Leo Hurwitz & Charles Pratt ‘Here At the Water’s Edge’

01 Ocean into Inland Waters (12:18)
02 City Edge – The Coves of Manhattan Island (11:16)
03 The Surrounding Shores – Rideout to Sea (10:33)

Total time: 34:06
LP released 1963, Folkways Records

Arguably the first comercialy released field recording disc, ‘Here at the Water’s Edge’ is the score to Leo Hurwitz and Charles Pratt’s 1963 wordless film of the same name. The present LP is actually a reworking of the film’s sound score, which originally also included 2 short tracks of Henry Cowell’s orchestral music. Location recordings were done along New York’s water front (‘Recorded in and around the port of New York’, from liner notes) by photographer Pratt and documentary film maker Hurwitz (pictured twice above, 1909-1991). The latter was blackilisted in the film industry under McCarthy for his left-wing sympathies and social commitment to union movements. Source material for ‘Here at the water’s edge’ include fog horns, water slapping along the piers, engines, tugboat, steam whistles, men at work, children playing and screaming, seagulls, etc. In his preface, Sidney Finkelstein classifies the different types of sounds used in 4 categories: nature sounds, labor sounds, human voice and machines. And indeed, it seems there is a rather dialectical (eg marxist) opposition between sounds in this music, as each sound clashes against the other – what Finkelstein calls ‘antiphonal’ music. The machine sounds are obviously presented here as a menace. Three main sound techniques are used: specific microphone localization during recording, studio editing to re-create aural illusion, and pitch-modification. The latter is exemplified on track #1 at 2:26 when a fog horn has been slow down a lot to add drama. On a technical side, Jim Fassett’s 1960 ‘Symphony of the Birds’ comes to mind as well. But this is a genuine aural portrait of New York’s ports and waterfront.


1 Response to “Leo Hurwitz & Charles Pratt ‘Here At the Water’s Edge’”

  1. 1 Dan May 30, 2008 at 3:28 pm

    Thanks for posting this. I have been dying to get my hands on this since hearing it in the mid 80’s. Gotta love those fog horns!

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