Hi, I am Andy & I’d like to talk about Open Country and their show #OutThereTogether. Why? Because it is genius, that is why – but, first I have to state a case for it. I admit I am biased when it comes to ‘this sort of thing’ because I do ‘this sort of thing’ as a hobby. Yes, I stand in fields and woodlands to record the Dawn Chorus. The show in question broadcasts on Harrogate Community Radio every Sunday at 2pm.
The act of recording the natural world, the countryside and the animals that inhabit it is called “Field Recording.” Field Recording is a form of Slow Media. I am a massive fan of Slow Media. But where the hell did Slow Media start?
Field recording (the act of recording the natural environment) can trace its roots back to ethno-musicology. As soon as there were portable recording devices, people were in unmapped Borneo and up the Amazon looking for elusive nose-flute playing locals. Then there were also the folk who recorded the the natural world. And, that is where Open Country and #OutThereTogether come in.
See, in 2009, Norwegian television screened a seven-hour film of an unedited train journey from Bergen to Oslo. The programme had its roots in experimental art such as Andy Warhol’s 1963 work Sleep, a five-hour film of a poet sleeping, but by taking “slow media” to small-screen audiences, the Norwegian train journey paved the way for “slow TV”, a new genre intended to offer a break from the relentless pace dictated by much of digital life.
In 2015, the brilliant BBC Four Goes Slow series included a real-time “portrait of the making of a simple glass jug” and an uninterrupted two-hour boat journey down the Kennet and Avon canal. Later that year, the channel paid tribute to slow media’s Scandi roots with a broadcast of a reindeer sleigh ride across the Norwegian wilderness.
While television pioneered the genre, it is in radio and podcasts where the slow media movement has really gathered momentum. One of the most notable recent examples is Walking, a podcast in which the American writer Jon Mooallem steps out into the woods near his home, on Bainbridge Island near Seattle, with an audio recorder wrapped in a sock. Listeners hear the crunch of gravel, the creaking of gates and twigs snapping underfoot, but Mooallem himself stays largely silent. Naming the podcasts one of its best of 2019, New York Magazine said: “The sheer banality of the recordings both clears and focuses the mind.”
While sounds of nature make an obvious choice for slow radio (a la #OutThereTogether), Davey says soundscapes imbued with the hum of human activity resonate just as much with audiences. In one episode, a correspondent takes a walk across Tokyo to capture the sounds of gaming arcades and a baseball batting range. In downtown Nashville, motorbike engines roar as listeners catch muffled snatches of street-side conversations and the sounds of Dolly Parton drifting from bars.
Slow media producers are largely absent from their creations, but some of the most beautiful moments occur on #OutThereTogether when Tom breaks his silence. The thing I’ve found really moving is the sense of the person holding the microphone. Hearing someone moving through a landscape, or opening their window. A lack of narrative leaves listeners free to choose their own meaning. Some may tune in for a sense of solitude. For me, it feels more to me like standing with someone. Cheers Tom & Open Country.