Below Sea Level is the first 12k release from seasoned musician and electronic sound artist Simon Scott. The inspiration behind Below Sea Level, including its music, title, artwork and photography (see accompanying journal) originally derives from Scott’s desire to musically explore the desolate and controversial environment of the Fens in East Anglia, UK. The memories Scott has of visiting this area as a child makes this a poignant and highly personal project that explores nostalgic familiarity with a desire to capture the musicality of the landscape. For two years Scott ventured into this former wetland with hydrophones and self-built recording devices to explore the land that is cartographically below mean sea level, trace the devastating history of this environment caused by the drainage of the land, and arrange it into conceptual musical and visual project.
Scott has, in the main, eschewed the guitar backbone of his previous releases, preferring instead to capture the timbres and textures of the landscape to form the basis for the seven tracks. His signature reverberated guitar does still surface, the beginning of the album begins with sparse finger picking reminiscent of Laughing Stock-era Talk Talk, but it only adds brief flickers of colour to the central field recordings throughout the album.
Below Sea Level explores the aesthetics of active listening and, via a self-built MaxMSP patch, digitally disects the natural and man-made recordings Scott discovered within the Fens. The juxtaposing of analogue and digital timbres and textures, the man-made and natural world sounds, create epic interwoven soundscapes that blend the recognizable (eg.: birdsong) with undistinguishable sounds, sometimes confusing what is natural and synthetic. Scott presents an abstraction of a place that is arranged and manipulated for aural contemplation outside of the Fens (in alien environments) where the music collaborates with each unique listening environment. For the final stage of Scott’s process he played the mixed songs out of portable speakers and re-recorded them in the wide open spaces and natural ambiences of the Fens to capture the collaborative nature of Below Sea Level. Having these field-recorded sounds; the crows, the passing trains and tractors, recorded in real time with the mixes rather than multi-tracked in the studio provides a strong sense of place and immediacy. The enviornment breathes around the songs in a very natural and uncertain way.
The aforementioned journal is a limited-pressing 80-page-color, small (13X20cm), hardcover book that includes Scott’s essay entitled An Exploration of the Subterranean Fenland Environment, many pages of hand-written notes and sketches and a section of photography from the area. This book will be available on its own with a download code for the album as well as bundled with the CD. It is a beautiful and essential look at the process and thoughts behind Scott’s passionate and in-depth work on this subject.