Outside-In: JLIAT

Being in a state of lockdown, as we currently are in the UK and in many other countries, i’ve recently found myself returning to the library of field recordings that i’ve made over the years, using them as a kind of ‘escape’ into the environment during a time when it’s currently not possible to do this. It got me thinking about a possible project for 5:4, in which field recordings of places where composers and sound artists have been in previous years could be compiled and shared. These recordings would provide an immediate, vivid and potentially valuable connection to the outside world, something of a liberation from the current predicament we’re all living through, enabling us to enter into and explore the landscape vicariously through sound.

A couple of weeks ago, i began to contact various musical and artistic friends and colleagues to ask if they had any field recordings of their own that they would like to contribute. The responses are gradually coming in, so today i’m launching the project, which i’m calling Outside-In, and presenting the first of these field recordings. i’ll be introducing each additional recording as they’re added in due course. If you would like to offer a recording of your own to this project, please see the Call for Recordings at the end of the article. The cover image for the project is a photo i took on 22 March, the day before the UK lockdown was introduced. It shows the view from one of my favourite places, not far from where i live: the top of Cleeve Hill – the highest point of the Cotswolds – looking out across Gloucester, Cheltenham and Tewkesbury. Each recording in Outside-In will be accompanied by a Google Maps image of the location where it was made.

The first was recorded by sound artist JLIAT (who was featured recently during my Lent Series), in a coastal village called Burnham Norton. He says this about the recording:

Wind blowing in the marshes of North Norfolk… probably winter 2003.

Recorded on Sony Walkman MZ-R900. Brown Leg Geese? Overwinter in Norfolk from Siberia, feeding on the beet tops and roosting on the marshes.

Anyone familiar with the JLIAT back catalogue will find the soundscape captured in this recording very familiar. It’s highly noise-based, to the extent that the wind rushing through the marshes sounds almost like the roar of the sea (which is, in fact, very close by). It brings to mind the work of Zbigniew Karkowski in the way that the other sounds we hear, such as geese and other wetland birds (including, i think, warblers), often become half-tangible sound objects at the periphery of our perception. They encroach into the largely saturated space occupied by the noise of the wind, rather beautifully introducing great subtlety into what can seem at first like an otherwise undifferentiated mass of sound. As with so much noise-based material, each time i’ve listened to this recording i hear so many new things.

All of the recordings featured in Outside-In will be available to download or stream; there’s no charge for downloading, but you’re free to make a payment if you wish, and all proceeds made will be shared among the contributors. i very much hope that these recordings will prove to be an interesting and immersive diversion from the state of lockdown that so many of us are experiencing. Right now it’s the safest possible way to enjoy and celebrate the wonders of the natural world.


Call for Recordings

If you have a recording you would like to be considered for Outside-In, the guidelines are very simple:

  • approximately 5-15 minutes’ duration – long enough to allow some decent immersion;
  • no obvious editing – recordings can be discreetly edited but should generally sound like a single recording, with no sudden cuts;
  • no indoor or underwater recordings – all in the open air;
  • no speech or overt human noises, apart from perhaps in the distance or as a part of the ambiance/surroundings;
  • the recording doesn’t need to be made using high-end equipment, but should be good enough to be enjoyed transparently, without attention drawn to its shortcomings.

Please note: the idea is that the recordings were made before the lockdown, but if you would like to make one that reflects the current, quieter state of the world – without breaking any local rules on going outside in the process! – then that’s absolutely fine.

To send your recording, please use the 5:4 Contact form and in the “Your Message” section please include the following:

  • a download link to your recording (via WeTransfer, or equivalent), which should preferably be in compressed lossless format (e.g. FLAC – no lossy recordings!);
  • information about the place, time and situation in which the recording took place – as much or as little detail as you would like to share;
  • a Google Maps link to the exact/approximate location where the recording was made.
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