While Horikawa uses a professional digital recorder (Sound Devices MixPre-6 II) and high-end microphones, people who want to try field recording can start simply—a smartphone’s recording app will do. A good approach is to record sources from different distances for contrast, for instance getting the ambient sound of a river as well as a more close-up, detailed sample. You might get lucky and catch something unexpected, like the plop of a kappa jumping into the water.
Horikawa also recorded the Tono Festival’s Dance of the Deer, in which dancers in imposing antlered headdresses, with trailing manes of long wood shavings, spin and stomp to hypnotic taiko drumming. Held in the third week of September, when the intense heat of summer begins to dissipate, the festival is a colorful expression of gratitude toward nature and the gods by people living in the harsh climate of Tono, where temperatures can dip to minus 4°F (−20°C) in winter.
In making his recordings, Yanagita’s tales were never far from Horikawa’s thoughts. “I had an image of Tono in my mind before I visited,” he says. “And I always try to connect that to the real scenery when I record.
“The first step is to be interested in the sound,” says Horikawa. “In my music, I want to re-create the sounds of nature in a live event, so people can enjoy nature, and imagine it, without being there. I want listeners to connect to their memories of nature with my music.” An evening stroll through the hills around Nanbu Shrine, for instance, may bring you face-to-face with a Japanese serow (a goat-antelope), which can emit shrieks or barks or simply stare back at you silently, its eyes shining in the darkness.
Even if you’re not adding them to music, field recordings can transport you back to where they were captured and prompt you to re-create those settings with the mind’s eye. In our visually saturated daily lives, they can serve as a unique time capsule powered by the imagination.