Thoughts on an Unidentified Landscape

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

As a child walking in this rugged landscape promoted exploration and wellbeing. The extreme terrain gives rise to an outside world where I feel a strong sense of calm and connectivity. During my adolescent I darted across the moorlands of Lancashire as part of the Northern rave scene. Setting up sound systems in and around Blackburn in the early 90’s. Bringing together people from different locations with similar ideologies. Today 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 can now transmit live electronic sounds directly into these remote spaces. Gathering and collecting data are artificial reminders of our immersive experiences in nature. My audio-visual work explores a dualism between nature and human phenomena encountered in the landscape. For example, Lamaload (2016) a piece for eight screens and loudspeakers, turns a concrete dam wall into a conduit for sound reflected off its concave surface. Hidden Forest (2018) examines the use of technology in representing ecological concerns filmed in and around Macclesfield Forest, UK.

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

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

When on top of the fells we become 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 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 here in the half-light that strange tales and sightings are exchanged that defy logical explanation. The headlights of motor vehicles scan the contours revealing shadows of protruding outposts. The sound of a car engine are transformed by the acoustic properties of the natural landscape Reflections of light from car headlights caress rocky outcrops, momentarily exposing surreal shapes. The diffusion of sound and light in the landscape creates imaginary and unrecognizable forms. Imaginary giant faces and body parts are contained in a moiré field of shifting light creating a mesmerizing sheen of 3 dimensional qualities. Up in the sky airplanes create light patterns often with no sense of vertical and horizontal direction. As light phenomena diffuses it confuses a distant viewer. Often these strange ‘lights in the sky’ appear when 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 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. The Martian Tin Can music project extends the sci-fi concept further using music. With the 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 to purchase 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