Blurring the lines between music and organic sound, Stuart Hyatt’s Metaphonics: The Complete Field Works Recordings marks a happy, and unexpected, detour from what began five years ago as a Ball State University architecture program master’s thesis project. Words by Amy Lynch. Adapted from Classical Music Indy’s NOTE Magazine.
The Art of Noise
Metaphonics explores the relationships between music, nature and urban sound.
Hyatt, an Indy-based sound artist, found himself fascinated by the streetscape noise, conversations and nature he recorded while walking across Washington Street as part of a site analysis. Along with other autobiographical sound bites, some of the field recordings Hyatt made eventually found their way into his Metaphonics 7-LP box set released last September on the Temporary Residence LTD label out of Brooklyn, New York with a companion guide published by Dutch imprint Jap Sam Books.
Through his interdisciplinary projects, Hyatt aims to bring awareness to social issues like at-risk communities and endangered animals.
“I like to think of my work as environmentally conscious, focusing on subjects that resonate with me,” he says. “Hopefully, that comes across to the listener through an enjoyable sound experience rather than a soapbox lecture.”
By breaking Metaphonics down into four themed categories — Geophony, Biophony, Anthropophony and Cosmophony — Hyatt is able to explore each authentic sound-specific atmosphere, from natural landscapes to urban settings and even outer space. The box set features collaboration with more than a dozen musicians and writers, contacts Hyatt made networking through word of mouth and personal connections.
“I really just reach out to people whose work I admire,” he says. “It’s gotten easier to find collaborators as my own body of work has grown and I have something to show them.”
While the experimental trend of merging nature and urban sound with traditional music is still far from mainstream, Hyatt says that finding a record label has helped make his work more accessible to the masses.
“I don’t have a target demographic; my work is appropriate for all ages,” he says. “It’s not heavily compressed like pop music, and it’s not meant to be heard at deafening volume. It has a human element. The funny thing about music production is that we mix and master our work in this pristine sound environment, but in real life, people actually listen to it on Spotify in the car while picking kids up from school.”
There has been some commercial interest in Hyatt’s work, a market he’s not opposed to considering if the project feels appropriate. In the meantime, he travels frequently to discover new sound possibilities to work with and performs live on rare occasions, including a show at The Cabaret in Indianapolis last fall.
“It was an amazing experience — hyper-focused in terms of sound quality and video projection,” he recalls. “The audience was so engaged, they were absolutely silent during the performance.”
Next up for Hyatt is a project in tandem with IUPUI and Indiana State University to record the endangered Indiana bat, work he hopes will shift public perception about what is often a feared and misunderstood species. Seismic plate movements and sub-frequency elephant communications rank high among other wish-list subjects Hyatt hopes to explore.
“I’m in great debt to Bernie Krause who wrote the forward to Metaphonics; he’s one of the forefathers of ecological soundscape,” he says. “In The Great Animal Orchestra, he divides soundscapes into human, animal and environmental components, which really became the framework for my whole project.”
The Metaphonics: The Complete Field Works Recordings box set retails for $150 and is available locally at Luna Music and Indy Reads, or through the Temporary Residence web site and third-party distributors. The companion guide ($25) can be ordered through European-based Amazon sites.
For more information, visit stuarthyatt.org.