A tranquil walk out in the country is good for you. It isn’t just great physical exercise – it can brighten your day when it had previously been in rapid decline, and whether rain or shine it can boost your well-being. It can act as a refuge for the mind and provide therapeutic relief. Music is naturally therapeutic – a recent study by a team of American researchers found that, when faced with the prospect of cancer treatment, teenagers and young adults coped better where music therapy was provided. It is a natural healer.
Frequently turbulent thoughts find themselves displaced and then destroyed in the light of the sunshine and the finely tuned call of birdsong. Take the first steps off the porch, head outside for some real ambient drifting and put ‘Sun Showers’ in your mp3 player and the result will be a mind of clarity and a reflective heart tuned to nature. While exercising, the heartbeat starts to pump faster, but the resting rate slows down as a result of the workout. Likewise, by the end of Matthew Barlow’s serene walk your heartbeat has not only dropped but plummeted until it reaches the point where it can barely be felt. Sometimes, you can hardly hear it at all. The many birds and their different songs are captured in hushed field recordings, and their calls cry out of the forest. It is a natural landscape, but the acoustic guitar shares this place and calls it home. Breathe in the fresh air, don those headphones and you will taste the scent of burning wood in the air. The scuttling of creatures in the undergrowth and the dusty light through the branches provide real ambient imagery, and Matthew Barlow’s music is just as vivid, with photographic notes and painted tones that love the light. A paper-thin drone settles into place beside the birdsong, and the natural harmonics chime just as sweetly as the vocal birds.
Tall trees kindly allow the light of the sun to enter, parting their branches just enough to let the light shine warmth onto the land, touching the soil. The sanctuary opens up on ‘Sun Showers’, a sprawling 15 minutes of warm, dreamy texture that leads towards ambient bliss. The pirouette of the wind chime and its metallic glint in the full face of the sun can be both seen and heard, and is sublime natural music. Its light percussive flavour, taken from a jazz sample, streams across the sky like a peach-pink sunset, settling down in the late afternoon light before the early evening comes to steal it away.
‘Halflight’, with its meandering piano and downfall of rain, is another lovely piece of music, filtering the last of the vanilla light through to the leaves and dappling them with the faded pearl of raindrops. The real respite comes in the shape of the coda, ‘Breathing Space’. In this calming state, all of your worries and daily anxieties fall by the wayside in what is a thoroughly chilled space. Birdsong seems to echo out of the canyons of wet reverb, reaching out from what sounds like a thousand miles away. Pools of water glisten beside the smooth rocks and soft pebbles that are left as walkways for the acoustic guitar, snaking its way over the running river. Harmonics ring out, jumping from one chiming note to the next as if they were stepping stones. The position of the sun is your guide, giving you the safe, reliable direction you’ll need to take in order to find your way back home. In some ways, it feels like you’re already home – the warmth on the back of your neck is just as comforting, if not more so, than the pillow-soft bed sheets and indoor radiators. And the eyes closed moments indicate that it’s a very enjoyable experience.
‘Sun Showers’ is a hushed listen that reflects the stunned stillness of nature. Now breathe out.