Music / Landscape
In this continually updating blog post, we explore the relationships that people develop between the places they visit and the music that soundtracks it all.
Landscapes are all around us, be it the hum drumness of city life or the soothing view of serene countryside, we find ourselves surrounded at all times by various contexts. Human beings have explored our place in spaces and environments for most of recorded history, writing about how place can define mood or emotion, how it can influence escapism or indeed how it can be stifling and noisy. As long as people have been writing about it and considering it, people have made music about environments, both natural and urban, with so many records and even entire genres of music being influenced by what exists around us. Whilst some records are distinctly linked to certain places, people have often found connections to other places via very different sounding records, perhaps music that wasn't made for a particular context but certainly provides on a singular level an experience that builds a bridge between person and place.
With this ongoing blog, we want contributers to discuss a couple of places that they have a deep connection which was forged by the music that played out at the time. We want to celebrate the links that landscape and music have with each other, and collate a series of personal experiences that cross many contexts and genres. So, put some headphones in, grab a glass of wine, and get transported away to places around the world.........
By Emma Henderson
Skeletons - Yeah Yeah Yeahs
Big country - Big Country
Unbelievers - Vampire Weekend
In a River - Rostam
Gosh - Jamie XX
Songs have the ability to conjure up the idea of place, scale, and sentimentality, and in the following paragraphs I will discuss the idea of the landscape of the Scottish Highlands evoked in different eras and sub genres of pop music. These songs all manage to evoke an idea of expansive highland landscape with their layered melancholic riffs harkening back to folk music of the Highlands and Islands.
The slow building “Skeletons” off of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs popular 2009 album “Its Blitz!” Hits you in the perfectly nostalgic way indie rock at its peak was meant to. After several bars setting the scene of “love left dry” the song breaks into a high pitched electronic folk riff echoing out across the metaphorical valley glen. The folk riff reappears through the rest of the song, with slightly tribal drums beating underneath, leaving you with a sense of mission, longing and importance, as if you have just experienced a tragic reckoning while peering across a cloud covered loch.
This use of folk melodies conjured by synthesizers and electric guitars rather than acoustic flutes and bagpipes is used successfully in several songs, conjuring up this poignant vision of existential mourning and love lost on a Moore somewhere.
In Vampire Weekends 2013 “Unbelievers” the song builds to an emotional crescendo with the lyrics:
“I know I love you and you love the sea but what all the water contains a little drop little drop for me”, letting the lyrics “the sea” tie it thematically to the notably sea-shanty-esque flute to follow. In this case actual flutes are employed to deliver the melancholy chords playing on our minds eye.
In Rostam’s 2018 in a River, we are brought into a slightly different world of summer love and dancing, with dreams we’ve spent together and time we spent oh heya, a fiddle licking our ears for a moment before a heavy synth drops into place, combining the euphoria of a ceilidh with the thick base of a heart pounding full of ecstasy.
In the 1983 classic “Big Country” by “Big Country” electric guitar is used to bring to mind the bagpipes of the the band’s homeland of Scotland. The echoey sound also evokes a sense of expansive landscape. This song literally brings in the lines “like a lovers voice on the mountainside” making it less than obvious that it is heavily linked to the landscape of Scotland’s Highlands.
Through all of these songs there is a theme of love lost and mourning about things about to change, “so take that look out of here it doesn’t fit you” “but you can’t stay here with every single xxxx shadow”
These songs are about escapism and SCAPES, allowing their sounds to flow out and expand slowly into a space.
The final addition to this list, is much less obvious. In Jamie Xx’s 2015 album in colour, the track “Gosh” uses the sound of sweet synths to draw us into an expansive landscape setting. We know we are in a wide open space because of the way the sound echoes out, with a slow steady beat drawing up our heart rate and allowing the eye to travel at the pace of one discovering light in the distance from a car going through the night. As the lights peak out from the horizon like little stars the tenor of the synthesizer scales up into the sky drawing your eye to shooting stars moving across the darkness, illuminating a purple sea below. The link to the highlands is precarious. This sound isn’t tethered to a certain tradition, location, but somehow fits with that of the highlands, and employs the same heart string pulling that the other songs do, making it in my mind, a song heavily linked to landscape, discovery, and euphoria.
By Kit Bowen
David Bowie - A New Career In A New Town
In one of our many visits to the vast shingle expanse, my father and I drove across Dungeness in the mid morning, as I was wanting to take some pictures for creative purposes. The expanse is known for fairly unpredictable weather conditions, given its precarious location in the English Channel, but that day was particularly still, the sky a textured patchwork of rippled clouds and a creamy blue hue, with the shingle feeling particularly sun kissed and undisturbed. We drove to various points of interest, including the shore line, the Power Station, the fire station, Derek Jarman’s cottage, and as we drove we chatted and spoke about the space and how we felt when moving through it. No music, just chat, like we usually do on our long drives together. Music remained very much a shared love of ours, so when something goes on its usually something we both really enjoy.
As we started to think about moving on to visit family in the nearby town of Hastings, we started turning away from the shore and moving across a particularly linear road that cuts across the mid section of the shingle. I looked across towards the horizon, and the sun was peeking through the clouds, its rays illuminating the facade of the Power station in all its ugly industrial glory, and that’s when I put on ‘Low’ by David Bowie. The music found on that album seemed extremely appropriate to the scene - the rays, the little insignificant houses dotted around the sands, the expressive sky and the oppressive power station, and it seemed only an album like ‘Low’ could perfectly capture this view in an audial sense. I clicked through the tracks to discover something that might capture this view, something with an alien like feel that would match the undulating endlessness of the shingle. ‘A New Career In a New Town’ popped on, and when listening to its opening segment of the kicks and the resonating synths, everything aligned. Its a particularly spacious song, with its drawn out nature allowing the keys to shine in their ethereal glory leaving a lasting impression on my mind as I glazed upon the passive expanse, the little flourishes of instrumentation seemingly responding to the minor changes in topography and vegetation as we passed by. I was as embedded in the music as I was the landscape that spread out in all directions, with a feeling of joy spreading across my face as we travelled through the sandy tundra, the sun and silhouettes embracing our field of view as we moved further towards the cliffs in the distance. The music seemed to call out across the linear plain, like an echo that never comes back but instead graces the soft surface with its weaving nature, moving from the highly sparse into the heroically dense, binding us to the landscape in a way we never experienced before. Then the track ended, the sun returned behind the clouds, the shingle turned into fields, trees made a comeback into the environment, and Dungeness faded into the distance.