Transcript from Ambae Island

Belgian composer Lieven Martens Moana explores new age music.  

Field recordings are often more about listening than recording, and nobody listens like Lieven Martens Moana. As Dolphins Into The Future, he blended new age, early synthesizer music and tropical field recordings making one-of-a-kind soundscapes during the noise boom of the mid-2000s. Now, under his own name, his music is even more poetic.

While his previous albums have contained elements of new age and exotica, Martens tells me he sees his work as part of a larger tradition of programme music and classical Romantic and Impressionistic composers like Berlioz and Debussy. Programme musicians create an extra-musical narrative around a work, and on his new album Idylls, Martens uses a suite of personal sounds as if they were parts of a diary. Disinterested in the outdated escapism or sensationalism offered by exotic field recording, he prefers to see his album as a self-portrait.

Idylls, out now on Spencer Clark’s Pacific City Sound Visions, features equally impressionistic moments outside of field recording too, including the four-part ‘Transcript from Ambae Island’ which moves through an aria, two scherzos and a coda, as delicate piano keys and fluttering synths hover. The closing track is recorded on an actual 19th century wax cylinder; it’s a fitting end to an album that sounds as lush and ornate as ancient ruins.

What do you look for when you make a field recording?

These recordings always have a musicality to me. Even the dullest recording has this. I create them a lot of times just out of nowhere, and other times I record them quite purposefully. Making a very normal recording in extremely beautiful environments holds for me a fantastic thing and when I mix them in my music in the end, I just use them as part of the symphony. A cicada could mean dryness, a motorboat could imply transportation, fishing and isolation. A wave means communication, etc.

With field recordings, I don’t want to hint at things like escapism (dreaming of tropical tropes) nor sensationalism (very weird animal sounds, you know, throwing the good old mic inside an iceberg and all that horrible stuff), but I accept when people see it as escapism.

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