NT Sounds Project from National Trust on Vimeo.
by Nick Franglen.
On the surface there might not be all that much to this record, nice as it sounds – Jarvis Cocker goes around National Trust properties recording sound effects. Certainly the National Trust don’t make out there’s much more to it that that – they say it’s “the ultimate chill-out album”, a background record to be dipped into when you want a bit of respite from the stresses of life.
That’s fine if you simply have to relive the sound of the music box at Lanhydrock, and very lovely it is too, but becomes a less enticing proposition on many of the other tracks. Let’s face it, it’s not all that relaxing listening to the sound of a strap press starting up, wherever it might be.
Thank God then for Jarvis and his irrepressible creativity. Listened to in its entirety rather than as disparate tracks this album takes on a whole new life, and becomes so much more than just a themed collection of sound effects. The choices Jarvis has made in recording and compiling the source material make for a really enjoyable journey, creating thought provoking and amusing comparisons as he threads his way through the different locations – the murmuring of schoolchildren associated with the clamour of wildfowl, the snicker-snack of a gardener clipping away allied to the inner workings of a clock. And there are sections where it feels like you’re eavesdropping on an unfolding mystery – footsteps down long halls, the creaking of the stairs at Chartwell, the Billiards Room at Upton House. All that’s missing is Colonel Mustard with the Lead Pipe. It helps that everything’s been recorded beautifully, and Jarvis’ mic positioning puts you extremely close to the action and often surrounded by it, say as the waves of Brownsea Island gently break and swirl all around you in glorious stereo. The pacing of the sections is equally well applied – sound effects these may be, but there’s real musical beauty to be found in this record.
So I say don’t just dip into these recordings one track at a time with your tea, do the whole lot in a oner and enjoy Jarvis’ mystery tour. I listened to it on headphones, lying flat on my back in my garden on the hottest day of the year, and it was a genuinely memorable experience. A story unfolds as you create the links between the different sources, and it starts to feel as though, despite being pooled from National Trust sites all around the British Isles, everything’s taking place in the same location. And surely that’s the point.
National Trust: The Album is available for free download until the end of June 2010 from http://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/soundsalbum