One of the many things that music fans & musicians love about the interwebutron is its demoticism: any fool can stick a microphone out of their window, record the sounds, upload them to a website and, voila, they've made a field recording and have preserved a moment in time for ever.* Further, give that same recording a suitably opaque name such as Plangent Undertunes (Airport) IV, and yet another ambient album is placed before a horrified delighted world. It's as though everyone who loves sound for sound's sake is currently enjoying an electronic group hug.
Well, stuff all that. Let me show you a better class of field recording. The National Trust, a British charity that, since 1895, has preserved culturally and historically significant landscapes (pastoral and industrial), architecture and art - in short, some of the most beautiful bits and pieces of the sceptered isle - has released thirteen tracks recorded at some of its many lip-quiveringly gorgeous properties. The album is free but, alas, does not yet bear a Creative Commons licence. The sounds are timeless, though if you listen to the tracks while studying a photo of the relevant property it's easy to imagine that you are raising an ear-trumpet to another age.
To be even more galumphing than usual, it tickles me that a charity that has preserved many an estate and art collection owned formerly by the aristocracy, gentry and other beneficiaries of privilege and unbridled capitalism should decide to release a completely free album and ask Jarvis Cocker, former frontman of Pulp (best known for the song Common People) to produce it. Not only is it a spankingly good idea (as is the NT itself), it's also deliciously moreish of them.
*brushes crumpet crumbs from smoking jacket lapel*
By giving you a rundown of the track titles I will endeavour to impress upon you that Mr Cocker, the Paris-residing scamp that he is, has done Britain proud by producing a baker's dozen of field recordings that will float up your ear canal like a sugar-coated barge. Please keep up with the tour guide and don't let your children duck under the ropes: Walking on Gravel & Birds (though not literally, one hopes), Birdsong, Waves Lapping Along The Shore, Footsteps Through The House, Creaking Staircase, The Billiards Room, Death by Chainsaw & Acid-Bath, Old Music Box, Murmurs of Children in School House, Birds in Water Garden, Gardening, Strap Press, Clocks Ticking & Chiming and Clock Tower. One of those titles might not actually exist. The rest, however, luxuriate in a warm and spacious mix and remind me that this planet is a wondrous instrument that plays the music of the spheres.
To illustrate, allow me to transport you, Dr Who-like, to County Antrim in Northern Ireland, where the workings of Patterson's Spade Mill fade away to be replaced by the timepieces of Blickling Hall in Norfolk:
Or enjoy a walk around a country estate and pretend that you are Elizabeth Bennett/Charles Ryder/the taxman:Belton House - Walking on Gravel & Birds
Actually, this review is misleading. There is some music on Time To Think:Lanhydrock - Old Music Box
Charming, isn't it? Which reminds me, I must thank the very nice people at the NT's press office (I have a vision of an iPad with a gingham border and tassels) who responded to my whinge about the postage stamp-sized image that comes with Time To Think by sending me the man-sized photo that adorns this review. Unfortunately, I'm given them a headache by also asking if the NT could slap a CC licence on it PDQ or, at the very least, ASAP. Yes, TTT is free - and a glorious gesture it is, too - but it is also at the mercy of everyone on the internet and so will be chopped up and used/remixed by webheads without delay. A CC licence would legitimise and encourage such use, and help to publicise the National Trust's ethos around the world. After all, the National Trust isn't just for Brits scuttling to stately tea-rooms to avoid the rain; it's for everyone for all time. They've got to shift those souvenir tea-towels somehow.
If you're feeling charitable, please make the charity feel better by sending a "thank you" email, and/or a donation, and/or become a member or do all three and ask if there's honey still for tea.
*or until a solar flare fries the planet. Sleep well.