Peter Kilham and Alfred L. Hawkes - The Swamp in June

Vintage field recordings with New England charm

by DJML
  • Label: Droll Yankees
  • Catalog Number: DY-17
  • Year: 1964

It should be known that just like Jus-Ed, I'm from Connecticut. Though I don't feel a ton of affinity for the state at this point in my life (the claims that it's mostly just a giant suburb of New York City aren't without merit), niche records from New England always catch my eye as I'm flipping through the bins. 

The Swamp in June is a 1964 record produced by Droll Yankees, a Rhode Island collective dedicated to documenting the "sounds of old New England". They've got the distinction of being the only record company to successfully make the leap from pushing wax to producing bird feeders, which is quite an accomplishment. Predating the Environments label by more than a few years, Droll Yankees shares more DNA with the Folkways catalog, where documentary acumen and regional zeal compensate for any lack of production polish. 

The LP is two sides of charming audio vérité, recorded on site at "Joe Ranger's swamp" in Pomfret, Vermont (population 904). On side A, the recordist (Peter Kilham) chats with Rhode Island naturalist Alfred L. Hawkes, who expounds on the livelihoods of the various critters of note in a mild-mannered New England drawl (think Boston but with more subtle vowel shift). I'm not going to lie, I learned a lot more than I expected when I finally sat down to rip the audio, including but not limited to the difference between a marsh and a swamp, and the fact that beavers are crushed by the trees they fell with alarming regularity. 

Of course, the star of the show here is the B side where the field recordings speak for themselves. Amphibian croaks, buzzing flies, and intermittent splashing set the stage while the alien-sounding zaps of pickerel frogs and the odd mewling of beaver cubs add local color. Expertly edited and surprisingly engaging across its scant 17-minute runtime. 

Outside of being a curious audio document, the LP itself is outstanding specimen of idiosyncratic design and production, an embodiment of the label's unassuming DIY ethos. 

Here's a few things I love about it:

  • The reverse-bound sleeve (as re-popularized in recent years by the legendarily astute archivists at RVNG/Freedom to Spend). 
  • The immersive, full-bleed photo cover with hand-rendered title (peep the rotated 'n' / 'u' and 'w' / 'm' pairings, Yankee ingenuity!)
  • The unabashedly nerdy liner notes, reproducing an article by the recordist with tips and tricks for recording in the field, typeset in a unique italic monospace that's not quite IBM Selectric Light Italic (type heads hit me up with an ID!)

And a selection of close-ups if you're not yet sold:

Hand-drawn LP labels
Hand-rendered liner notes
More hand-rendered liner notes
You know he had to do it to 'em: Peter Kilham in action
"Now go out and start a band": Liner notes by Peter Kilham

A wonderful bit of vintage, homegrown nerdiness that's still available for a pittance on Discogs. For the digitally-inclined, the rip and hi-res scans are available here


Tracklist

  1. A. Narration On This Side - 17:41
  2. B. Sounds On This Side - 17:35