Podthoughts by Colin Marshall: “Airborne Event Dronecast”

Posted by Maximum Fun on 18th October 2009

Field recordings are the new ambient. Or at least that’s what your Podthinker once read on some obscure British blog. Whether listening to sounds collected straight from the world and curated has truly replaced listening to music designed to be, as genre inventor Brian Eno once said, “as ignorable as it is interesting” remains up for debate, but earnest podcast listeners looking to gather some evidence could do much worse than the Airborne Event Dronecast [iTunes] [XML].

Offered up by the all-powerful WFMU, the show is the podcast companion to its host Dan Bodah’s broadcast program Airborne Event, which offers “musical delirium induced by sounds from electronic noise to free jazz, drone rock to a capella African song.” Bodah’s Dronecast serves a different, stricter meal, one consisting purely of field recordings, played, repeated, layered and looped. One episode might give you 31 minutes of Mexican guys mowing lawns [MP3], 23 minutes on a bus with creaky struts or 23 minutes of the New Jersey State Fair [MP3]. Bodah collects sounds around his hometown of New York City and uses other field recordists’ submitted sounds as well, laying them out, slicing them up and arranging them just so to achieve the finest, droniest experience possible.

The most elegant, sensible definition of music your Podthinker has ever heard comes down to just two words: “organized sound.” By that premise, then, the Dronecast is a music podcast: it’s simply a bit heavier on the sound and a bit lighter on the organization (but not, significantly, without it). The listening turns out to be surprisingly musical — any field recording, heard enough times, begins to feel like music — and this stuff’s actually more versatile than music as music is popularly understood. Whether they’re drawn from machines, locations, weather phenomena or things totally unidentifiable, these are sounds you can read to, write to, exercise to, drive to, ride public transportation to — try listening to that bus recording while riding another bus — and, especially, sleep to. Prepare, in other words, to give that bedside Brookstone white-noise machine the heave-ho.

Another fascinating aspect of these sounds comes out of their decontextualization. Hearing a lawnmower when you’re mowing the lawn is one thing, but hearing it piped in directly through a pair of headphones while you wash the dishes is quite another. These sonic events, originally products of such everyday entities as generators, creeks and loudmouthed fairgoers in search of corn dogs, become fascinating and alien through the quadruple prisms of reproduction, disconnection, proximity and repetition. It’s highly unlikely indeed thay anyone who isn’t already into field recordings could give a handful of episodes of the Dronecast a listen and not come away believing that the world is a much more sonically fascinating place than they’d ever realized.

Vital stats:
Format: field recordings, field recordings and more field recordings
Duration: 20m-90m
Frequency: semi-erratic weekly
Archive available on iTunes: last 12

[Questions, comments, ideas, suggestions or threats for Podthinker Colin Marshall? colinjmarshall at gmail.]