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  • Matthew Shenton

Listening to the Landscape 1

Updated: Nov 21, 2023

A black and white image of a map of Holbrook Bay

When I relocated to Suffolk in 2015 I became fascinated by how its muddy estuaries, nuclear power stations, industrial scale farming and villages slipping into the sea all coexist. And then by how rural isolation feeds into the psyche of its inhabitants, my place within the community as an outsider and by how other artists have responded to the landscape.

In an effort to appreciate how Suffolk has shaped and inspired artists I absorbed M.R. James, Adrian Bell and Ronald Blythe, along with local walking blogs and parish pamphlets. I would look up Suffolk in the index of any book I picked up. I searched for any hint of a radicalism or non-conformism in Suffolk. Slowly, I learned to look beyond the haywain and to consider the faceless workers toiling in the fields behind.

I discovered Laura Cannell's over-bowed violins recorded in marshland churches, Loula Yorke's paean to the Deben and Brian Eno reimagining his childhood haunts. Then there was Mark Fisher and Justin Barton eulogising the literary power of the East coast, Stuart Bowditch and Ruth Philo celebrating the Stour and Mawhrin Skell bringing hidden zones of the Alde to life. And always Mira Calix: a quiet champion of Suffolk and of how it can inspire a complex artistic response.

Something stirred inside me during this research and ideas formed. I walked the land, collected items and listened. I learned to stop looking for majestic awe and instead to revel in the wonder of the unknown. I became obsessed by capturing the essence of the landscape: even if I wasn't absolutely sure what that meant. Out of this, 'there are no birds here' was born in 2019.

Since its conception the 'tanbh' project has evolved quite organically, but recently I have started to pull some of the strands together in an effort to kick on and secure some funding to widen its scope. To this end, Listening to the Landscape will be a series of blog posts about my land/sound scape work in the hope of constructing a coherent narrative of my practice. I am going to look at location, language, technique, inspiration, etc and hope to post regularly about these topics.

As a starting point, I have begun to map the locations of my soundwork. The google map below reveals where field recording locations have been made (before being manipulated for compositions), how place names have provided track titles and where photographs were taken for artwork. There are links to compositions where appropriate. Feel free to have a dig around.


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