I’m employed as a copywriter, but when it comes to self-expression, I’ve often felt limited by words. To me, sound is the most resonant and evocative medium for conveying emotion, place and time. Whenever I want to connect with someone new – or reconnect with someone who has fallen out of my loop – I make them a mixtape. These are presented as a single hour-long track on a CD (or mp3 file) which consists of music, field recordings, speech and segues arranged to suit the tastes and character of the person in question. Eventually I felt I should challenge myself and try to use this format to connect with strangers, and to enhance my appreciation of my own life and environment.
I live next to the Blean Woods Nature Reserve and I spend a great deal of my time walking through them. Years after I arrived, and throughout every season, I still find unexpected beauty and awe in this place. I also very rarely see other people, even though I know there must have been thousands of others who have walked through here. I decided to make 7 mixtapes, each one themed around a different aspect of the forest. When a new one was completed, I would make 7 copies and hide them in 7 different locations in anonymous waterproof parcels for people to find. The challenge was to connect with someone based on one seemingly tenuous connection: both they and I are two people who have been to Blean Woods. That should, hopefully, be enough.
Life can be very grey. It’s hard to be surprised by anything in the internet age – it’s both overstimulating and underwhelming. Everything from news to music to sex feels instant, ephemeral and disposable. It seems to barely exist, and yet we are constantly being shaken by it. The Blean Forest Tapes are my attempt to evoke and encourage a slower world – the world I find in the woods, where we don’t have to shout above the noise.
The project spanned from August 2018 to October 2019. To be honest, I was very reluctant to stop. Doing this has allowed me to grow as a person, to become more confident in myself, and to fall deeper in love with music, the woods and the world. It’s also been a method of confronting, understanding and exorcising the grief and anxiety which can incapacitate me. I hope they bring you some joy.
The project is now complete and you can find every tape listed below. They’re for you.
I hope you’re ok.
- Tape #1: Anybody there?
- Tape #2: Fading Autumn glow
- Tape #3: A harsh Winter
- Tape #4: The Rites of Spring
- Tape #5: 30 hours in Summer
- Tape #6: Under the moon
- Tape #7: Gone tomorrow
“Art is everything you don’t have to do. Symphonies, perfume, sports cars, graffiti, needlepoints, monuments, tattoos, slang, Ming vases, doodles, poodles, apple strudels, still life, second life, bed knobs and boob jobs. Children learn through play and adults play through art.”Brian Eno
A few people who influenced or assisted with the project in some unspecified way, listed in no specific order
Jack Dice Oliver PW Rob Cliff Lewis Morgan Chris Hill Sarah Bailey Rose Higham Del Querns Tim Boorman Dan Cwirka David Lynch Angelo Badalamenti Victoria Wood Mark Hollis Scott Walker Michael Gira Paul Perry Kyle Prangnell Lewis Matthews Andrew O’Keefe Becks Brewer Aaron Sams Katie Marks Josh Philo Alex and Bekki Hutchinson Helen and Roger Blomfield Sheryl Lee Oliver Postgate Peter Firmin Mark Frost Chris Raleigh Joe Parry-Jones Maylana Colchete Amber Scarborough Horst Rosenthal Alex Zhang Hungtai Peter Adair Nathaniel Dorsky Andrei Tarkovsky Brian Eno Connie Converse William Basinski Matt Holness Max Sztyber Gabriel Rees Rich Wortley Oliver Cherer Tami Cassar Chris Harmon Gonzalo Garcia Felix King George Andrew Temple Max Eynon Vale Petri Eliot and Sarah Oswald-Baker Angus Andrew Arthur Russell Hannah Cullen George Vanstone Michael Boehnker Glenn Mcquaid Andrew Sapsford Daniel Johnston Alex Chilton Eddie Izzard Todd Nathanson Dany Roth Laurie Anderson Steve Albini Richard Herring Robert Pollard Wolfgang Voigt Emily Sims Kate Rotherham Claire and Tony Hill Paul de Jong Nick Zammuto Dennis Chiu Jana Hunter Ariel Pink Kate Bush Daniel Lopatin Damien Jurado Jess Winkworth Johnny Lynch Bethany Edwards Diana Eccles Nicky Querns Lesley Curtis Billy Collins Patricia Debney Gillian Bargery Nick Laird Oliver Froom Hannah Houghton-Berry Robert Hastie Jason Boyd Nancy Gaffield Stephin Merritt Bradford Cox Jen Ingham Chris Wilson Liz Harris David Fletcher Louisa Wood people who stopped to talk in the woods but never gave their name Dora nieces nephews in-laws Alex Woodcock Ben Horner Robbie Basho Brian McBride Adam Wiltzie Andrew Haigh Fred Rogers Graham Sutton Peter Gizzi Dan Deacon Fiona Apple Francis Weller Campo Santo Chris Remo Michael and Marcus Sandison Dan Olson Richard Farrant Alan R Splet Sam Lobb Olivia Perry Helen Eckersley Jimmy Cauty Bill Drummond Sarah Cracknell Bob Stanley Pete Wiggs Robert Dimery Stephen Thomas Erlewine Heather Phares Andy Partridge Colin Moulding Philip Larkin Johnny Murwill Kyle Maclachlan Kenneth Goldsmith Lizzie Lee James Leyland Kirby Christopher Guest David Silverman Chris Morris Brian Wilson Stephen Jones the Baby Bird Charmaine Noyes Tom Lee Margaret Whey-Harris
and whoever else I’ve forgotten through no fault of their own –
Special thanks to Ian Grant, a photographer who left a framed photo on a park bench in Hastings in 2008. I’ve still got it.
Something really brilliant happened to me during this project. A man called Tim Boorman picked up Tape #2 sometime in October. He had been walking with his girlfriend and his spaniel Henry, revisiting the woods he had explored and played in between the ages of 5 and 15. He emailed the anonymous email address I included inside and we developed a wonderful correspondence. This soon developed into a friendship. After Tape #2, I started leaving him a separate copy of each tape underneath a designated stack of logs which has since been dubbed “Tim’s Timber Pile”. Despite not knowing what the other looked like, we met by chance in Blean Woods some ten months later.
Meeting and sustaining contact with Tim is everything I wanted to achieve with this project and more. It’s proof that amazing connections can be made if we make the choice to reveal ourselves with honesty. The Blean Forest Tapes is the best thing I’ve ever done in my life. It’s taught me to be brave and unapologetic about who I am. I’m not the nervous wreck I was when I started the project. It’s really worth being here. If you feel tangled up in yourself, I really can’t recommend making art enough, in whatever form it takes. You don’t need money. You can make anything from anything. It just has to be yours and it has to be honest. If it’s not honest, it shouldn’t, mustn’t, exist. You can’t grow by lying to yourself, or anyone else.
Life is very hard. Please take care. Please be kind.