Like hunting for Easter eggs in a video game, teasing out found sounds in electronic music is a pretty Herculean endeavor; they're hard to spot unless you already know they're there. But if you listen closely (and maybe grab the nearest sequencer), you might find snippets of everyday life buried in your favorite tracks. Until recently, I had no idea that the drum bursts in one of my favorite songs, Gold Panda's "You," are actually exploding fireworks lifted from an old Japanese field recording, which is awesome, right?
Often, the biggest perk of using everyday ephemera like door slams and stray coughs is the resultant feeling of intimacy. Reality, in all its exquisite detail, inevitably sounds warmer than something produced on a machine.
Jon Hopkins, who wove rich tapestries of found sounds into both of his Mercury Prize-nominated albums, Diamond Mine and Immunity, put it this way: "Real-world noise of any sort has a... far wider and more complex [frequency range] than any electronically generated sound. Mixing found sounds in with computer or synth-made music gives it a width, depth and character that it can otherwise lack."
Another ardent collector of field recordings is Chet Faker, the ruggedly bear-like Australian beatmaker who broke into the mainstream (ish) with his cover of Blackstreet's "No Diggity" in 2011. Armed with just his iPhone's recorder, Chet has captured shitloads of random sounds from his everyday life. The bridge of his song "I'm Into You" is actually a recording of his pillow talk with the girl who inspired the tune. "Melt" contains the conversation of a group of middle-aged women who were sitting next to him one time, complaining about their friend's new haircut. Those voices in the beginning of "No Diggity"? They're actually kids playing in a kindergarten—listen out for the cute little sneeze at the end.
When I asked Chet over email if I could interview him about his field recordings, he replied, "Only now do I realize how much crap I've recorded over the past few years." Then, he offered to excavate his computer files, in order to dig up his favorite samples (many of which end up in his music) and tell me the stories behind them. "I guess it's important to note that some of these interactions are fairly common, but they are snapshots for me, almost audible photographs," he said. "A lot of them aren't ever intended to be used in a song, the same way photos are never expected to be framed until they surprise you."
Here are some of his favorites—including an unreleased track "Switzerland" that came out of a random night with a stranger and a baby grand.
Mushrooms at 5AM
"5AM on a balcony with a group of people. Everyone was on mushrooms. I have two or three hours of this recorded. The laughter progresses from innocent to insane."
Dan Publicly Explains His Virginity Story
"A kid called Dan in Amsterdam, telling a bad story to drunk people."
Atlanta Domestic Violence
"This was recorded after the final show with Bonobo on my last US tour. I could hear a woman weeping and verbally abusing someone else in the room. I sat outside the door in hallway until the assault became physical and the police arrived. She denied he had hit her. He did though."
Spring Loaded Cupboard Door
"A good friend of mine, the amazing artist Hamish Munro, had an old cupboard in his studio that had one of the best squeak noises I'd heard in a long time."
"This is the sound of an Australian crossing signal being pressured with a fist."
An old chain at a jewelry launch a friend was involved in. It has some bizarrely amazing harmonics.
Piano in Switzerland
"Before a show, I managed to find a baby grand piano in an empty store room. Not long after I started playing, one of the staff just sat down to look at me. What I like about this recording is that I was stuck in that place where you start to think too much as soon as a person is watching you. Just me and a single stranger is a million times harder than me and a million strangers."
Switzerland (Full Track)
"This is an unreleased track that I made from that same recording in Switzerland."
Michelle writes think pieces on the lost art of dubstep drops - @MichelleLHOOQ