Between the villages

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By Paul Scraton:

Tarmac becomes cobblestones becomes sandy soil as the old road leads out from the village towards the forest. At this end it is named for the village on the other side of the woods. Over there, it is named for this village. The way to… has linked the two communities for centuries, even if now the main road cuts through the forest away to the north and the railway to the south, leaving this track for those who travel by bicycle or those who make their way on foot, like in the old days.

At different points between the villages there has been artwork placed by the track, sharing the space with the pine and silver birch, oak and beech of the forest. They are sculptures of metal or plastic, glass or steel. They have been created to reflect the stories of this place, of this landscape. A pack of fake wolves, ghosts of the past to remind us of what was lost, placed in the woods only a few years before the real thing returned across the border to the east. A doorway to nowhere, to remind us of the lost villages of the region, abandoned to nature. Metal crates to remind us of… what? Of caged animals transported from shed to slaughter house? Or the way that dice falls, of how life changes. People move on. Others take their place. 

He rides his bike between the villages daily, ever since they closed the pub at the end of his street. Now, for his beer and schnapps, he has to ride the old way through the woods, past the fruit trees and the artworks, through the forest and across the fields. Tarmac and cobblestone. Sand to trap his tires. There’s always a stretch where he has to stop and push. He chooses not to ride on the road because it is too busy, with cars and farm vehicles, and the lorries that use this cut through between the motorways, shaking the village houses as they pass. It takes him about forty minutes on the track, often only meeting others within a short distance of each of the villages. He often has the section through the forest all to himself.

If he made the journey on weekends he would meet more walkers, out from the city to hike between train stations, ticking off the artworks as they go. Because he is elderly now, and wears his old working boots all year round, they look at him as if he is an exhibit himself, a bit of local colour, a genuine country dweller on his genuine country bicycle. They don’t know that he also came out from the city, all those years ago, to work in the brewery. That he found life so dull and strange in the country, a feeling that he never noticed leaving him until one day it was completely gone and he realised he was here to stay. He couldn’t have imagined it. 

How the dice fall. 

This has always been a land of exiles, a landscape of settlers. A thousand years ago they came from the west, possessors of the right religion and skills to work the sandy soil. Later, the refugees of war and the economies of elsewhere. He himself had come for work, for better prospects than in the city. After him came the hippies and back-to-the-land dreamers. And later still, sleeping five to a room in an old factory dormitory on the edge of town, those fleeing more modern wars. 

The pub in his village has closed. The brewery where he worked for thirty years, has long been abandoned. Now the beer is brought out from the city by lorry and the warehouse where he spent his days slowly crumbles, roof open to the elements and trees growing out of the brickwork. But he has to admit: the beer is better now, better than what they used to make. It wasn’t their fault. You can only work with what you’ve got. 

Those visitors, those weekend walkers, they like to think the countryside remains fixed, that while their city neighbourhoods shift on uneasy foundations, out here things stay the same. It is a comforting thought, but it has never been true. A thousand years of comings and goings. Villages that take their names from long forgotten languages, the traces of religions that have no more followers. He has lived it through his life since he left the city, and still it continues. In the pub he reads the local newspaper headlines. Old businesses fade into memory as new initiatives are launched in hope. Bands from a country that no longer exists get together for one last show. Beetles and fires ravage the forest. A new bridge is built to help the animals cross the motorway. He sees the changes on every ride between the villages. Trees are felled. The brewery crumbles. The wolves return. Only the the track stays the same. At some point, he always has to get off and push.

***

Paul Scraton is the editor in chief of Elsewhere: A Journal of Place and the author of two books published by Influx Press: Ghosts on the Shore: Travels along Germany’s Baltic coast (2017) and Built on Sand (2019), a novel set in Berlin and Brandenburg.

Five Questions for... Amanda Thomson

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Amanda Thomson is the author of A Scots Dictionary of Nature, a collection of nature-related Scots words from 19th and early 20th century sources and a beautiful representation of the relationship between the Scottish people and their landscape. She teaches at Glasgow School of Art and in her art and writing she explores themes of place, home, nature and migration.

Amanda has just signed a book deal and is currently working on a collection of hybrid essays about landscapes and a video and writing project about an alder tree. She’ll be the artist in residence at Small Halls Festival this November, and travelling to Southern Africa with other nine writers as part of the Edinburgh International Book Festival initiative Outriders Africa

What does home mean to you?

I’ve been thinking about and actually writing about home a lot over the summer. For me, it can go from the micro, and being with my partner, to the house that we live in, or the place where it is. It’s about a feeling of missing a place and longing to be there, and that deep exhale of relief once you reach it. It’s not something that any of us can take for granted at all, so there’s a thankfulness to know I have a place I call home, when there are so many in the world who don’t.

Which place do you have a special connection to?

Abernethy Forest, where I did my PhD and is now a place I call home; the North West Highlands. I am smitten with Scotland and the Highlands and Islands. 

What is beyond your front door? 

I have a field which hasn’t been grazed by sheep or cattle for a couple of months. It’s been full of white and red clover, germander speedwell and all kinds of grasses, occasional deer and hares, and the aforementioned alder. The farmer has just cut it and bailed hay, and the swallows and house martins are swooping by just now on their way south. 

What place would you most like to visit?

I love living in Scotland and would happily spend all my time here. I always love going to the islands – North Uist in particular for the birds, and Shetland, and I am not long back from Sutherland in the North West. Now, and unexpectedly, I am very excited to be going to spend time in Southern Africa.

What are you reading / watching / listening to / looking at right now? 

Reading, I’m jumping between books: Kathleen Jamie’s Surfacing and Sadiya Hartson’s Lose Your Mother. Looking at the Collin’s Book of British Insects to figure out what kinds of moths I’ve been seeing.

Watching – This summer there have been red deer and hares in the field, swallows and house martins on the wires and just now the sun is coming and going and the trees are flouncing in the wind. The rain’s coming over from the West.

Listening to – this summer I have been listening to Braebach’s Frenzy of the Meeting a lot, also Duncan Chisholm’s music; Kinnaris Quintet’s amazing Free One, and Ali Hutton and Ross Ainslie’s Symbiosis II is the perfect album for the drive between Glasgow and the North – A lot of Scottish folk music.

Amanda's Website
Twitter
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Five Questions for... Jessica J. Lee

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Two years ago we reviewed Turning, her memoir about swimming in the lakes around Berlin. This autumn Jessica J. Lee is back with the autobiographical Two Trees Make a Forest: On Memory, Migration and Taiwan. She is an environmental historian, writing tutor, nature writer and editor of The Willowherb Review, an online platform for nature writing by writers of colour. Jessica writes with the precision of a botanist but without the pretence that nature writing has no singularity, discarding the old cliché haunting the genre: that we all experience the environment in the same way, that diversity doesn’t matter and doesn’t exist. 

 What does home mean to you?

Multiplicity. It’s taken me a really long time to realise that home didn’t have to be singular, that I didn’t need to pick one place to call home. Both my parents are immigrants, and I’ve been an immigrant myself: instead of seeing that as a kind of “dislocation”, I’ve made a conscious choice to see that as productive, as a way of saying I belong to many places. I was born in London, Ontario, which people seem to find confusing because I lived in London, England for so long. Halifax (in Nova Scotia). Toronto. Berlin. Taipei. 

Which place do you have a special connection to?

I wrote my PhD dissertation about Hampstead Heath, which I lived next to through my early twenties. There was a beautiful lime tree that I used to hang out under, reading, resting, dreaming, crying: it bore witness to a lot of my most transformative moments in young adulthood. The tree came down in a storm in 2012, but the spot where it stood still draws me in. I have its leaf tattooed on my arm. 

 So I’d say there, but also: the bay at my family’s cottage in Canada, the cafe window in Berlin where I usually sit and write, the Taiwanese breakfast shop in Taipei where I get cold soy milk and hot shaobing youtiao. 

What is beyond your front door?

My street has one of the most beautiful views in Berlin, I think: it’s abnormally long and tree-lined and lovely. To the left, you’ll find more children and ice cream shops and wine bars and pet stores than necessary, and to the right you’ll find a busy road with a tram that races back and forth over the old Berlin Wall border all day. There’s a spicy hand-pulled noodle shop not far away, which is probably the best thing within walking distance. 

 What place would you most like to visit?

This is an impossible choice! There are so many countries I’ve yet to visit—Japan, Norway, New Zealand—but if I can be really specific, I’ll say Jiaming Lake in the Central Mountains of Taiwan. It’s a teardrop of a lake at the top of the mountains, famous for being a shallow, glassy mirror of the sky. People used to say it was formed by a meteor strike, but it was actually formed by glacial movement. But it’s a nightmare to hike to because of permits, the logistics of getting to the trailhead, the three-day trek, etc. I’ve twice had journeys to the Jiaming cancelled, so it’s become something of an obsession for me to one day actually make it there. 

What are you reading / watching / listening to / looking at right now?

I have the bad habit of reading many books at once. Currently, Brandon Shimoda’s The Grave on the Wall and Yoko Tawada’s The Last Children of Tokyo during the day, and Ben Aaronovitch’s The October Man as bedtime reading. I watch too much television—it’s one of the only ways I can switch off at home—so I’m currently finishing with Jane the Virgin. And for music, I’ve returned to Japanese Breakfast’s Soft Sounds from Another Planet on repeat. 

Jessica on Twitter
Website
The Willowherb Review


Sorbs, a poem by Alistair Noon

Spreewaldkanal by Lübbenau  – Photo by Dr Seuthberg – Used under  CC-BY-SA 4.0

Spreewaldkanal by Lübbenau – Photo by Dr Seuthberg – Used under CC-BY-SA 4.0

We meet where slow green water meshes
with swatting meadows. In Slavic shirts,
they hail our raid into well-drained marshes.

Traditional business here's to steer us
beneath the boughs and along the arms,
then serve us gherkins and farmyard stories,

to oar us up for open canoes
before we wrong-turn a channel
their land was left, and soak our knees.

Their teenagers bus to school in Cottbus,
grow up to squat the Berlin tenements.
Their roads are damp with moorhens and coots,

but expect their verse to trill with jays,
their dances to settle as colourful flocks.
They've cultural centres and anthologies.

And while the halls of greater states
proclaim their headlines and daytrip anecdotes,
right of the decimal point, the stats

ripple whenever they do the math
and discover Texas. Quaintly dressed,
the local tale is a pregnancy myth:

they got their Bible, but pools evaporate
where enlightened princes ban your books.
Now they build budgets and write their rights,

the woodlands where their nucleotides hid
are cleared for cattle, and only clutter
where leaves flop over our twig-dodging heads.

***

Alistair Noon's poetry collections include Earth Records (2012) and The Kerosene Singing (2015), both from Nine Arches Press. Concert at a Railway Station, his translations of the Russian poet Osip Mandelstam, was recently reviewed in the TLS. ‘Translocal Underground’, a short film about him by filmmaker Paul Cooke, appeared last year. He's lived in Berlin since the early 90s.

Mirages: A walk along the periphery

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By Julia Bennett:

mirage noun 1. an optical illusion caused by atmospheric conditions

Air still, heat building during the morning in the summer of 2018. Purple marshes to the right, tinged with sea lavender, to the left the creeks and sandbanks of the interstitial area between land and sea. Stepping out eastwards from Burnham Deepdale, the North Norfolk coast path crosses Deepdale Marsh on a high raised bank. Upturned boats seemingly abandoned to the mud and gulls; a windmill in the distance, unmoving. A sense of desolation averted by the Mediterranean-like heat. A group of paddle boarders drift past: serenely balanced on their boards in the still waters of the English coastal creeks, but clearly not fit craft for the rigours of the North Sea crossing itself. This is the not-quite-land and not-quite-sea border of the rump of England, back turned towards mainland Europe out across the North Sea.

The path itself, built up above the tides, steers a tenuous path between the opposing forces of land and water. The local population of sea birds is well adapted to the equivocal nature of this place: long-legged orange-beaked oyster catchers; a lively assortment of gulls; mousy-brown curlews, elongated toes splayed over the surface, long bills digging deep into the salty mud. Passport-less, curlews travel across Europe. Some stay in the UK over winter, others choosing France or Spain, like elderly British holiday makers spending a few months somewhere warm to save on heating bills. A slight ripple in the creek signals the presence of those bilingual, multi-modal, land-and-marine mammals: an otter, bobbing a furry head briefly above the water. For millennia the North Sea has provided a pathway to the rest of the world, rather than a moat around the castle of England.

Hitting the road at Burnham Overy Staithe the mood changes: the harbour bustles with tourists, boats clamouring for their custom. Zig-zagging through the crowds, the coast path steps out again onto a high bank, this time crowded with people headed to the beaches at Holkam Nature Reserve. Creeks and channels curl into the spit of land like tree roots digging into a rock face, refusing to give way to the clarity of either land or sea. Dunes ahead obscure the view of the beach whilst simultaneously signalling its sandy closeness. Over the dune-summit the land finally concedes defeat and in a long exhalation of breath sends a broad expanse of blue to meet the horizon. Golden sands stretch eastwards as far as the eye can see, a broad yellow-highlighter mark on the map demarcating the island of Great Britain from the continental mainland. Walking now along the shoreline footprints stamp out tribal belongings, temporary tattoos washed away by the next wave. The hot, still land seems to hold its breath and wait. Gradually, Holkam beach broadens out as the land of this corner of England distinguishes itself from the polyglot North/Nord Sea/see/zee. No longer a liminal space between land and sea, mainland and island, the ground underfoot becomes a little firmer and the atmosphere changes.

mirage noun 1.1. An unrealistic hope or wish that cannot be achieved

A couple of miles along, dunes rise again and behind them, a cool, sweet smelling pine wood reminiscent of the beaches of Northern France. The cool silence of the deserted sand-and-pine-needles paths sheltering beneath the trees provides a breathing space away from the spotlight of the hot midday sun. Through the trees, glimpses of colourful painted beach huts presage the arrival of the superior-but-faded grandeur of Wells-next-the-sea. In bright blocks of colour or Breton stripes beach huts are a staple of the traditional British seaside, along with buckets and spades and sticks of rock. But unlike the cheap plastic buckets on sale they are highly desired properties, costing almost a day’s wages to rent for the day, despite being, literally, built on sand.

Emerging from the trees the path skirts a large car park before following the sea wall into Wells-next-the-sea, ironically another mile inland due to the retreat of the sea over the centuries. A mini-train transports those without cars to and from the beach. The sea’s retreat changed the identity of this place. Wells was a busy trading port with Europe in the sixteenth century but is now a slightly upmarket, English seaside town with fish and chips and tacky souvenir shops along the front and a few olde gifte shoppes in the narrow roads heading inland.

The coastal bus service passes through here. It is full of school children at 4 o’clock on a term-time weekday afternoon, with a few tourists and the occasional local. Along this gentrified stretch of coast, the bus travels through picture-postcard villages: red-tiled rooves and Georgian facades, roses around the doors of stone cottages, traditional butchers’ and greengrocers’ shops with names written in antiquated fonts, and the ever-present bunting, flapping gently in the breeze. At first glance this is an image of a corner of England which, much like Wells, has been left high and dry by the twenty-first century. A Disneyfied mirage, hazy in the late-afternoon heat. Isn’t that a ‘Jack Wills’ nestling amongst the tea shops of Burnham Market?

***

Note: Definitions taken from en.oxforddictionaries.com

Julia Bennett is a sociologist who researches place and belonging


Spring In This Place – a poem by Will Burns

I choose the bee-flies for company today.
Sunlight on beech leaves,
cool sweat in the warm wood,
the blue flowers of the season.
Not numerology or some old painting
I think you might like.
Not a poem I hope you read for signs of life.
I fall hard for this place every day
the way we do for people we shouldn’t.

***

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As part of The People’s Forest project, the poet Will Burns is creating a series of new works inspired by Epping Forest. Over the year Burns is penning a collection of poems, one per season, in part reflecting on the unique nature of Epping intertwined with his own experience of the forest real and imagined – here we have had the pleasure and privilege to publish Will’s poem for spring.

Edgework Artist Profile #1: Layla Curtis

Newcastle Gateshead, 2005 by Layla Curtis

Newcastle Gateshead, 2005 by Layla Curtis

As part of our collaboration with Edgework an artist-led cross-disciplinary journal and store with an emphasis on place, we are running a series of monthly profiles of the artists here on Elsewhere. Where better to start than with Layla Curtis, founder of Edgework and previous contributor to our blog:

Layla Curtis’ practice has a focus on place, landscape and mapping and often examines the attempts we make to chart the earth, how we locate ourselves, navigate space and represent terrain. 

Polar Wandering, 2006 by Layla Curtis

Polar Wandering, 2006 by Layla Curtis

 Layla’s works include Trespass, an app for iphone which maps an oral history of a northern English edgeland and tempts the user to trespass in order to access the work (and which we featured here on the Elsewhere blog); Polar Wandering, a 27,856 mile long interactive online drawing charting her journey to Antarctica with the British Antarctic Survey, exhibited in solo shows at New Art Gallery Walsall, and Ormeau Baths Gallery, Belfast; and Tong Tana, a moving image work made while trekking with nomadic hunter-gathers in the Borneo Rainforest and exhibited at Matt's Gallery, London. 

 As well as featuring in international collections including the Tate Collection and Government Art Collection forthcoming projects and exhibitions include the collaged map The United Kingdom, currently on display in Ideas Depot at Tate Liverpool, UK (until 21 July).

Tong Tana production still, 2012.

Tong Tana production still, 2012.

A documentation of Trespass will also be included in the forthcoming exhibition This Land is Our Land at PAPER, Manchester, UK (curated by Edgework contributor, and PAPER curator Simon Woolham) from 29 June - 3 August 2019. Curtis is currently working on a series of new commissions for Tate shop to be launched later this year.

Layla Curtis on Edgework
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Instagram

Record Release: Outcrops, by Spaceship

Listened to by Paul Scraton:

Spaceship is Mark Williamson, a musician and sound artist based in West Yorkshire, and today marks the release of ‘Outcrops’, a site-specific, haunting and melodic album that is not only inspired by the landscapes of northern England but was recorded there. The sandstone outcrops can be found above the town of Todmorden, and the album was recorded in place, with Williamson taking his synth up into the rocks to create the pieces encased in small caves. Each of the tracks on the album is named for its location and incorporates field recordings and found sounds, and was also created to evoke a particular phase in the geological history of the outcrops – Orchan Rocks evokes the Ocean, Bride Stones the Glacier and so on. This story is also lyrically told in the sleeve notes, describing the rivers as they “surged from the uplands,” the “peaceful, aquatic interlude between the ever-shifting chaos,” and the ice as it “plucked and scraped and tore at the land…”  

Crossing the Pennine hills a few weeks ago it came to me once again that how we interpret a landscape, how it makes us feel, is tied to what we know about it – the stories we have heard and what we bring with us as we approach it. The same can be true of works of art. What we know of the author or the painter, the musician or the photographer can shape our interpretation of a work, whether we want it to or not. The knowledge of how it was created feeds into our experience. I sit at my desk in Berlin and listen to the Spaceship album and I can picture the sandstone outcrops and the fields beneath the moors as behind the melodies I’m sure I can hear the wind blow and the birds call. Are they there? I’m not sure. But I know one thing: the next time I cross the Pennine hills the tracks from this album will echo. I have added to my collection, the one that helps me understand a place. The hills will be different somehow. That’s the power of art, the power of music. The power of storytelling, in all its forms.

***

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‘Outcrops’ by Spaceship is available on 12” and download, and is released on 24 May 2019 by wiaiwya.


Mark Williamson on twitter
Spaceship on soundcloud



May Book of the Month: Minor Monuments by Ian Maleney

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Minor Monuments - Essays
by Ian Maleney
Published by
Tramp Press

Review: Marcel Krueger:

Ireland is not always the country of gentle hills, Atlantic ways or peat fires in pubs that German tourists in Goretex seek out. This is a country of shibboleths and tribalism, of bullets on wets streets, hunger strikes and bomb blasts. And for me these things are as apparent on the streets of Belfast and Dublin as they are out on the tourist coasts, as apparent along the Grand Canal as they are out in the Midlands. For me as an outsider who has lived over a decade on the island of Ireland now, there are few lines of text that describe my feelings for this country better than the last stanzas of Seamus Heaney's 'The Tollund Man':

Out here in Jutland
In the old man-killing parishes
I will feel lost,
Unhappy and at home.

Maybe it is no coincidence that on the first few pages of his essay collection 'Minor Monuments', Ian Maleney recalls his partner taking a picture of him overlooking the bog near his family home in Pollagh in County Offaly and adding the same lines of Heaney to that image: Maleney is aware of the same darkness.

Together with Emilie Pine's 'Note to Self' (also published by Tramp Press) and Sinead Gleeson's 'Constellations', Maleney's 'Monuments' forms the spearhead of a new wave of Irish essay writing. Where in the past fiction was the order of the day, these days a new wave of Irish writers is again concerned with navel-gazing in the best sense of Michel de Montaigne: of looking at places, the country and oneself without the added filter of fiction.

Maleney's book is a rare kind of thing, as it finely weaves together three-layers in his (essay) writing: it contains 12 essays, each aligned topically: 'Shelter','Machine Learning' and so; and at the same time charts the descent of Maleney's grandfather John Joe into Alzheimer's and death; and this is also a book about Maleney literally leaving the bog and the established community and family structures of his home place - and observing them from the outside.

The main setting throughout the book is the home of Nana and John Joe, especially the kitchen ('a room where you can really feel the night falling.'), and the overall rural environment of the family houses and the ever-present bog at the periphery. Maleney, who also edits and designs Fallow Media, one of the finest examples of new online publishing in Ireland, not only talks about the meaning of the bog as energy supply and source of income for the community (Bord na Móna, the Irish Peat Board, built a peat-operated power station here, and John Joe and many others worked in peat harvesting), but also as the wild living thing it is:

The boundaries between bog and farm seemed to break down entirely. Houses, sheds, and farmyards appeared out of nowhere, perched on the edge of the blackness beyond. It was as if they'd carved a little bit of calm out of the bog many years previous, and had spent all the time since being attacked and undermined by feral wilderness. Whatever civilising sense they had was porous and partial. Nothing grew straight. Every bush and tree was a mass of tangles and nothing man-made remained square for long. Fences and gates were crumbling, and the breeze block walls of tin-roofed sheds sagged into the soft ground at incongruous angles. The road itself was one long twist punctuated by jagged potholes. The leafless branches of the hardy roadside trees reached out towards us, desperate and lonely. This was Turraun.

Maleney also talks about the distance that the writer as an outsider writing about history has to the lived memory that keeps community and place together, from which he willingly removes himself, with the help of other artists. Seamus Heaney makes multiple appearances, as do Richard Skelton, Rebecca Solnit or Susan Sontag. But Maleney's writing is strongest when he approaches the slow disappearance of John Joe and tries to examine what Alzheimer's means for the human suffering from it and their family and carers, which he beautifully does in 'Pneumonia':

Often the sea is literally wide, but sometimes it is more ambiguous than miles plotted on a map. Sitting in the kitchen with John Joe, I was struck by the resonance between two different experiences of exile; the emigrant and the amnesiac. As the past grew more distant and foggy in his mind, gradually disappearing over some unrecoverable horizon, the songs became more important and more accurate too. They were a link with that past, that foreign country, even as they dramatised the experience of losing it. John Joe sang like a man whose boat was rapidly filling with water. He had a very wide ocean to cross, one he could not swim over.

The place where Maleney and I live these days is still a dangerous and dark island, one where murder, pollution and cronyism prevail. It is good that we have writers like Ian Maleney laying himself and the country. For a clear and honest look at the sensitivities of Ireland and its people there are few better books out there at the moment.       

***

Wherever possible we recommend that readers of Elsewhere buy their books from a bricks and mortar bookshop or direct from the publisher.

Marcel Krueger is the Books Editor of Elsewhere: A Journal of Place. His writing has been published in numerous places both online and in print, and he is the author of Babushka’s Journey: The Dark Road to Stalin’s Wartime Camps (I.B. Taurus, 2017) and the upcoming Iceland: A Literary Guide for Travellers (I.B. Taurus, 2020). You’ll find him on twitter here.

Five Questions for... Cosmo Sheldrake

Interview by Sara Bellini:

The first time I saw Cosmo Sheldrake performing I could detect an intriguing mix of musical influences and yet he sounded like nothing I had heard before. This singer-songwriter / composer / multi-instrumentalist from London makes music combining field recordings of endangered animals and his own vocal improvisations. Luckily he has the nice habit of telling his listeners the stories behind his songs, accompanied by music samples of the various musicians in his wildlife orchestra…  “and on the bass, the long-eared owl” or “this is what a healthy coral reef sounds like”.

Cosmo Sheldrake grew up in a creative environment between music and nature, has a background in anthropology and a body of work that includes composing music for Beckett’s plays and the soundtrack of the Netflix series Moving Art. His first solo record The much much how how and I was released in 2018, following the EP Pelicans We and the single The Moss. His current work about endangered bird species brought him to a collaboration with Extinction Rebellion last month in London, where he played a song made entirely of recordings of endangered British birds, streamed live on smartphones and portable speakers. At the beginning of May he released Owl Song and Dawn Chorus.

Cosmo Sheldrake is “really interested in capturing a sense of place in music” and in particular in making “ecological music, music that emerges from a particular place or ecosystem”, which made him a great choice for an Elsewhere interview. Here’s how he replied to our Five Questions…

What does home mean to you?

Hard to answer that concisely as it’s a big question. But I grew up in a house that I still spend a lot of time in and make music in. So, I have been lucky to put down roots in that place and have a real connection with it. So the simplest answer would probably be the place I grew up.

Which place do you have a special connection to?

I have a special connection with lots of places. But one that pops to mind is an island in British Columbia that I have gone to more or less every year since I was born. Feels like a second home. It very much feels like I have done a lot of my growing up there.

What is beyond your front door?

Well I live in Seven Sisters (North London), so a reasonably busy road. But outside the front door of my studio and the house I grew up in is Hampstead Heath. It’s the closest you can get to not being in London while being in London, a thousand acres of fairly wild land. Another place I have a very special connection to.

What place would you most like to visit?

Ooooh, so many! Just to pick the first one that popped into my mind, Colombia.  

What are you reading / watching / listening to / looking at right now? 

Right now, I have about six or seven books on the go. I am reading a book called Imagining Extinction by Ursula K. Heise. It’s about how people have responded to ideas around extinction, a sort of anthropology of extinction.

Another one in the pile is Air and Dreams: An Essay on the Imagination of Movement, by Gaston Bachelard. He is hard to really pigeonhole but I guess he is a kind of philosopher of poetry and much more. Another one I am racing through at the moment is a book called The Invention of Nature: The Adventures of Alexander von Humboldt, the Lost Hero of Science by Andrea Wulf. Which is a brilliant book about Alexander von Humboldt, who was an absolutely extraordinary man. A total visionary, the book is about how the idea of nature that we more or less take for granted is largely to do with his work and discoveries. He was in a sense one of the first ecologists (in a modern scientific sense).

I am also reading a book called Getting Started in Radio Astronomy, which I guess is fairly self-explanatory. I want to build my own antennae and start recording sounds of space.  Have a few more I am chewing through also. I find it impossible to read one book at once. One more that I am not reading at the moment but is a great book on the nature of place is a book called Wisdom Sits in Places: Language and Landscape Among the Western Apache by Keith Basso.

***

Find out more about Cosmo Sheldrake via his website and on twitter.

Sara Bellini is the online editor of Elsewhere: A Journal of Place. She lives in Berlin, the place she calls home at the moment.