The songs of Peter Noble’s latest album Walking North speak about the Cromarty Firth landscape he walked through – to the beat of a metronome
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YOU hear as much of the landscape around Peter Noble as you do of his voice and his guitar-playing on Walking North, his latest album – part of a long-term project exploring the world in sound around the Cromarty Firth.
You are as likely to hear torrential rain or the sound of his feet on stone or sand as you are his voice.
And that is the point.
Peter explains where the project started: “I’ve been experimenting with combining environmental recordings with songs for some time.
“This year I’ve taken it a stage further. The single, Footsteps On The Ground, is a good example of my idea.
“The rhythm of my feet walking in a specific location is an integral part of the song. I am attempting to make a specific connection between the locations and the songs I have written.
“Walking past a river, rain falling and bird song – all form part of the atmosphere of each of the tracks.
“Like a limpet worries itself against the rock to create its own home scar. I am trying to deepen and understand my connection to a place in the world.”
It’s no surprise if his description – like his lyrics – sounds poetic.
Among the inspirations for his journeys to create Walking North is the Japanese haiku poet Basho’s book The Narrow Road To The Deep North. It embraces Zen buddhism and the spiritual in the account of his journey and in the poems he wrote.
Peter said: “What I was trying to do in a similar way is – a haiku is a snapshot of a moment – in this project, to have specific moments in time recorded and then write a song that in some way resonated with that moment.”
Peter went so far as to carry a metronome to try and walk to the strict but different beats he had chosen for each song.
He explained: “I thought ‘How can I add some element that I can hang a song onto a specific location?’ and that is where the metronome came from. I set a different tempo in each location and used that then as a sort of anchor.”
Wallace Stegner’s Wilderness Letter written in 1960 was also a source of inspiration, particularly his thinking on the power that closeness and interaction with truly wild spaces can bring.
And Tristan Gooley’s book on natural navigation was also influential for Peter.
He said: “I sent him the album and he was really nice about it, which was lovely.”
Though the walks were done in lockdown in January and February, Peter had a few encounters – a dog, a bemused walker and the plane which appeared at Nigg Beach just after his recording ended.
Did he attempt to explain the metronome to the walker who passed him?
He laughed: “I couldn’t because I was in the middle of trying to walk to the tempo!”
Another fascination for Peter’s project is Aboriginal songlines.
“I love the idea of songs sung within the landscape which tell the stories of that landscape. I don’t think I’m quite there yet because the Walking North songs are not specifically about those spaces. I’m moving along a journey to a different point.”
Ask Peter if he has a Walking North favourite song, and it’s Footsteps On The Ground, recorded at Nigg Beach :“It is the most simple in some ways. I think it defined the idea best, it is literally only voice and guitar and my feet and I remember that it was a beautiful clear frosty day.
“Very, very faintly you can hear my children who were with me, you can just hear them a couple of times, although maybe it’s because I know their voices I can hear them in the background!
“Just after I finished recording, a plane flew overhead, so that exact moment at that point in my life, at the heart of lockdown, in January this year, this will always take me back there. And that’s a lovely thing to have, I guess.”
Peter reveals that connecting with nature for the project is something he loves – and in lockdown, it felt good to reconnect.
“At the end of the day I would love it if people enjoyed this album, but I also know it has been of value to me.
“Some of the songs are about when you are walking – the age of the land, how long we are here, how long the landscape is here, whether the landscape cares we are here or whether that is a human invention!”
There is a lyric in Footsteps On The Ground – ‘Shadow of my presence here, before I disappear’ – a thought about his own death?
“I think it is about mortality, and that thing you see now on beaches everywhere ‘Take only memories, leave only footprints’.
“But if that’s all we’re leaving, it’s very impermanent.
“And walking lightly on the earth – which I like to think I will do. It questions what we leave behind...”
Find Peter Noble’s Walking North on Spotify.