You don’t have to know Ernest Hood’s 1975 album Neighborhoods to understand what’s going on in the new compilation New Neighborhoods, but it doesn’t hurt. Born in 1923, Hood was a Portland jazz musician who kept up with new recording and production techniques throughout his life, and in 1964 he cofounded the listener-supported Portland radio station now known as KBOO. In the early 70s, he assembled and edited field recordings he’d captured around the city in the 50s and 60s, augmenting them with new original music made primarily with zither and synth. In 1975 he self-released this material as Neighborhoods, pressing around 1,000 copies and giving most of them away, usually to family and friends. In the decades that followed, the album became sought after by private-press record collectors for its combination of audio documentary and proto-ambient synth work. Hood suffered from post-polio syndrome and passed away in 1991, but his influence has only grown—and in 2019 New York label Freedom to Spend remastered the original Neighborhoods recordings for a vinyl reissue with new liner notes, donating a portion of the proceeds to KBOO.
New Neighborhoods is inspired by Hood’s work, and includes new compositions and field recordings by 16 musicians and groups from all over the world, including UK dub and techno duo Space Afrika and former Chicagoan Ka Baird, cofounder of Spires That in the Sunset Rise. Baird’s contribution, “West End,” remixes a series of field recordings she made in her native Decatur, Illinois, including the sounds of splashing water and a distant train horn. Most of the tracks recall Neighborhoods in their mix of bucolic city soundscapes, but the globe-spanning roster on New Neighborhoods gives the compilation a texture and variety that the original lacks; Japanese electronic musician Sugai Ken created the haunting “Symphonic ‘Joya no Kane’” using a field recording of gong sounds and wind from his native Kanagawa Prefecture. Freedom to Spend is donating all proceeds from the first edition of New Neighborhoods to the Association for Neighborhood and Housing Development’s Center for Community Leadership, a New York-based training program for grassroots activists and housing-focused groups. The compilation makes a great addition to the ambient music canon as well as a fine tribute to a visionary, civic-minded musician who loved his city and his community. v