REVIEW: Hidden Orchestra – “Dawn Chorus”

Ornithologists believe that in the modern hustle of life, humans are beginning to forget the calmness of nature and the beauty you can find in its sounds. From a musical perspective, it’s important to remember that the medium has historically evolved from these natural sounds. Music theories have almost always relied on nature in its attempts to explain the function and effects of music. Hidden Orchestra reminds us of this forgotten symbiotic relationship between nature and music with their third album Dawn Chorus.

Hidden Orchestra - Joe Acheson

Hidden Orchestra is the solo studio project of Joe Acheson. Photograph: Steven Haywood/National Trust/PA

To those unaware, Hidden Orchestra is the solo studio project of multi-instrumentalist, composer, and producer Joe Acheson. Joe brings in flavors of post-rock, world music, and electronica into a single world. On Dawn Chorus, Joe adds another layer to the music by bringing in extensive field recordings, which he recorded in the UK and during other travels. He considers himself to be ‘fishing for sounds’ amidst nature, and it’s these sounds (all of which were taken at dawn) that form the backdrop of the music on his latest release.

The opening track, “First Light”, is the perfect beginning to the album, starting with total silence as the bird chirpings grow into the track. The minimalist use of a heavy reverb leads from a piano adds a charm to the music. If one wakes up to music like this every morning, they are bound to feel enveloped by nature. “Still” is another standout track on the record, as the sounds of nature take the backseat and the musicianship comes to the fore. This allows the music and environmental recordings to perfectly blend into one another. The song builds layers on top of each other as it progresses, bringing in a mesmerising mix of post-rock and jazz. It forces the listener stop and pay attention to the intricacies built into the music.

However, the albums does have a few misses too. Tracks like “The Lizard” bring a large conflict into the sound, with the nature hymns, the percussion beats, and the electronica all coming in to create something which feels more distracting than cohesive. With Dawn Chorus, Hidden Orchestra definitely aims to have a record that requires your unwavering attention when listening to it. But, when even a small minute long interlude like “Serpentine” comes in – bringing in a jazzy, beat-box style percussion drumming amidst the calm sounds of nature – it can disorient even the most attentive listener.

The perfect example of both the strengths and the weaknesses of the record are the two longest tracks. In contrast, the re-worked song “Wingbeats” (from the previous Wingbeats EP) shines through and shows Dawn Chorus at its best; a mix of nature and instrumentation that relies on their individual strengths to deliver something much more filled with grandeur than each of the individual elements. Conversely, the last track on the record, “East London Street”, builds up a fantastic intricate beat to pave way for an all too sudden natural recording that plays through the remaining half of the track. While the fact that the sound recordings come from the British Library archives and was actually recorded back in 1947 is an interesting one, the music built upon it fails to leave a similarly lasting impression.

Scientists believe that the best way to describe the universe is to see it as one made of opposing pairs: matter and antimatter, good and evil, life and the non-living – such comparisons can be extended to any walk of life. The same dichotomy holds true for Hidden Orchestra in Dawn Chorus. There are hits and misses throughout the run-time of the record; moments that will truly put you into a state of tranquillity and peace, while others to jarringly draw you out from it.

Nevertheless, there is natural beauty that just emanates from Dawn Chorus. The hard-work given by Hidden Orchestra in including these natural recordings is something to appreciate. Simply put, it’s an experimentally abstract album that binds together nature and music into a blissful listening experience.

Hidden Orchestra Dawn Chorus


Score: 6.5/10

Notable Tracks: “First Light”; “Still”; “Wingbeats”

FFO: Bonobo, Portico Quartet, Skalpel

Dawn Chorus can be purchased on Bandcamp or iTunes. Album stream is also available on YouTube. CD/LP can be picked up from the label Tru Thoughts Recordings. To keep yourself updated on the latest news from Hidden Orchestra, you can follow them on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or Spotify.

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