Sheffield’s Mark David Hadley has been making field recordings for a while, benefitting recently from an equipment upgrade. Flight Paths is his most realized project to date, due to its theme, narrative structure and tonal variety.
The project reframes s common question in modern field recoding: what to do with all the airplane noise? As it is increasingly difficult to locate “one square inch of silence,” some choose to erase the offending sounds, while others reluctantly include them. On Flight Paths, the distant flyovers are integrated in an unobtrusive manner. This is what Freshwater Rest and Gupton Farm sounded like last summer, in pure and unadulterated form.
Unlike Hadley’s Recordings of the Sea (released two months earlier and also worth hearing), Flight Paths only begins and ends with sea recordings. These dense pieces operate as bookends, akin to a circular sound walk. In the album’s midsection, Hadley focuses on the spaces near and around the water, with special attention given to linnets and house martins (as opposed to The Housemartins). Knowing the theme, one hears the airplanes, but the birds are so close to the mike that the motors seem like afterthoughts. In “House Martins,” airplanes appear at the two and four minute marks, like choruses. But nature will have its way. “The Bird Hide” is all about the birds and the bees: a pastoral lesson that suggests another sort of conversation. Birders may have fun identifying the numerous species who make guest appearances. In “A Field Close to the Sea,” one realizes that the drone of the shore is so close to that of a passing plane that one may be unable to separate them.
Noise pollution has become part of daily life. One doesn’t have to like this, but in certain cases one can work around it, which is what Hadley does here, calling it part of the “honest soundscape.” By acknowledging the presence of the flight paths, Hadley points out the elephant in the room, easing any tension that might otherwise be felt. By the time he returns to “The Sea at Freshwater West,” all conflicts have been forgotten; the engine hum is part of the geophony, just as the contrails are part of the sky. (Richard Allen)