(1) The first one I have chosen is an album that uses arctic field recordings: Craig Vear's Summerhouses, on Mille Plateaux. Tracks include the menacing 'Crevasse Blue', the cold liquid sounds of 'Intertidal Pool' and the drifting music of 'After the Sinking'.
(2) Richard Skelton has been immersing himself this year in the landscapes of Cumbria and the west coast of Ireland, the fruits of which we should see in the future. His Landings, which I posted about a year ago, had a limited edition release at the end of 2009, but this year saw its wider distribution, along with Crow Autumn, a repackaging of some earlier material recorded as A Broken Consort. Both were inspired by the Pennines; Crow Autumn includes, in addition to 'The River' (below), pieces entitled 'Like Rain', 'Leaves' and 'Mountains Ash.'
(3) Norway's Pjusk (Jostein Dahl Gjelsvik and Rune Sagevik) use processed environmental recordings in their album Sval. Reviewers all seem to have found themselves transported to an imaginary North: Pjusk 'immerse the listener in fathomless depths of electronic soundscaping, conjuring up the raw, icy topography of their nordic home'; 'like a warm refuge in an arctic winter, Pjusk creates inviting digital ambient music with a shimmering natural glow'; 'Pjusk has quite effectively drawn the connection between the warmly lit cabin in the mountains and the polar environs right outside their door.'
(4) Rangers' Suburban Tours was one of the most notable hypnagogic pop albums of 2010. Joe Knight takes us to 'Bear Creek', 'Bel Air', 'Deerfield Village', 'Brook Meadows' and 'Woodland Hills' (below), although all of these are moods rather than places.
(5) Richard Chartier's A Field for Mixing features 'Fields For Recording 1-8', a fifty minute composition based on 'processed field recordings of small and large, open and enclosed spaces'. It is extremely quiet, with none of the usual obvious landscape sounds. There is no Youtube clip from the album itself, but here is another Chartier composition - a collaboration with William Basinski (who gets a dedication in 'A Field for Mixing', along with Steve Roden).
(6) In September Ghost Box released a revised edition of The Farmer's Angle by the Belbury Poly with some additional tracks. Further developments can be followed at The Belbury Parish Magazine, including the first broadcast of Radio Belbury. Another hauntological landscape highlight in 2010 was The Belbury Poly's split single with Mordant Music, 'Welcome to Godalming', 'in which the two artists examine this small English town.'
(7) Taylor Deupree's 2010 ambient album Shoals (from which 'Rusted Oak' below is taken) used looped recordings of gamelan instruments. But he was also involved in Snow (Dusk, Dawn), a multimedia project incorporating sound and photography, the music for which consisted of a sixteen minute ambient melodic loop. The photographs were taken with expired polaroid film and featured fleeting images taken during the first heavy snowfall of the winter of 2009, at dusk, in the setting sun - 'nothing was to last, the snow, the image, the day'.
(8) The cover of the Pantha du Prince album Black Noise is an old fashioned mountain landscape painting that reminds me of the Adalbert Stifter stories I've written about here in 2010. Hendrik Weber's electronic compositions include snatches of field recording and chiming bells - they were apparently inspired by his journeys in the Swiss Alps.
(9) I always aim to be eclectic but must admit my knowledge of black metal is rather limited. I see though that Agalloch's Marrow of the Spirit is one of NPR's albums of the year and their review explains that 'the forest is a common inspiration for black metal, particularly for the Norwegians who defined the genre in the early '90s. That makes sense: It's a cold, mystical place marked by unknown darkness. For Agalloch, the forests of the Pacific Northwest represent all of those things, but they're also a force of healing.' The album opens with a gentle instrumental (see below), 'They Escaped the Weight of Darkness', in which Jackie Perez Gratz plays cello over the sounds of birdsong and running water. It is only once this track is over that the volume rises, the guitars storm in, and things get heavy...
(10) Finally, released last month, A Path Less Travelled is a collaboration between Japanese improvisers Minamo and Lawrence English (whose Kiri No Oto I mentioned in an earlier post). The clip below shows them performing in Tokyo in November. The Pitchfork review notes that 'birds sing on 'The Path', crickets chirr on 'Headlights', and water splashes against a dock or boat on 'Springhead'. (Birds sing in 99% of pastoral electro-acoustic music and seldom receive any royalties. English's use of crickets and water is more striking: The former add a subtle Reichian pattern to a nocturnal melody, while the latter kick-starts the rest of the track's liquid swirl.)'