Shelter Press extend a quietly cine-poetic invitation to visit the Outer Hebrides via immersive sounds - field recordings of psalm singing and local dialect - collected and arranged by interdisciplinary artist Joshua Bonnetta, going hand-in-hand with Shelter Press’ core interests in the fading light of its 10th year in operation. A beautiful artefact - complete with 60 page photobook - RIYL Francisco López, Chris Watson, Salm.
Accompanied by an evocative photo study and access to an accompanying film and essay, Bonetta’s second release for Shelter Press following 2016’s ‘Lago’ imparts a real feel for the archipelago, off the north west coast of Scotland, where he was stationed during an artist’s residency during 2017-2019. Stitched together from observant field recordings and interviews with residents on the islands of Barra, Berneray, Harris, Lewis & North Uist, the work elicits a sense of timelessness in its slow drift between shores, hills, standing stones and the intimacy of its voices, including Gaelic spoken word, folk song and whistling. Save for the appearance of a plane overhead, the sounds of car and boat motors, plus a little bit of electronic disturbance that pull you into the modern era; the results practically imagine what it would have been like to visit the islands with a recording device at any point since the last ice age.
For Bonetta, who hails from rural Canada, the similarities between his formative landscapes and those of Scotland must have appeared familiar, perhaps a subconscious recall/reminder that the two places shared a landmass, albeit 425 million years ago. His sound sensitive subtlety and cinematic ear in arranging his collected sounds serves to highlight the way the modern world only just infringes on Innse Gall’s ancient landscapes and only relatively modern tongues (if we’re thinking in geologic terms of scale). We hear the sounds of its avian population seamlessly eliding its humans in the whistling of Alick Macauley, and the natural cadence of of its mild oceanic climate mirrored in lilting Gaelic folksong, here performed by Calum McDonald, Joey Morrison, and Maggie Smith, and more generally practiced by only a tiny percentage of Scotland’s population (some 1%) but still surely alive in its meridian isles where time moves much more slowly.
With the nuance and poetry expected of a Shelter Press title, ‘Innes Gall’ reflects on the area’s anglicised name, meaning “islands of the strangers”, with calming, soberly documentarian results as heartwarming and fascinating as a visit to the area, just without the effort of travel, and from the comfort of your own living space. Bonnetta is incapable of ignoring the cinematic frame, and intersperses each shot with enough poetry to keep you entranced.