I Tax Not You, you Elements, with Unkindness

UK sound artist Simon Whetham has made a fine field recordings record called (II)nTolerance (KOHLHAAS RECORDS KHS024). It’s intended as a follow-up to InTolerance, released by Kohlhaas in 2017, and is also an opportunity for him to vent his spleen about the restrictions to travel that are now affecting the UK.

To elaborate, in 2017 he was relatively free and indeed very fortunate to be a globe-hopping sound artist, and doing much more than gathering audio snapshots – indeed he saw himself connecting directly to certain activities, and certain scenes, in these fascinating locations, and his duty was to document same with his powerful recorders and mics. By 2021, Whetham found himself hampered by two main disasters – one being the COVID pandemic of course, which put a major crimp in all our travel arrangements. More to the point, Whetham saw the whole sorry episode as a series of horrible things – fear, suffering, and misinformation are in his list of woes, and who can gainsay him, knowing what we now know about the wrong information that was continually supplied to us here in the UK. The second main disaster was Brexit, an act of sheer folly which has severely damaged our relation to the European Union, and done a lot more than just increase airport queueing time for travellers.

Consequently, I can detect a vast amount of brooding anger and resentment from Simon Whetham, emotions which have passed directly onto the tape in these 14 recordings; I shan’t say that he’s made a series of episodes of furious, violent noise, but there is something blocked and frustrated about the sounds and the way they are edited; Whetham, whom I’ve previously conceived as a gentle and environment-friendly individual, stands on the verge of letting fly with sledgehammer, chains, or ice pick as he documents these sonic events. Good for him; let each impassioned sound stand as a riposte to the feeble bleatings of our deluded right-wing politicians, so bereft of imagination and compassion, as they patronise and lecture us with their unworkable ideology. For information, the record is not simply water, wind, and weather (as many field recording records turn out to be) but contains documentation of what he calls “kinetic readymades” – referring to when on his travels he finds a sound event waiting to happen, like a turbine or an old tyre in a farmyard, and presumably only a little nudge is needed to unleash great sound art. And others are referred to as “Island Actions”, as if the earth itself had elected to engage in experimental performance art and create its very own “action”.

My observations about the anger hold true, though, and are reflected in the frequent use of the “Angry Earth Seething” episodes. When I studied O Level English Literature, our teacher alerted us to Shakespeare’s use of the weather as a metaphor for his characters’ emotional state, a literary device which is apparently called “pathetic fallacy”. An obvious example is the storm in King Lear. In like manner, Simon Whetham is finding an analogue for his own feelings in the behaviour of the environment around him, making this an extremely expressive and vital record. From 19 April 2022.