Fields Awake: Fields Awake
Fields Awake

Originally presented as an audiovisual installation at Latitude 53, a visual cultural centre in Edmonton, Alberta, Fields Awake is one of the most beautiful projects to cross my path in recent memory. It began when multi-instrumentalist Mark Templeton asked friends Tim and Steve Batke, Paul Fuellbrandt, and Jeremy Putz to translate eight guitar themes into organ, piano, glockenspiel, and synth parts. Feeling a need to take the project further, Templeton recorded peoples' thoughts on mortality and spirituality, made field recordings in Paris, and even interviewed his dying grandfather, after which he wove the elements into the haunting instrumental soundscapes heard on the 51-minute CD. With the aural component completed, Templeton then worked with filmmaker Sean Corbett to create a visual complement in the hope that the resultant film would extend and enrich the musical experience.

Certainly the music holds up marvelously on its own. The mood is generally hymnal, melancholic, and elegiac, the material stately and majestic. Templeton's melodic cells are simple but powerful; the music unfolds slowly with electric guitar the lead voice accompanied by piano, glockenspiel, and haunted guitar washes that recall Fennesz and Sigur Rós. Voice samples intermittently appear, dramatically shifting the mood. While the music is often gentle and poignant, it sometimes rises to a howling crescendo. The most aggressive piece, “All of Them,” features a blistering roar of slashing electric guitars that may remind some listeners of Sonic Youth.

But Fields Awake has its greatest impact when the music and visuals are experienced in tandem. Almost entirely comprised of landscape footage, the video depicts autumnal scenes of farm land, trees, skies so reddish-orange they seem on fire, silos, water reflections, train silhouettes, drifting clouds, and, yes, open fields literally bathed in morning sunlight; a wintry forest setting in one sequence even evokes the wilderness paintings of The Group of Seven. At times the images are static photos, at other times footage shot from a moving car. While most are country-based, some blurry images capture traffic lights and storefronts within a city. The music and imagery work together, as when tall grasses sway violently in time to increasingly aggressive music. The video's conclusion is especially masterful. As the music builds to a climax, nature images are rapidly intercut with faded family photos of babies, prom nights, and weddings (plus photos of cultural figures like Nietzsche and Dickens) until the screen abruptly turns blank and then slowly darkens during “Ypres,” a four-minute outro of organ tones and field sounds of laughing and shouting children. Whether experienced as a CD or DVD release, the stunning Fields Awake deserves to be grabbed by some major label and distributed widely.

January 2006