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  • Matthew Shenton

Listening to the Landscape 2

Updated: Nov 21, 2023

Early on in my research I became obsessed with the poetry of Suffolk's rural language and started to weave this into my sound work. I loved that some of the words and phrases I discovered are long forgotten and that their derivation and accuracy continue to be disputed. They provide inspiration through their beauty and power and by how they represent the fragility of rural language and rural life.

The names of villages, roads and physical features are of great interest, and I often use old maps to find areas of Suffolk that no longer exist due to coastal erosion. Both Slaughden and Polleshead have been obliterated from existence, which allowed me to explore what and reimagine what their sonic essence might sound like.

old map of Dunwich, Suffolk UK

On my travels for work I came across fantastical place names such as Frostenden (which etymologically speaking means valley of the frogs) or that evoke feelings of wonder (Johnny All Alone creek). My album The Drift is named after the lane between my parish and the next where plague victims were buried (in my mind making them true, unwanted border people). Some track titles are the misremembered names of local fields (see this blog post).

Self-released in 2021, Hume took its inspiration from archaic words used in rural communities across Suffolk. The album was a hymn to local dialects and to the many ways that the rural and industrial are forced to meet in Suffolk. When naming the ten compositions it was probably an even split between giving a finished piece a title that seemed to fit and choosing a word and creating a work inspired by that word.

And who could fail to be inspired by agricultural words such as Brawtch (a specific thatching term for the twig used to affix the straw) or meteorological terms such as Capper (being a crust formed on soil by evaporated rain) or Dinjin (showery weather).

section of dictionary defining the word Gambrel

What I found most interesting was the words people used to describe themselves and each other such as Jobanowl (a thick-headed fellow), Maandren (a tetchy child) or Galkabaw (an uncouth term a young lady used to describe herself, being literally a girl-cow-boy).

I find the most satisfying composition on the album is where I explore my emotional response to how industrial soundscapes and the rural landscape intersect. Mire-Drum was named after a term for the bittern (whose boom can still be heard at RSPB Minsmere) and recreated how I once experienced industrial sounds from Harwich docks floating across the river to where I was stood in ancient woodland at Shotley Gate.

I believe that the words and language of rural Suffolk will continue to provide inspiration for my work. Most have fallen out of use. Many refer to archaic farming methods that are no longer practiced. But all can been seen as as further evidence of how the localised history of working class life remains overlooked by much of the population.

The rural landscape (or countryside) forms a major component of the English psyche, and has been exploited by generations of landowners for their own means. The richness of rural working class life demands to be remembered.


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