Enjoying Nature is the third album in Strategic Tape Reserve’s Learning By Listening series, “an educational, instructive cassette series designed to bring the information of the world into your home, and your brain.” Previous volumes have focussed on obscure, un-Googleable, audaciously false topics: Orca, Attack! delivered an album about Course Management System Optimization and Simon Proffitt’s Instituto Bangara-Rossa Internacional offered up a sonic handbook for a purportedly widely-played card game.
If Learning By Listening has generally operated with its tongue placed firmly in its cheek, the pairing of Goodparley (Cardiff’s Oli Richards) and Poppy Jennings seems to avoid this, at least musically anyway. The album’s narrative describes it playfully as a “mystical guide to the art of experiencing nature… for both those comfortable with outdoor environments as well as beginners,” and Richards readily admits it was started in jest before eventually becoming more sincere.
Taking the form of a series of delicate and quietly uplifting pieces, Enjoying Nature operates authentically in resonance with the spiritual music oeuvre. Both Richards and Jennings offer ruminative spoken word passages that float on top of the music like guided meditation texts or naturalistic poetic reflections, while Richards’ choice of textures carry a questing, transcendent fluidity. On ‘Walking Each Other Home’, cascading zither melodies wrap themselves around the listener with tenderness, evoking spiritual music landmarks like Laraaji’s Day Of Radiance. The opening track acts as a tribute to the work of Ernest Hood, whose obscure 1975 album Neighborhoods evoked a pastoral quietude that has now been all but drowned-out by the clamour of the modern world.
Learning By Listening albums are puzzling affairs. They are meant to be enjoyed primarily through a suspension of belief; once you acknowledge the joke, they can be approached as intelligent, artistic collections. Enjoying Nature is, I think, different.
Heard with an open mind, its pieces can be soothing, helpful and restorative. I’ll readily admit that my mind has all too often been closed to spiritual music, and if you’d handed me this tape two years ago I would have found it a difficult listen. Things changed as the pandemic settled in. With the benefit of hindsight, I now see that I experienced a breakdown that I never would have expected. In the hollow void that it left, I found myself urgently in need of something to help me get myself back on track.
The books that I’d tried to read but couldn’t find a way into (Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind being the most obvious) and the meditation practice I’d always been too closed-minded and uptight to surrender to – these things suddenly became essential, necessary aspects of my recovery. I found myself in a message exchange with Richards where he recommended Be Here Now by Ram Dass, which I quickly bought and digested far quicker than any other book that I’ve bought in the last ten years. I found myself working with my good friends Gareth Jones and Christopher Bono, first on their Nous Alpha album A Walk In The Woods and then with Christopher on his monumental Circle Of Celebration album with Arji OceAnanda and Laraaji. I found myself open-minded for the first time in my life; more accepting; more understanding of my mind’s wants and needs; more prepared to find ways to heal myself outside of the coping strategies I’d used before.
I see Enjoying Nature as part of my toolkit of recovery. A greater personal compliment to what Richards and Jennings have created with this release I’m not sure I could find.
Enjoying Nature by Goodparley and Poppy Jennings was released by Strategic Tape Reserve on September 24 2021.
Words: Mat Smith
(c) 2021 Further.