UK resident Dan Smith is not a musician in the traditional sense. Calling himself a “field recordist”, Smith captures sounds similar to how photographers take snapshots,fabricating his accounts into an mesmeric audio experience. His debut album, released under the recording pseudonym Sight, is a curated travelogue of sonance sculpted with an electronic rationale. Monsoon documents Smith’s two months spent recording organic sounds throughout India. Starting in the most southerly state of Kerala, Smith gradually worked his way along the west coast, finalizing his trek in the bustling polis of Delhi. Along the way, he gathered audio samples that etched out his encounters: local children and buskers, champing camels and chanting holy men, bird songs and temple bells. Travelling to an unfamiliar culture can be a transcendental affair for anyone, too often recalled through shaky photos and cheap tchotchkes. Smith’s music goes beyond memorable keepsakes, expressing emotions and bringing documented events to the present via his meticulous samples and deft studio work.
Opening with the fly-on-the-wall sensations of “Snoring Babas”, the chaotic experience of a train journey is suffused over your listening space. Muffled squawks and sweaty crowds shift in and out of earshot as locomotive machinery builds and interplays with a solitary sitar. Smith’s use of commonplace ambience is particularly engrossing, whether it is a tea kettle whistle on “Liquid Streets” or footsteps in gravel on “Sugarcane”. The patchwork methodology creates a sonic quilt, reminding of the microsampling used on Axel Willner’s The Field project. Each piece is diced and arranged, making it difficult to distinguish in its new aural context. Where Smith deviates from Willner is with his commitment to the origin of the sample, preserving each distinct specimen’s purity as the context evolves.
Another engaging element found on Monsoon is the true global immersion that the album provides for the listener. Sight’s blend of beats and culture on “Bombay” is particularly striking, bringing to mind the jetset vibes produced from electronic gurus Bonobo and Gold Panda. As their work is best suited for the club or crowded venue, Sight’s compositions are an insular earbud trip. “Blackouts” brings a similar setting, but gestures discordantly with a shadowy anxiety. Tones ebb and flow, sketching dark alleys and a sweltering climate, cultivating imagery that races through the listener’s conscious. Whether someone has traveled to India previously or is still long for that adventure, Monsoon brings an immediate rush to a willing headspace, emulating all of the chaos, grace, and romantic notions a once-in-a-lifetime voyage can bring.