Energy Fields documents the trip of a lifetime. John Atkinson drove across the United States on a voyage to an artistic residency at the Ucross Foundation in the state of Wyoming. A clean energy and climate analyst by day, Atkinson used the U.S. Energy Atlas as his map to chart a course from his home in Brooklyn to the High Plains. He brought his digital recorder to capture the sounds of oil fields, coal mines, wind farms, and solar power stations along the way. At Ucross, he chopped and manipulated the recordings into a series of sonic narratives, and Energy Fields is the result.
Atkinson created this music entirely from field recordings; no instruments or synths are present. He weaves microsamples into cloudy, melodic hues that are highly textured. His melodies, while lush and vibrant, don’t shy away from getting fairly noisy at times. Atkinson cut the elemental bolts of tonal fabric to shape his desired narrative arc and then attached them to snippets of human and natural activity. “Spiritual Electricity” enters on a carpet of cicadas while “Black Thunder” investigates the clanking machinery of a coal mine. The imagery flows through time with a cinematic flair. It borrows signifiers from ambient music but has attention-grabbing elements threaded through it. Brian Eno famously said that ambient music “must be able to accommodate many levels of listening attention without enforcing one in particular; it must be as ignorable as it is interesting.” Atkinson’s music breaks with Eno’s stance, choosing to be compelling and engaging rather than ignorable.
There’s a tremendous amount of love in Energy Fields; Atkinson combined many facets of himself within this music. Each grain of sound was carefully assembled with its counterparts to create a story that describes our relationship to energy. Humanity has set itself on a course toward its own destruction, but there are forces working to reverse that trend. Atkinson acknowledges both sides of the story, ultimately choosing to be part of the solution. Energy Fields is his call to action; we can all join him, and we should.