Simon Scott - Below Sea Level [12K - 2012]The flat rural landscape of the Fens of the East of England is the focus for this third release from Simon Scott. Being "cartographically below mean sea level", as the release's accompanying notes indicate, the area was originally a vast marshland that has been drained for hundreds of years to make way for agriculture.
It was an area that Scott visited as a child, before spending his early twenties drumming for indie-pop band Slowdive. Now, he has largely left rhythmic concerns behind and, instead, focusses on electro-acoustic composition, bringing together natural sounds with computer-affected tones and textures. For 'Below Sea Level', a work two years in the making, this involved gathering recordings of his chosen place, digitally processing and blending them with other, often more musical sounds, and then playing the results back through portable speakers in the open air of the Fenland. It is this recording of the outdoor 'performance' of seven pieces that is finally presented across the disk.
It opens with birdsong, chirruping insects and a light wind on which a sleepy guitar floats, taking time to awaken into a tender dawn. The plucked, musical tones have an iridescent quality as they lazily greet the morning before becoming overshadowed by a more machine-like drone.
A fizzing synth mimics insect-life on the second piece, which introduces a sense of the wetlands with gentle watery splashes and ripples as the shimmering guitar returns, this time creating a circular pool of shining tones. It maintains the wistful sense of the first track, not quite haunting, but suggesting a survey of the elusive realms of memory.
This sense of the past threads through 'Below Sea Level' to remind of the qualities of Super 8 footage, once the only affordable means of taking home videoes to capture treasured memories. The lightly mournful mode provokes scenes on a bleak beach of children exploring and playing while wearing yesteryear's fashions, all rendered with charmingly over-saturated colours typical of the medium.
By keeping to largely the same pool of sounds throughout, particularly given the predominance of the shiny guitar trails that lead the listener through the field recordings, 'Below Sea Level' can be taken as a single, highly evocative, hypnagogic piece presented in seven chapters. But instead of, say, describing a day with different moods for morning, night and inbetween, it often feels stuck at daybreak - throughout the guitar continues to wipe dust out its eyes, the pastoral backdrop lightly encouraging but never demanding the day to start.
The penultimate piece attempts to raise us from this prone position in the field, bringing clouds of distorted computer tones portending rain. But it's back to the classically beautiful, bucolic scenery of water, wind and wistful guitar for the closing piece. While both the process and results are fascinating upon a first listen, the single emotive track we're taken on through Scott's memories of the Fens lacks the contrasts for subsequent focussed listenings. However, if taken as a work to place in your background your environment will no doubt improve: 'Below Sea Level' has a therapeutic, calming effect, borrowing the leisurely qualities of the natural environment.Russell Cuzner