The sounds that make us calmer



“I feel like we’re losing our identity, because by the time we’ve gone to look for it, it’ll all have gone. The idea of what that would sound like, without nightingales or cuckoos in the air in the places where they should be, is a bit like all the radios in the land being silenced. It’s not just being denied a really exquisite sound experience; it’s the health of the land itself.”

For Lee, the collaborative spirit of these woodland shows represent joy, as well as hope: “We’re in this amazing shifting time, connecting with community and all the things that we need to do to bring about change are actually things that make our lives happier, and feel that sense of security and being collegiate. Environmentalism has been going on for decades and decades, but it’s also the biggest social movement of our time.”

He credits social media for giving these issues a broader platform, but also essentially celebrates nature as an irrepressible, unpredictable force: “I would say that working with human musicians is so much more uncertain and capricious,” he laughs. “The first week we had with audiences, the nightingales were initially reserved; it was so cold and dry. You just have to let go and release yourself to that, which feels like a really healthy place to be, as an artist, that initiates such creative freedom. Actually, nature is so forgiving.”

There is something humbling, and exhilarating, about human unity with nature sounds; we are no longer would-be conquerors, but innately connected to the life around us. Lee recalls witnessing a particularly memorable performance, between virtuoso cellist Abel Selaocoe and surrounding nightingales: “Abel started playing, and the birds went nuts, chirping and tweeting so hard and in key and the same rhythm. The audience had their jaws on the floor, it was too good to be true.”

While I’ve been chatting to Lee, I can hear the nature sounds around him: a morning breeze; the sounds of birdlife including cawing crows. I’ve assumed he’s still in the countryside, so am surprised that he’s actually just outside his house in East London – but it makes sense when he points out: “There is treasure on your doorstep.”

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