"WARNING: Extreme Dynamic Levels. Listeners experience may change during playback!" So goes the garish blood-red text accompanying the jittery typeface of Wild Tracks (Mego), whose first few track titles, "Exceptionally Loud Propane Gas Cannon Bird Scarer," "Jamaican Blowhole," and "Ant Colony (featuring Eurofigher Typhoon F2 Flyby)," place this excellent album in a netherzone between sound-effects discs and soundscape composition—music made with, or entirely of, field recordings.
Compiled by English artist Russell Haswell, Wild Tracks stakes out overlooked and often less-than-glamorous locations, including a drainage pipe, a rotting carcass, and a wasp nest. I love the analogies of scale implied by "Ant Colony," in which ants are dwarfed by a recordist, who in turn gets miniaturized by the roar of overhead jet fighters. At a time when albums in all genres strive for unceasing maximum loudness, Tracks breathes like the real world, so don't bother listening on headphones. You'll miss too much.
Another release that defies headphone listening is EQUUS: Grande Véhicule (Pogus), a collaboration by Lionel Marchetti and Oliver Capparos. Imagine This American Life bouncing our planet's radio transmissions off the sun just to dapple the show's music, script, and sound effects with sunspots. Somehow, the muffled textures (hoofbeats, recessed voices, snippets of movie dialogue) and fizzed-up transmissions coalesce into an utterly alien—and compelling—33-minute radio play. But you can never truly hear EQUUS on radio; FM compression would disfigure the delicate gradations of volume and timbre wrought by Marchetti and Capparos.
Recorded in the 1960s, Haydn: Early London Symphonies (Sony) is much more headphone- and radio-friendly. Conductor George Szell and the Cleveland Orchestra coat Haydn with a flawless, corporate sheen. Although Szell used the then-recent scholarly editions by Haydn guru H. C. Robbins Landon, forget about period-instrument authenticity. Bustling Presto sections move with implacable precision; the trembling woodwinds at the end of the Andante in the "Miracle" Symphony flutter precisely, gracefully; and rather than razz as it should, the bassoon seems merely disgruntled in the Symphony No. 93's Largo. Szell, brilliant and dictatorial, conjures an idealized Haydn that may be bygone and inauthentic, yet is nonetheless beautiful.
Finally, don't miss singer and composer Jody Diamond, who teams up with Gamelan Pacifica (Sat Dec 5, Poncho Concert Hall at Cornish College, 8 pm, $10–$20). My favorite pieces on her new disc, In That Bright World: Music for Javanese Gamelan (New World), include "Kenong," whose gentle, rainlike tapping evokes the spare loneliness of Morton Feldman's piano pieces, and "Hard Times," which interleaves Stephen Foster's song "Hard Times Come Again No More" within percolating gongs and ringing chimes. You might weep when Diamond sings, "Let us pause in life's pleasures and count its many tears."