My aim with The Eye is to shine a light on music, film and literature that deals with landscape in a multitude of ways.
The space below will be taken up by images from a series of landscape poems, which I plan to release as home-made booklets in the near future.
‘This Guy’s in Love With You’
Silver trains, fizzing, washer, “the heart’s racing, I need your love”, cosy home, male brass, breathing, tight, wide, break, relief, organ high.
Propulsion, spittle on foam, wide open space, running gaps close, “crushed glass” emptiness, bass drum pulse, thump, “in between the islands where we used to swim”, secret meeting place, bleak memory, worlds imagined, clack, throng, tuba, cymbals, beauty, white and black, clean landscape.
‘The Light in Your Name’
60s ballad, odd, chords writhe, twisting, back-up, a body as one, hold, practise and repeat, here they come, joined and thickened, agreement relief, “light that’s blinding”, buzz over city, over motorway, roundabout, walkways, bridges, cut together, hidden in shadows, bubble out and over, voice as bass, life string, now it begins, fear, tension, synchronicity.
‘V (Island Song)’
“Lonely island, there are no places or people”, pattering keys, “magic trick in the woods”, tease, disjointed, from the trees, reeds voice, low gravel, clean power, “not the seeker, not the found”, thwack, glimmering, metallic, splashed static, urgency story, chinks, “not the questions, not the answers”, mystery evermore, alien haunting, meditation bell, cleans the air, cold, fog rolls in, dew on grass, riverside, tall, white figures, stoney, silent, austere, sound alarm, creatures scurry forth, beautiful ride, die down, fade away, whisper to sleep.
Majesty, bold and brave, beast, takes on new voices, exorcism, song of disintegration, waves of sound, continents shift, dimensional, children, terror, all say their piece, breadcrumbs, bowed and aching groan, wait, “watch the fireworks from the beach”, lone clarinet, story to sing, meek and innocent, now friendly, conversation, lyrical quest, quiet strength, sleep.
Here we go, spiralling magnetism, woody, propulsive, thick, warm, in your arms, background, distance, being followed, knights among the trees, thunder in, relief, catharsis, questions, in the plain, alone, at night, gather around, a force, away, stragglers, tired determination, thunder and rain hits the ground, canopies, keep pushing on, sweet ring, playing.
Waves, mourning, seagulls, generator, fishermen, glides over the shoreline, high line, currents of air, no anchor for voice, then clean, pure melody, investigate, find the source, toying, answers underneath, through history, prism of thought, grandfather, carried forward, distant lives suddenly close, if I speak to you, real or unreal, realities touching, face-to-face, float away, death pulls, honey, close, yearning.
“These are all words lost in dreams, travelling the speed blood pumps, I feel your breath that carries my hope, in the way ships pass at night.”
‘Field of Reeds’
Drift in, choral voices, doomed, feelings, the end is coming, ghosts rise and enter the room, announcement, curious, vitality, new life and old, atmosphere full, quivering, bulging, and calm, over the sea again, fresh spray, relief, ending, home, colour, robes, worship, away.
This is the third in a series of recordings captured at locations around Sheffield.
Arcadia explores the conflict, politics, and inherent mystery that lie at the heart of the British landscape. It begins with a tense introduction from Wright, who sets the scene for a kaleidoscopic, often overwhelming, hour-and-a-half montage of archive images. His fairy-tale of a troubled maiden and her quest for the ‘truth in the soil’ sets the stage perfectly for a grand inquisition, yet we leave the cinema with a head full of loose threads and suggestions, rather than solid answers.
Our timeline begins in the post-war period, with black-and-white footage of shire horses and working farms painting a bucolic vision of village life. An unnamed narrator speaks of England as a “country that, for many centuries, has enjoyed a special fame”. Almost instantly, this ideal distorts. William Blake’s Jerusalem is whispered by a young female voice like a private prayer, taking on a tone of quiet horror as the camera scans across rugged, wild moorland.
I am reminded of Robert Macfarlane’s description of ghost story writer M.R. James: “He repeatedly invokes the pastoral – that green dream of natural tranquillity and social order – only to traumatise it.” Wright’s film may go further; the fragmented narrative suggests that our centuries-old search for the spirit of Eden on home turf is the very catalyst for our digging up its disturbing opposite. A key trope of the film reinforces this reading – a booming, insistent drumbeat prompts previous clips to flash back across the screen, as our journey onward is stalked by the dark spectres of history. Whenever a rose-tinted view of the countryside threatens to dominate, we are dragged back into the mire.
The film is split into thematic chapters. Into the Wild nudges us briefly into colour, with synthesized music forcing us sideways and “deep into the land [where there] comes another truth… a hidden past, a secret history.” Stone circles and monuments, some guarded awkwardly by hard-hatted policemen, drift into view. Alice in Wonderland, in its numerous incarnations, sits alongside footage of naturist colonies and hands sinking into the soil, presenting a bizarre and intoxicating juxtaposition.
Folk explores ancient mythology, with pagan ritual assuming a focal point. Silver birches, golden fields, bale-tossing, maypole dancing, the chalk horse in a hillside at Uffington, a flock of starlings, the 60s drugs revolution, the spiritual connection between hippies and ravers. To his credit, Wright likes to show, rather than tell. With an emphasis on the weird – hand-painted lanterns and a highly charged bonfire night – we are left to unpick meaning from a disorientating vantage point.
Most obviously, we are encouraged to challenge our connection to the earth, as well as each other. Arcadia appears critical of the mass migration from farm to city that capitalist ideology demanded. We witness scenes of both economic progress and environmental destruction: the widespread private ownership of land, tree-felling, crop-spraying, landfill sites, the quiet spread of pollution, the wipe-out of natural terrain to make way for urban infrastructure. We absorb these images and recognises their effect – a loss of community, alienation from the land, and the troubling, enduring link between the two.
Towards the end of the film, we take a detour towards issues of class. We witness tribalism of two distinct types: on the one-hand, that of the upper classes in their shooting, fox hunting, and fancy-dress; on the other, the working classes’ gambling, boxing and street brawls. In a Dark Wood pushes this angle further, highlighting the history of resistance ingrained in our national psyche, skirting over the punk and mod movements, cultish festivals, riots and violent protest.
Finally, the thread loops back on itself. We are left to observe monochrome footage of roots calmly exploring the soil, just as we did when the journey began. An arresting image from David Gladwell’s Requiem for a Village (1975) is stitched into the tapestry, of stiff bodies clambering out of their flower-dressed graves to greet the present day. This conflict between beauty and brutality is central to the film. For Wright, the landscape is an amorphous character through which to study our national identity, a task that’s fascinating and dizzying in equal measure.
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