Stuart Chalmers – The Heart Of Nature

Posted: 19 September 2021 in Albums
Tags: , , , ,

16th September 2021

Christopher Nosnibor

Instead of submitting to the endless flow of media panic and hunkering down in his house during the pandemic, Stuart Chalmers went rather more off-grid, spending the last year in a camper van, exploring the Pennines and North York Moors.

The Heart Of Nature is the last in the series of the Swarmandal-focused albums, a celebration of nature’s elements, inspired by this period of a closer proximity to nature. Stuart recounts how the experience brought him closer to ‘the natural world and its rhythms/cycles’, and given him ‘a sense that nature can be calm but also intense and full of violent energy’. He goes on to explain that ‘The making of this album through the autumn/winter with the change in weather along with my laptop dying, the heater failing and the van breaking down has been a tough experience,’, adding, ‘it’s been one of the hardest albums for me to finish’.

I’m no advocate of the training mantra ‘no pain, no gain’, but do often find – and I speak from experience here – that the art that emerges from the most challenging of conditions is not only the most satisfying to produce, but so often has the greatest impact and resonance. The heart and soul that goes into a work shines, amplified, in the output.

The six pieces on The Heart Of Nature are based on the elements and raw materials occurring in the natural world: earth, wood, metal, fire, water, air. The first of these, ‘Earth’, powerfully captures the turbulence and variability of nature, and is dominated by a grumbling, rumbling, the shuddering subterranean sound of tectonic displacement, that gradually fades as a slow-picked guitar emerges and a hesitant sun rises over a barren. Scene. Beneath the supple chimes and grating discord and scraping drones that lumber and lurch. It sounds, and feels, immense, something bigger than sound alone, than the artist alone, and it’s an intense and difficult seven minutes that introduces the landscape of the album.

‘Wood’ is more of a collection of found sounds, with animal calls and chattering birds, pattering feet, paired with extraneous sounds and a clattering, clanking beat that’s some way from nature. Things become quite tribal, the metallic chanking speaking more of humankind’s relationship with nature than of nature itself, while ‘Metal’ creeps into dark ambient / industrial territory, with ominous whisps drifting around and the clanking precision – but it’s on ‘Fire’ things intensify, with the crackle of flames yielding to the harsh clatter of industrial percussion. There are hissing surges of sound rushing like gas bursting from ruptured pipes, and it’s not until ‘Water’ that the album introduces some sense of calm following a long journey navigating troubled spaces.

This only highlights the idea behind the album, that of the violent energy of nature. We seem to have idealised nature as that idyllic country setting, as something that merely exists for our wellbeing or profit, and in doing so diminishing the forces of nature – typhoons, cyclones. tsunamis, earthquakes, blizzards, floods. We are in denial somehow over the extent to which we are at nature’s mercy. We build flood defences, structures to prevent longshore drift and the collapse of cliffs, but ultimately, we’re powerless against time and tide.

‘Nature doesn’t need us, but we need nature’, Chalmers remarks, and I can’t help but agree: nature would in fact be better off without us, and the acceleration of climate change is concrete evidence of this. If nature destroys us, it’s because we’ve brought it upon ourselves by fucking with nature – and if one thing is clear, nature will always win. Whatever damage we’ve wrought, it’s simply suicide. The planet will still exist long after we’ve vacated, long after it’s inhabitable by human life. Humanity will eventually go the way of the dinosaurs, but nature will still be here.

The emptiness of the final track, the seven-and-a-half-minute ‘Air’’ is the perfect summary. The wind buffets against everything in its way and sparse notes hang in post-rock drift. It’s a beautiful piece of music, but it’s also sparse and melancholy, and with a certain Western twang, it carries the bleakness of the wild frontiers, reminding us of the adversarial relationship between man and nature, and the need to respect the wonder.

AA

a0127569496_10

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s