After yesterday’s glorious sunshine, today is a tumultuous mix of rain, hail, high winds, and occasional blue skies. Right now, in the distance beyond the bedroom window, I can see two lines of clouds. The closest is thin and wispy, moving across the rectangular cut-out field of view at some speed; the second, over the edge of the distant hill, is thick and puffy, and moves ponderously (though this apparent difference in speed might just be a trick of perspective). This latter cloudline slopes upwards into peaks, a snowy mountain range crested with yellow winter light.
Two summers ago, I was sat at a table in a Sea Cadet hall on the Kent coast, sharing bread and wine with friends and strangers. The moment was memorable for being both strongly immediate and simultaneously somehow timeless. Tonight there is also bread and wine, faces familiar and new, but the setting and context is different: a wet winter night, a gallery space, a vitrine filled with a clay landscape strewn with bone, shells, leaves, and incense sticks. Both occasions were instigated by the artist Hannah Lees.
Near where I live in central Birmingham, there’s a patch of waste ground, maybe 150m square, surrounded by a metal fence. Left untouched by developers, tall grasses and shrubs have flourished, and magpies and other birds can often be seen hopping about looking for insects to munch. Here, in late summer, the constant drone of crickets drowns out the traffic on the main road a stone’s throw away; the autumn sunsets, unobstructed by tall buildings, are spectacular. A wide variety of rubbish has accumulated on the east side of the fence, including an empty suitcase and bottles and cans of all descriptions.
There’s two things I love about pine forests, more than anything else: the smell, and the sound. The smell is of a thousand Christmases rolled into one, or being locked in a warehouse full of pine-scented car fresheners — no, fresher, cleaner than that. The sound is of silence. Densely packed trees and meshes of needles make for a very effective acoustic dampening material. Any noises that are heard are clearer, nearer, and stop dead in their tracks, no reverberation time at all.
Katie Paterson’s new work is about time, among other things. Pine trees have been planted in a forest near Oslo; every year for the next hundred years, a text will be written by a different author to be held in trust until the hundred years are up, at which point the trees will be felled and turned into paper for publishing an anthology of the texts.
An article I wrote in 2012 about polders, nature, and experimental ambient music has just been published over at the newly re-designed Fluid Radio. I think what I was trying to say was that Nature appears in the interactions between at least two (other) objects — a tree and a camera lens, for example, or a bird and a tree branch. Have a read, see what you think.
While you’re there, you can take a look at some of my recent music reviews and interviews.