Thoughts on an Unidentified Landscape

The landscape of the West Pennines has a significant influence on art and music.

As a child, walking in this rugged landscape promoted exploration and wellbeing. The extreme terrain gives rise to another world where I feel a strong sense of calm and connectivity. As an adolescent, I darted across the moorlands of Lancashire as part of the Northern rave scene. Setting up sound systems in Blackburn in the early 90’s. Bringing people together from different locations with similar ideologies. Recently, the landscape provides a rich plethora of field recordings gathered from hidden forests and dam walls. Emerging technologies, assist to reimagine and reconnect spaces in ways never thought possible. Mobile devices now transmit live electronic sounds directly into spaces. We gather and collect data as permanent reminders of our immersive experiences of nature. My audio-visual work explores natural and human phenomena encountered in this landscape. For example, Lamaload (2016) a piece for eight screens and loudspeakers, turns a concrete dam wall into a conduit for sounds reflected off its concave structure. Hidden Forest (2018) examines the use of technology in representing ecological concerns filmed around Macclesfield Forest.

The moorland of the West Pennines gives rise to a higher view point of the industrial North. As we observe, human interference is all too evident, the landscape is marked by the extraction of resources and extinct dwellings. Disused quarries, strange follies and forgotten industries are now backdrops for imaginary forays. Postindustrial remnants left by our predecessors are scattered across the land, etched into its surface; an imaginary world.

It’s a landscape of extremes that draws on the senses to promote mythology and strange tales. The sense of scale and depth of the space expands in all directions. Walking through the landscape is fantastic experience to be fully immersed in the environment. Your eyes are drawn to a shifting horizon line as the land undulates. Feelings of excitement are mixed with apprehension to see what lies over the next hill top. The freedom to roam along the paths, of not exactly knowing where one is going, the sense of being lost lies in stark contrast to technological urban life.

On the top of the fells we become very acutely aware of the weather. The unhindered wind speeds across the expanse producing exotic tones, eerie voices and rattling sounds. The rain, often horizontal creates a shroud, adding more mystery and intrigue.

When night falls, darkness reveals sparkling lights from a distant metropolis. The construction of angular high rises blocks divert light and weather patterns. Creating micro climates that strike us suddenly and with surprise. As the electric lights and the hum of the city recede we arrive to the edge of the West Pennines moorland. It’s in this half-light that strange tales and sightings are exchanged locally that defy logical explanation. The headlights of motor vehicles scan contours revealing shadows of protruding outposts. The sounds of an unknown driver are transformed by varying natural occurring acoustics. Reflections of light caress rocky outcrops, momentarily exposing surreal shapes. The diffusion of sound and light in the landscape creates imaginary and unrecognizable forms. A giant face, or a body parts contained in a moiré field of shifting light create a mesmerizing sheen of 3 dimensional qualities. Up in the sky airplanes create mesmerizing light patterns with no sense of direction. As light phenomena diffuses it can confuse a distant viewer. Often strange ‘lights in the sky’ appear when a light emitting phenomenon is malfunctioning or behaving in a peculiar way. Sometimes, the lights seem to hover, suspended in the sky. Are we bearing witness to alien craft that question the laws of perception?

A deconstruction of metaphysics occurs when things become more real due to being constantly present. The landscape and its mythology provides an imaginary backdrop for all of us to share.

Recently, I have been recording fictional stories inspired by unidentified phenomena seen in the area using modular synthesizers to produce radio drama affects for a mixcloud radio show called Transmission from the Tin Can. Curated by myself and DJ Colin Laird featuring music of jazz, funk and electronica.

Giving rise to the rebirth the Martian Tin Can music project that extends the sci-fi concept further using music. With inclusion of Matt Smith (State Of Art Studio, Bristol) we create original compositions using retro-electronic devices and recordings of witness statements from people believed to have been abducted by alien life forms.

MTCLP1 is the first album from Martian Tin Can and is now available on Bandcamp.

The electronic music of sci-fi film genre gave birth to alien life forms that exist in our imaginations far beyond the surface of the screen. The unearthly roar of twisted electronic waveforms, pulses and screeching feedback of the 1950’s was filtered into tape compositions giving a voice to creatures from other realms.


Text by Mark Pilkington

copyright 2023