satisfyingly hefty slab of vinyl that nestles comfortably between Sonic Youth and Sparks in the collection. Incorporating two of my passions in a lavishly-produced gatefold long player was always going to be promising combination, and the iconic cover – an essential component of any fine record – hits the spot immediately, with Killian Mullarney’s Hoopoe-lark descending (a subtle shout out to Vaughan Williams, perhaps) a beautiful and enticing visual gateway into the recordings, which appropriately begin with this desert-dweller’s deceptively simplistic, milkman-tuning-up style whistle.

From there, it slowly becomes clear that the choices, and more pertinently their order on the record, are far from random, and there is an ebb and flow to the track listing that again befits the format (a great album is never just a collection of great songs, of course); by track four, for example – the plaintive but uplifting repetition of a singing Yellow-breasted Bunting (recorded in Yakutia, Russia in spring 2004) – there is more for the ear to ‘focus’ on, with a variety of backing singers and even a tight, Clem Burke-esque drummer (in the form of a Common Snipe) framing the lead.

Singling out favourite ‘tracks’ is nigh-on impossible (and completely subjective of course), but the waders in particular seem to come alive from the turntable – Marsh Sandpiper being an instant hit, and Bristle-thighed Curlew very much a grower…. but whatever zen-like state is potentially induced by the latter is soon jolted by the comedy mania of Black Grouse lekking – at over five minutes in length, this is very much the Bohemian Rhapsody of side one (if you consider Inverness-shire bohemian, that is). Side one’s penultimate track, meanwhile, is particularly evocative of a time and place – 0219hrs on a late spring morning in Southern Finland, to be precise – with a European Nightjar churring mechanically in the foreground supported by begging Eurasian Eagle Owl chicks and a Song Thrush ushering in the daylight.

More lavish art and photography accompany the pull-out sleeve notes, which offer a concise and scene-setting commentary to each track – and not just to those that appear on the actual record, but to many more which are included in a bonus USB tucked away in the corner of the booklet (extra points for Easter eggs there, chaps). Again, isolating favourites would take much longer than we have here, but try the Red-rumped Wheatear in Morocco, succinctly described in the notes as ‘a whistling kettle on a low flame that someone forgot to extinguish’. The USB contains more besides, including a potted history and biography of the Sound Approach and the team involved, and interviews providing more background to some of the tracks, ably conducted by Charlie Moores – well worth a listen after soaking up the songs themselves for extra context.

Is it an essential new product that any self-respecting birder can’t live without? Does it shed new light on its subjects or break ID barriers? For the most part, probably not. But that’s resolutely not the point here. It’s clearly a very carefully crafted and admirably executed labour of love from a team who have consistently set the standard in their field, have done so again with this treasure of a record, and who will no doubt continue to do so. Sound Approach completists will justifiably soak it up like a long, lush soak in the tub, but it’s not just for the nerds among us – if a combination of stylish design and craftsmanship, the unarguably superior audio experience of quality vinyl through good speakers (or, better still, headphones) and a treasure trove of the most evocative and entrancing array of bird songs appeals, then this record is very likely for you.

Click here to go to the review

Mark Pearson, Rare Bird Alert 29/08/17

Our latest vinyl is a collection of beautiful bird song by The Sound Approach

Posted on: August 21st, 2017 by Niamh Murphy

Our latest vinyl release by The Sound Approach –  The Beauty of The Sound Approach is a vinyl LP, with extras; buyers also get a USB containing high resolution digital versions of the same tracks, plus a similar quantity of bonus ones. So, whatever side of the vinyl versus digital debate you are on, as long as you appreciate high quality recordings of birds and a couple of mammals there should be something to please you.

Take a look and have a listen