Reconfiguring a Sonic Space
Editor’s Note: This story was originally published on defunct Central Indiana arts website Sky Blue Window on September 11, 2015
“I rarely do live performances,” Stuart Hyatt says. “Almost never.” This is an odd statement coming from a former Grammy nominee carrying two recently released records under his arm.
The statement proves less contradictory the more familiar one becomes with Hyatt’s work. He is in the process of releasing the second in a five-album series under the name of Field Works. For each album, Hyatt collects field recordings from a specific place. Those recordings are then offered up to musicians of Hyatt’s choosing, who take the sonic building blocks and transform them into original compositions.
“What I do is I exchange files with other musicians and we kind of build it from there,” Hyatt says. “So, I can’t take personal credit for a lot of the music. It’s more like commissioning.”
“I’ve always been kind of a hack, self-trained musician,” Hyatt says. “I played in bands a long time ago, but I’m pretty untrained. I can’t read music — typical, electric guitar in the bedroom with a cassette four-track, and that never went away. So, I continually found myself trying to integrate that spirit into these more formalized art projects.”
The National Road was the first album in the Field Works series, and it featured the sounds of Washington Street in Indianapolis. “This one is all over the place, because it was my first one,” Hyatt says of the album. “I was really in a rush, and worked with a lot of different people. So, there are things that are bordering on ballads. Then there’s spoken word. There’s this one really weird, almost like a rap battle between this emcee and this homeless guy. So, this is all over the place.”
Filmmaker Jonathan Frey has collaborated with Hyatt to create a visual accompaniment to the Field Works albums. “Stuart is wonderful, and he is great,” Frey says. “He’s a hustler, and really brings together phenomenal artists and musicians and has a really unique vision to bring these people together. He’s always creating.”
For the second installment, Hyatt collected sounds from Indianapolis’ Pogue’s Run. The National Science Foundation funded the album, an opportunity that arose out of the place-based arts and science learning project Streamlines. The album’s A-side is designed to literally follow the course of the stream from the source, through the city, into the tunnel where it was buried by Indy’s infrastructure. The B-side of Pogue’s Run focuses on the fiction and narratives that have emerged about Pogue’s Run over the years.
“To me, Pogue’s Run is that tension between the natural and the manmade,” Hyatt says.
The final track of the album features a story by Indianapolis novelist Ben Winters that imagines if George Pogue, the man for whom the stream was named, came back to life to discover the modern metropolis atop his namesake.
Local actor Rich Komenich narrates Winters’ story and the recording features guitar by renowned Nashville picker William Tyler. Frey’s film for Pogue’s Run serves as the visual accompaniment to the final track of the LP.
“Track six doesn’t make a lot of sense until you watch this film that we shot in the tunnel, which we’re going to premiere at LUNA,” Hyatt says. “So, this is actually just the kind of outtake soundtrack to that film. The film is really awesome. I’m so excited.”
On Sunday, LUNA Music will host the album release party for the Pogue’s Run project. The festivities will feature a premiere of Frey’s short film, which Hyatt, Tyler and Komenich will accompany as a sort of live soundtrack. It will be the first and only time the music will be performed in a live setting.
“I’m going to sit there with a keyboard and trigger some samples just so I can say I played with him,” Hyatt says of Tyler.
The three subsequent Field Works albums will be released within the next 18 months, all on Hyatt’s own label Team Records. The next release is currently in the works, and it features sounds collected in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. It’s tentatively titled Born in the Ear.
Last month Hyatt spent an extensive amount of time at the Indiana State Fair collecting sounds for the fourth LP, a “wacky, dance record” entitled The Fair State. If everything goes as planned, that album will drop during the State Fair next year. The final installment of the Field Works series will attempt to imagine earth, post-humanity. Hyatt has yet to decide how he will form the recordings for such an endeavor.
As is evident, Hyatt is nothing if not ambitious. He’s also not concerned with the commercial appeal of the individual or collective releases. Hyatt finances the projects through grants and foundations, which allow him to pay the artists he collaborates with up front.
Learn more about Sunday’s Pogue’s Run release at LUNA Music via Facebook.
Written by Rob Peoni