Andy Childs writes in praise of Peter Rogers’ serene soundtrack to hit Melissa Harrison podcast ‘The Stubborn Light of Things’.
There are many elements that make Melissa Harrison’s The Stubborn Light Of Things podcast so special: Melissa’s obvious love for the beauty and variety of the natural world as she roams the countryside near her Suffolk home; the various guests – mostly poets and nature writers – who make an appearance every week; the atmospheric readings from Gilbert White’s diary; so much that is crammed into half an hour and all underscored and connected by Peter Rogers’ sublime, ambient music.
No podcast that I’ve heard values music as much as The Stubborn Light Of Things. But then again no podcast I’m aware of attempts to soothe the soul and bathe the senses in the same understated yet stimulating way that Melissa Harrison has so successfully achieved.
Ever since I listened to the first episode I have been hoping that Peter Rogers’ memorable soundscapes would be available for more extensive enjoyment and, at last, hurrah! It has come to pass. There are ten tracks here, elements of all of which I think have been featured in the podcast so far, although there are particular tracks that are instantly more familiar and have become part of the soundtrack to my life these past few months.
With the sound of birdsong and the first, chiming piano notes of the opening track ‘Hi, How You Doing?’ our spirits are lifted as we effortlessly drift off into rural Suffolk. The music shimmers and glistens as the hypnotic piano phrase repeats and we are transported. Most of the compositions here are what might loosely be called minimalist in structure and all achieve that fine balance of being texturally interesting and satisfying stand-alone pieces of music whilst at the same time providing the perfect, unobtrusive backdrop to the podcast’s narrative. The third track, ‘Selborne’ is a good example – a lush, two-chord wash of sound with birdsong that sets the scene for the readings from Gilbert White’s diary. The middle part of the album, with its three bird-themed tracks, ‘The Owl Barn’, ‘Goldfinch’ and ‘Skylark’, is the most seductive and dream-like sequence of music I’ve heard in a long time. ‘The Owl Barn’ is a lilting wave of blissful melancholia; ‘Goldfinch’ is rapturous, uplifting morning music; and the soaring ‘Skylark’ is expansive and panoramic and alive. It’s so tempting to have these three pieces of music on repeat but there is much more to relish. ‘Garden’ is the music that I think is most used in the podcast but here it’s embellished and developed – a mesmeric arrangement for piano and occasional strings. ‘Artzamendi’ is a lengthy, peaceful Eno-ish soundscape; ‘Into Autumn’ interrupts the reverie with its gentle beats before ‘Stubborn Light’, another serene, spellbinding piece, closes the album as it does the podcast, and we are left with that sense of inner peace that comes from exposure to fifty or so minutes of pure bliss, tempered with a sweet sense of sorrow that it’s all over.
Surprisingly to me, Peter Rogers has previously released three albums as part of the drum & bass duo Technimatic and has a solo album to be released later this year. But with The Stubborn Light Of Things he has created an album very much attuned to the needs of our times – a record of real beauty, meaning and purpose that draws its inspiration from the same sources as Melissa Harrison’s life-affirming prose – the wonder of nature, its power to surprise, heal and comfort, and the enduring, magical splendour of the English rural landscape.