the Wire: Adventures in Modern Music, 361, March 2014 issue.

The Hebrides Suite

Cathy Lane

With this album, released in the Soundscape Series by Gruenrekorder, Cathy Lane declares her longstanding love affair with the Outer Hebrides. She does so without simplifying phonography into the trope of the solitary wanderer, microphone in hand  staring at the might and magnitude of nature while remaining apart. To the contrary, while there is space in all 6 tracks to be alone with nature, this nature is not at a distance but inhabited and lived: raw and harsh rhythms of weather meet those of language and bodies to produce memories in the present, spun from the pulse of life, death and the struggle for survival. No more so than in Tweed, where the body of the listener is drawn into the rhythm of work and voices, and the textures of tweed are spun from the sound of their own manufacture. This track also featured in a recent crafts council exhibition that toured between Scotland and the South East of England, a context that amplified the connection between the rhythm of work and the rhythm of music largely lost in a post industrial society and abandoned in the cerebral processes of electroacoustic composition.  My favourite track, Where Once Were Whales, creates a powerful juncture between the actual location and its musical construction. Voices from the oral history archive and those recorded by Lane talk about fishing and seafood, narrating the place through lost traditions and current customs, while compositional strategies play and expand those voices as sounds into the acoustic environment. This composed soundscape represents not a geographical actuality but invites an individual imagination triggered by clicks, ticks and waves of water that reverberate with and through the words to share a rhythm and distort into the clatter of the sea. Lane’s precise digital processing of environmental sounds and voices does not overpower the recordings but shapes them beyond the phonographic field into a composition that is at once document and site of production: generating facts and music that invent rather than confirm their origin and discipline. The electronic manipulations respond to the recordings, garnering their tonalities and augmenting their rhythms, rather than embellishing them. The delicate reverberations and punctuations answer the material rather than the conventions of music and question the possibility to translate the original field by allowing us to hear the authenticity of her particular rendition.

Lane first visited the Hebrides in the late 70s, with this current album she leads the way towards a new relationship between field recording and electroacoustic composition, inadvertently critiquing the "just stick your microphone into the field" approach while also unpacking an electroacoustic vocabulary.