The Fens, a naturally marshy region in eastern England, has been a rich source of inspiration for musician Simon Scott for a number of years now. Over the course of three albums, from 2012’s “Below Sea Level”, through last year’s “Insomni”, to the recently released “Floodlines”, it’s possible to hear how his relationship to the Fens is constantly changing, reflecting both personal circumstances and his deepening understanding of these complex watery landscapes. Yet however integral the Fens may be to Scott’s musical project, they nonetheless retain a ‘personality’ all of their own, a sonic and material existence that stands apart from the form and expression of the music.
In “Insomni”, the Fens are heard only fleetingly, as receptacles into which the tumult of the previous night’s sleepless thoughts are emptied. “Floodlines” can be heard as the turning inside out of this balance: melody and virtuosity take a back seat, and the outside world becomes the focus of attention. Everywhere water gushes; rattles and chirps imply a richly diverse ecosystem; hydrophones transmit the gurgle and click from the deep. This isn’t an album of unmediated field recordings, however. Composed sounds, such as a narrowband buzzing that builds into a crescendo, a steady droning chord, and pitched tones and chimes heard over a driving bass oscillation add additional tightly-woven layers to this intricate sonic sphere.
Despite the weight and density of these interventions, their confounding of what I’d normally expect to hear from an outdoor field recording, it’s often very difficult to tell which sounds come from the environment and which were composed. Like the Fens themselves, which despite appearing entirely natural are the product of centuries of drainage and other landscaping efforts, “Floodlines” blurs the distinction between the human and the non-human, the listener and the listened-to. Instead of using the Fens to provide context to his own thoughts and emotions, it’s as if Scott was trying to harmonise the composed sounds with the found ones, to make his thrums and drones sing in tune with the landscape, whether that means echoing the serenity of the Fens or their chaos and unpredictability.
All of this mirroring serves to demonstrate an affect: it’s possible to lose yourself in the act of listening, to become all ears, to lose sight of the line between environmental and composed or processed sound, between Scott’s listening and yours. This speaks of the inherent shareability or communicability of sounds: they exist between us, part of the milieu that connects us. “Floodlines” offers a way to hear this milieu differently, to come across an environment and all its life, humans included, from a fascinating new angle. Through listening, Scott comes to know the Fens, and we come to know his knowing, albeit mediated and transformed.